There is something fundamentally ridiculous about car names—they’re just one more shot at a positive marketing spin. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “I like the names they have for cars. Like, no baron has ever owned a LeBaron.”
But the word associations can backfire.
Indian automaker Tata has a new hatchback in the works, a little guy that has the misfortune to originally be given the name “Zica.” The company unveiled the Zica just a few weeks ago. Back then, few people had ever heard of the phonetically identical Zika, the mosquito-borne epidemic now raging through the Americas, causing birth defects. The CDC has issued travel warnings and a level two alert about Zika, and women who living in affected areas have been urged not to have kids—for two years.
With this newfound undesirability with the hatchback’s name, Tata announced on Tuesday that it would be renaming the model. “Empathizing with the hardships being caused by the recent ‘Zika’ virus outbreak across many countries, Tata Motors, as a socially responsible company, has decided to re-brand the car,” the company stated.
It’s not clear what the vehicle’s new name will be. The Zica, born out of CamelCase-ification of “Zippy Car” (“ZiCa”), has been subject to a large campaign of endorsement captained by star soccer player Lionel Messi, who at 5-foot-7 is one of the most talented soccer players in history. That association should be continue to be fortuitous for the automaker, but it’s unlikely it will adopt the Argentine star’s last name as a replacement. Who would want to a car that’s “Messi” even before you buy it?
Seriously, the car-naming business is a minefield. BMW, which names models with sterile numbers and letters rather than actual words or phrases, is onto something.