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Changing Car Names: Smudging The Past, Blurring The Future?

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Would car buyers love the Lincoln MKS if it were more Continental?

Should the Acura RLX give in to ego and pronounce, "I Am Legend"?

Does an Infiniti G37 by any other name sound as sweet?

Car names aren't just clever or memorable. They're a critical piece of multi-million-dollar marketing strategies meant to influence the way you think about a car before you've ever driven it.

As such, new car names are decisions not taken lightly. When a name isn't resurrected or simply carried over, it can turn into an onomastic quest for the holy grail. Sometimes millions of dollars are spent, and dozens of names are generated, in the pursuit of one good one--a simple, non-copyrighted, inoffensive, catchy, short, numerologically favorable, pleasant-sounding noun or alphanumeric combination.

It's a difficult task, which is why changing car names can be doubly tough, and why car companies try not to rename whole brands or even models very often. It dislodges returning customers, costs millions in change-orders for everything from badging to stationery, and can evaporate good word of mouth. When it happens, it's due to dire circumstances, a need to reintroduce a nameplate to a new audience, or to weed out decades of illogical naming conventions.

As complex a task as it can be, renaming has taken place at least five automotive brands in the past generation--for all those reasons, and some unique ones.

It's happening this year at Infiniti, where the company hopes to fix some mission creep in its badging while it underscores an expansion in its lineup. At the same time, it's having to divorce itself from its best-selling nameplate in its history.

Does changing car names smudge the past, or does it blur the future? Do name changes give car companies the chance to forge new identities--or does it just kill good ones?

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