Some of the best car names of all time were created without apparent effort. Cobra came to Carroll Shelby in a dream. Ford designer Alden Giberson came up with Thunderbird in 1954 as part of a company contest. (His winning effort netted him a new suit and a pair of pants.)
And some of the worst names were hard work. Consider the case of the Edsel: After developing a new full-size car in the 1950s, Ford spent a fortune trying to come up with the perfect name its new product. The company conducted studies, ran focus groups, and even paid employees to conduct polls outside movie theatres to gauge public reaction to a series of names that included Citation, Corsair, Pacer and Ranger.
When that failed to produce a winning name, Ford hired a Madison Avenue advertising firm that came up with 6,000 possibilities, overwhelming the Ford executives assigned to weed through them.
The naming campaign knew almost no limits. Ford's director of marketing research even invited a poet and freethinker named Marianne Moore to try her hand. Her suggestions included Mongoose Civique, Utopian Turtletop and Pastelogram. In the end, an executive committee chose the name Edsel as an homage to Edsel Ford, the son of company founder Henry Ford.
Like the car, which flopped after being introduced to the market at the wrong time, the Edsel name is widely regarded as a strategic misstep. Marketers later determined that the name conjured up a series of unfortunate associations, including a tractor brand (Edson), "weasel" and "dead cell."