Here's a surprise: Alfa Romeo has given its latest entry-level model a new name, just over a week after its world premiere, as the Milano now becomes the 'Junior'.

But has there ever been a similar case? Of course, and that's not all. Many cars are known by different names, usually in other markets or because the common name had a problematic meaning in certain languages.

Gallery: Alfa Romeo Milano

The Italian precedent

It is interesting to note that a spontaneous name change also took place at another Italian manufacturer: in 2003, Fiat presented its new small car under the name 'Gingo'. Brochures and user manuals had already been printed when, unsurprisingly, Renault objected because of its similarity to "Twingo". The Fiat Gingo thus became the second generation of the Panda. You might have thought of it straight away...

Gallery: Fiat Panda (Typ 169, 2003-2012)

Other countries, other names

The most common cause of model name changes is at the global level, for example, if the name on the back has a negative meaning in certain languages. In Spain, the 'Pajero' is a friend of... masturbation. That's why Mitsubishi 's all-terrain vehicle was called "Montero" there. The "Kona" also caused problems because it is a rather crude term for female genitalia in Portugal. As a result, another Hawaiian island is inscribed on the back of the small Hyundai SUV: Kaui.

The Tata Zica was also given an unfavourable name because it sounded (far) too much like the Zika virus. The car became the Tata Tiago. The Toyota Corona was lucky. It was given this name long before Covid-19. Volkswagen also liked to rename its cars for the American market: the Passat became the Dasher in 1974 and the Golf became the Rabbit.

History of the Volkswagen Passat in the U.S.

VW Dasher (1974)

The Suzuki Swift used to have many different names, such as Suzuki Cultus. In the United States, it was called Geo Metro. Ford offered the Sierra and the Scorpio under the short-lived Merkur brand.   

A question of tradition

In the best of cases, carmakers have series in their range with everlasting names, like the BMW 5 Series (since 1972) or of course the VW Golf (since 1974). But sometimes it feels as if traditions need to be shaken up. In 1994, Audi designed the 80, the A4, and the A6. Similarly, the A4 will soon become the A5 and the A6 the A7, because in the future, the odd numbers will identify the series of combustion engines, while the even numbers will be reserved for the brand's electric cars.

But these changes can go wrong. Hyundai has for some time renamed the Tucson to "ix35" in order to make the model range appear strict. Toyota has also replaced the Corolla in Europe by the Auris with a huge effort. In both cases, the original name has been restored.

Toyota Auris

In 2018, the current Toyota Corolla was introduced as the Auris.

Volvo is also managing its nomenclature. The XC40 Recharge becomes the EX40 while the C40 Recharge becomes the EC40. Speaking of electric cars, the Ora Funky Cat is now called, without emotion, GWM Ora 03.

In the UK, the Ford Scorpio continued to be called Granada until the facelift in 1994. The Vauxhall Astra was already available there in 1980, and Opel did not rename the Kadett until 1991.

New owners mean new names

Another reason for new names can be mergers or acquisitions, such as SsangYong, which now becomes KG Mobility. After the brand was wound up, the fully-developed Talbot Arizona became the Peugeot 309, and in 1976 the DAF 77 became the Volvo 343. Similar changes also took place in the UK, with the British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd (BLMC) becoming British Leyland Limited.

Peugeot 309

Peugeot 309

Volvo 343 (1980)

Volvo 343 (1980)

The history of the Fiesta

Finally, a parenthesis on how today's famous model series derive their names like, for example, the Ford Fiesta. The name was chosen in the spring of 1974, around two years before the last car went into production. Until then, it had been called "Bobcat" internally. But, outside English-speaking countries, who was supposed to understand the meaning? What's more, Mercury, a Ford subsidiary, had recently launched a car called Bobcat in the United States. 

So they were looking for a short, easy-to-pronounce term with a European feel, easy to combine with the Ford name and understandable everywhere. From 50 initial suggestions, the selection was reduced to 30 and finally to 10 ideas.

These were: Amigo, Bambi, Bebe, Bolero, Bravo, Cherie, Tempo, Chico, Fiesta, Forito, Metro, Pony and Sierra.

Ford Fiesta 1976 and 2006

1976 and 2006 Ford Fiesta.

Surveys have now been carried out: 10% of those questioned confused the Sierra with the Siesta (which didn't stop Ford from launching a Sierra in 1982). Amigo, Fiesta and Sierra had become too closely associated with Spain, even though the Fiesta would be built there in large numbers. The British didn't like Pony and the Germans didn't like Bambi either. 

Also at Ford, in 1974, Pony and Bambi were part of the final selection, along with Fiesta, Amigo and Sierra. But apparently they weren't really happy about it and postponed it.

Gallery: Ford Fiesta (1976-1983)

The first Fiesta received its final design in Cologne, as shown in this photo from 1974. Time is of the essence. One serious suggestion was that the little car could also be called the 'B Model'. The PR department opted for Bravo: B for Bobcat, known from the radio alphabet and as an expression of the highest approval. Ford Bravo! That had to be it!

But there were sticking points. The name belonged to an Italian pasta manufacturer, who didn't use it. Lamborghini was also rumoured to be planning a Bravo. The name Pony, on the other hand, was eliminated because the Hyundai Pony was presented in 1974. 

In the end, the final decision in September 1975 went all the way to the top: Henry Ford II was presented with the names Bravo, Fiesta and Amigo. Added to this was the fact that a quick solution was needed. After all, the emblems, brochures and advertising had to be prepared.

The answer came quickly. "Please don't send any more suggestions," ordered Henry Ford II, who thought: "Bravo is not a name for a car. It sounds good in Italian or Spanish, but not in English. Fiesta, on the other hand, does."

However, the name required permission from General Motors. Ford picked up the phone himself and called Tom Murphy, then boss of GM. His response: "You want a Fiesta? You can have it. It's yours!"

Planners and developers breathed a sigh of relief. The car could also have been called Adonis, Sonata, Gato, Piccolo, Ischia or Bebe. All these names were on the first list. Over the past 40 years, we've become accustomed to the familiar sounding Ford Fiesta. It's hard to imagine driving a sporty 200 PS Ford Bambi ST.

VW Pampero or Blizzard instead of Golf?

For the EA 337 project, which became the first VW Golf, there were a few names to choose from during the development phase. "Blizzard" failed because of a ski manufacturer, and "Caribe" was also reportedly under discussion. 

Russell Hayes notes in his "VW Golf Story" that, according to a conversation note from September 1973, the name "Pampero" was being considered for the world market and "Rabbit" for the US market. "Pampero" is the name of a South American winter wind, so it could have fitted into the Passat and Scirocco's range of winds. The name "Rabbit" was in fact later used to designate the American Golf.

Volkswagen Golf 1st generation

VW Golf I and the EA 337 prototype (left).

Jens Meyer goes into more detail in his book about the VW Golf I ("VW Golf 1 - All about Wolfsburg's automotive legend"), which is well worth reading. The board agreed that numbers were not an option. As a result, the marketing department was called in and their heads were spinning with suggestions for sports, music and even gemstone names.

At the beginning of September 1973, 'Scirocco' was still being thought of for the EA 337; its sporty sibling would then simply be called the Scirocco Coupé. In any case, production of the preliminary series began in January 1974. In October 1973, the Board of Directors finally decided "Golf" for the 3.70 metre long compact car and "Scirocco" for the coupé. But where did the name Golf come from?

Hans-Joachim Zimmermann, the buyer in charge under Horst Münzner and Ignacio Lopez from 1965 to 1995, revealed the solution to the riddle during a visit to the Volkswagen factory museum in 2014: his Hanoverian horse named Golf, which he had had for a long time. The former president of the Wolfsburg Riding and Driving Club had used it successfully on several occasions and was expressly praised by Horst Münzner in the summer of 1973.

A few days after this conversation at the riding school, the management showed their employee one of the brand new compact prototypes - with the GOLF letter combination on the back.