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News Room

Why Do People Give Their Car A Name?

Jason Snyman
2019-12-09
In this article, we take a look at the psychology behind people who see their vehicles as living, breathing things. Have you ever given your car a name? If so, we’d love to know what it is!

One of South Africa’s largest general insurers recently conducted a survey on over 1 900 car owners with insurance policies. This was in order to determine their level of dependability on their vehicles.  

Results revealed that almost two-thirds of people consider themselves to be ‘very or extremely attached’ to their cars. Four out of ten have even given their car a name. 

South Africans develop an emotional attachment to their vehicle. We drive it until the wheels fall off, and losing said vehicle is often much more than just a financial inconvenience. It’s personal. And so, it comes as little surprise that some would attribute human traits to their car. 

This writer, for one, has mostly just referred to his car by ‘Car’ or ‘Piece of Trash Opel.’ Other people have been much more inventive. For instance, Nissan drivers have been partial to naming their car ‘Liam’. Get it? 

What goes into a name, though? We recently had a look at how car manufacturers name their models, but why do we as people feel the need to personify inanimate objects?

Naming Our Car, The Psychology Of Anthropomorphism

In the olden days, we would surely have given our horse a name. Though a car isn’t a living, breathing thing – it moves and serves the same purpose. It is the modern equivalent of a trusty steed. 

Therefore we keep it fed and well-maintained and we try our best to look after it. Cars are so important to us that, subconsciously, that we begin to treat it the same way we would a person we care about. We rely on this vehicle to keep us safe, keep our loved ones safe, and get us from point A to point B in one piece. So, it becomes a part of the family. 

Many people believe that naming their car comes naturally. We speak to it, we curse it, we plead with it. After a long, gruelling drive, you may even get out, pat the car on the bonnet and say ‘Well done.’ 

It’s all a part of this strange relationship we cultivate, on the way to work and back, across scenic routes, through the back streets and road trips in the summer. Maybe it has even played a small part in your love life. 

By thinking of a nonhuman object in human ways, we render it worthy of our contemplation. In fact, neuroscience research has shown that the brain exhibits similar activity when thinking about the behaviour of both humans and nonhuman entities. This suggests that anthropomorphism – the tendency to give inanimate entities human characteristics – may be utilizing the same parts of the brain we use when thinking about other people. 

Of course, we don’t go around naming every single thing around us, such as the toaster or the espresso machine. That would be crazy. 

No, there’s something very special about our relationship with transport.

The Role Of Gender

According to a survey conducted by 1st For Women, women are far more likely to name their cars than men. It could even be suggested that because they have a greater bond with their vehicle, women tend to drive more carefully. 

When it comes to the name, and gender, most people tend to give their car a name of the opposite sex. Most women will give their car a masculine name while most men will give their car a feminine name, and refer to it as a she. 

As we’re all aware, ships and boats throughout history have almost exclusively been given feminine names, and referred to in the feminine. 

Maiden voyage. 

There’s a bit of prose that can be found in many a wardroom of U.S. naval ships. Depending on how you look at it, it could be seen as mischievous, or downright offensive. It runs thus:

“A ship is called a she because there is always a great deal of bustle around her; there is usually a gang of men about; she has a waist and stays; it takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking; it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep; she can be all decked out; it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable. She shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.”

Right. 

An explanation we favour, and often relayed to sailors, is that because women carry life, any vessel that can sustain life in an environment where people could otherwise not normally survive or function without her body should, fittingly, have a feminine name. 

Ships without a name are presumed to be cursed, and thought to be barren.

In Closing

According to research by 1st For Women Insurance, 80% of UK car owners have named their cars. This number is probably comparable in South Africa. 

When choosing a name, we may base our decisions on the make of the car, the colour, somebody famous or somebody we admire. In the USA, some of the most common names include Betsy, Betty, Bessie, Bertha and The Beast. 

In the melting pot of culture that is South Africa, it’s almost impossible to determine what the most common name would be. These are all based on personal preferences. It is, however, suggested that South Africans gravitate toward names that are similar to the car’s licence plate number. 

For example, YSL may become ‘Yves’ – named after the designer Yves Saint Laurent. PLY becomes ‘Polly’, 007 inevitably becomes ‘Connery’ and, most bizarrely, in every single case, CA might became ‘I forget how to drive when Table Mountain is in view.’ 

As far as anthropomorphism goes, in extreme cases, we may even assign a sense of responsibility to our cars, the way we would people. We may want to punish or reward them based on their performance and actions. In time, we may even begin to make out facial features in the shape of the headlights, the slope of the bonnet or the smile of the grill… 

And then you can rest assured that you might have darker, more troubling problems in life than thinking up a catchy name. 

Perhaps it’s just a silly thing that people like to do – to assign identities to the things that matter to us. 

Have you named your car? If so, we’d love to know what it is!

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