9 Car Companies That Aren’t Named After Their Founder

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Many car companies, such as Ford and Chrysler, are named after their founder’s last names — Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler respectively. 

Others, like Cadillac, have a more unique explanation for their names. For example, Volvo is the derivative of a Latin word, while Subaru is based on a real constellation of stars in the sky. 

Here are nine popular car companies with names that are far more complicated than just the surname of a founder.

Subaru is based on a real constellation.

Yves Herman/Reuters

Subaru is the Japanese word for “unite,” which is the most direct explanation for the name. 

A six-star cluster in Pleiades, a constellation in Taurus, is also named Subaru, according to the company. The six-star constellation is what inspired the Subaru logo. 

Subaru also claims to be the first automaker with a Japanese name.

Nissan is an abbreviation.


Nissan was originally named Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha, or Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. However, the company changed its name to Nissan in 1934. 

The name was changed when Nippon Sangyo, a holding company that the founder’s father owned, bought out the company that according to to the company’s website.

Audi was nearly named after a last name.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

When Audi founder August Horch was first deciding what to name his new company, he considered settling with his last name, according to Automotive News. However, his name was already being used by A. Horch & Cie. Motorwagen Werke, an auto company he helped found but later separated from. 

Instead, Horch — which means “listen” in German — settled with Audi, the Latin translation of that word.

Cadillac is not named after the horse.

Alex Davies / Business Insider

Cadillac’s founder Henry Leland named the company after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of the settlement that would eventually become the city of Detroit, according to Cadillac. 

The Cadillac crest was inspired by de la Mothe Cadillac’s coat of arms, according to the company.

FIAT’s name has two meanings.


Fiat’s name is a double entendre — intentional or not. The name is an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, roughly translated to “Italian automobile factory of Turin,” according to the company’s website. 

However, the word “fiat” is also the Latin word for “let it be done.”

BMW is an abbreviation.


The automaker started out in 1916 as plane engine maker Bayerische Flugzeug-Werke — or Bavarian Plane Manufacturing — according to Encyclopedia Britannica. 

However, its name changed to Bayerische Motoren Werke — or Bavarian Motor Work — in 1917. 

The name has since been shortened to its more recognizable initialism: BMW.

Volvo also has its roots in Latin.


Volvo is the first-person conjugation of the Latin word “volvere,” or “to roll.” 

Directly translated, “volvo” means “I roll,” the car company says.

Tesla is named after legendary Siberian engineer Nikola Tesla.


Tesla is named after Nikola Tesla, the Siberian-American engineer who created the first alternating-current motor and numerous other technological advances in the 20th century.

Aston Martin is named after a race.

Astin Martin

“Martin” is derived from one of the founder’s last names, but “Aston” is named after the Aston Clinton Hill Climb, a race in Buckinghamshire, England, according to the company’s website.


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