The Alfa Romeo badge on the rear of a blue 2024 Alfa Romeo Milano, now known as the Junior.

My Favorite Controversial and Hilarious Car Model Names

Car model names are an interesting thing. They don’t happen by accident, and these days, there are almost certainly entire teams of people working on choosing a name for each model. The results can vary in terms of impact and quality because this kind of marketing and brand labeling isn’t an exact science. Sometimes, the results are quite effective, and you end up with an iconic name that sticks around for decades. Other times, we get a model name that’s forgettable, at best, or controversial, at worst. I thought it would be fun to look at some controversial car names. Some seemed alright initially but became problematic after shifting the model to a new market. Some were a bad choice from the very start.

Controversial Car Names: Things Change Over Time

Plenty of car names can initially seem fine but become problematic over time. I’ll admit it’s not fair to be too hard on these, since there’s usually an outside issue at play that creates a problem or controversy. Still, some of these could’ve been avoided if the manufacturer had thought things through more.

Alfa Romeo Milano/Junior

Kicking things off, I thought we’d start with a recent controversy and an issue that many people didn’t see coming. The famed Italian car company Alfa Romeo unveiled its latest subcompact SUV just this year, using the name Milano. That seemed all well and good, except the Italian government got all worked up because the vehicle is not made in Milana, or even in Italy, but in Poland. They said it’s against the law to sell a product in Italy with a name that sounds Italian if it’s made somewhere else. I’m not an Italian commercial lawyer, so I have no idea if that’s true. Still, Alfa Romeo took note and announced the model name had changed to “Junior” just a few days after the initial reveal.

Studebaker Dictator

Going back into the past, we have the beautifully designed and ill-named Dictator from Studebaker. First released for the 1927 model year, it was a gorgeous car with a name meant to indicate it set the standard that other vehicles would follow. Given the rise of fascist dictators throughout various countries in the early 20th century, however, Studebaker wisely chose to drop the Dictator name when they revealed its successor, the Champion, in the ill-fated year of 1939.

Dodge Dart Swinger

The Dodge Dart was a sporty and stylish car available throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s. Looking back, you can easily see how it built on previous models like the Coronet and set the stage for the Dodge muscle cars we’ve known for decades. Toward the end of the 1960s and into 1970, Dodge started using the name “Swinger” for their two-door hardtop models, which was an interesting choice. It is not a terrible name by any means, but it can certainly raise a few eyebrows, given alternate uses of this term during the Swinging ‘60s if you know what I mean.

The Hyundai and Kona badges on the back of a red 2024 Hyundai Kona Limited.

Model Names Lost in Translation

Sometimes, a vehicle name seems fine in one context, only to reveal itself as a problem when looking at it another way. Words are a funny thing, and you can have very similar sounds and meanings across languages. The most famous example of this is the Chevy Nova. “No va” means “no go” in Spanish, which is a terrible name for a car. These days, it’s easy to hop online and look at a translation tool for a word to make sure it’s not horrible in another language, but that wasn’t always the case, and slang is still easy to miss.

Mazda Laputa

Arguably, the single best example of this in automotive history is the Mazda Laputa, a rebadged version of the Suzuki Kei that was available in the early 2000s. Mazda took the name from a floating island kingdom in the novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. This seems perfectly innocent, but not if you ask any of your Spanish-speaking friends, and maybe not loudly or in public. Let’s just say it’s a not-so-nice way to refer to a purveyor of the “world’s oldest profession.”

Mitsubishi Pajero

That misstep by Mazda was pretty bad, but it was made worse because they could’ve learned from what Mitsubishi did before that. The Pajero is a full-size SUV they first released all the way back in 1981. Mitsubishi chose the name based on the Pampas cat, one of the most darling cats you’ll ever see with the scientific name Leopardus pajeros. The problem is that “pajero” is a bit of Spanish slang that’s a derogatory term and not something one would use to proudly refer to their SUV. As a result, they called it the Montero in North America and Spain instead.

Hyundai Kona

Proving that it’s not just Japanese car companies that struggle with worldwide linguistic awareness, the Hyundai Kona is one of the most recent examples of this hilarious trend. Released for the 2018 model year, the Kona is a subcompact SUV that’s a fine vehicle by all accounts, unless you speak Portuguese. The name Kona sounds an awful lot like a very vulgar term in that fine language. For the sake of propriety, I’ve decided not to use any of the many puns I’ve thought of for this moment. This model is sold as the Kauai in Portugal.

A close-up of the Scat Pack badge and racing stripes on a 2024 Dodge Charger Scat Pack.

Bad Car Names: What Were They Thinking?

I can’t entirely fault car companies for having bad model names due to changing times, a lack of foresight, or poor translations. No one can know every word in every language, so mistakes are going to happen. But sometimes, car companies do things that are downright dumb, and run with an idea that never should’ve left the brainstorming session.

Mazda Titan Dump

Not to be confused with the Nissan pickup with the same name, the Mazda Titan is a commercial truck that’s been available since 1971, which is a long time for any vehicle. It’s available with a wide range of bed options and upfits that enable it to be customized to meet the needs of many different businesses. What else are you going to call a model with a dump bed on the back of it? The Mazda Titan Dump, of course! Sure, I have the maturity level of a 12-year-old, but I don’t care. That’s objectively hilarious.

Dodge Scat Pack

Not to be outdone in terms of scatological thinking and model names, Dodge has offered the Scat Pack as a high-performance option for models like the Charger and Challenger. Do you see the problem? I already used the term “scatological,” an adjective that describes something that has to do with… shall we say, droppings? Ask any hunter or outdoorsy person what “scat” means, and they probably won’t start talking about a muscle car.

Ford Probe

Not to be outdone by model names that seem designed to make a middle-schooler laugh, Ford went even deeper with the Probe. Speaking of bad ideas, this sporty coupe from the 1990s sold well initially, with many drivers being quite receptive and open to the Probe. Eventually, things dried up, however, and the situation for the Probe became uncomfortable once it waned in popularity. It turned out that most people didn’t want a Probe in the end. At least Ford didn’t go with their original idea, which was that this economical front-wheel drive coupe would be the new Mustang.

What Does the Future Hold?

If I had to guess, I’d say this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these kinds of blunders, mistakes, and controversies when it comes to vehicle names. Just look at Tesla and their models other than the Cybertruck and Roadster. We have Model S, 3, X, and Y on offer. See what I mean? Whether from immaturity within company leadership, a desire to make waves and get attention, or a lack of cultural awareness and understanding, we will keep seeing these kinds of mistakes. The only question is if they’ll be as obviously unfortunate as the Titan Dump, or more along the lines of the Laputa? I think we’ll get fewer of these kinds of scandalous names in the future since the world has become more connected and aware of itself. But there will still be some laughable missteps from time to time. For proof, look no further than the Hyundai Kona.