A Bongo Friendee By Any Other Name...

Somewhere between the Nissan factory in Tochigi, Japan, and the Port of Los Angeles, the Leopard J. Ferie sedan loses its first and last names. In America, it's sold by Infiniti dealers as the J--the J30, to be precise. Other Nissans that leave their badges at home include the Sunny, which becomes the Sentra, and the Fairlady Z, which appears as the 300ZX.

Names, it seems, don't travel very well--in either direction. Take Toyota's flagship Avalon, which was conceived, built, and named in the U.S. "We wanted something elegant and upscale, and this was highly rated in clinics with intended buyers," says Sherilyn K. Marshall, strategic planning manager at Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. in Torrance, Calif. "But we had a difficult time selling the idea to executives in Japan."

No surprise. In Japanese, Avalon's "V" is pronounced "B" and the "L" is indistinguishable from an "R." So the word "Avalon" could come out sounding a lot like that shellfish, the abalone. Mazda Motor Corp.'s American-bred Miata, from the old High German word for "reward," sounds suspiciously like Miyata, a prominent Japanese bicycle company. So in Japan, the sporty little number is called the Eunos Roadster. A Mazda spokesman says that Eunos is a made-up word, meaning "happy number."

LUCKY STROKES. In Japan, Toyota's car names almost always start with "C"--there's Crown, Celica, Carina, Cressida, Celsior, Century, Corona, Corolla, and Camry. Legend has it a fortune-teller told founder Kiichiro Toyoda that names starting with "C" would sell better. He also told him that a name written with 8 brush strokes was luckier than one written with 10, which is why the company is named Toyota instead of Toyoda.

Most Japanese car names, both at home and abroad, are derived from Latin roots easy to say in Japanese. Some English derivations also are fashionable. Mazda's 4x4, the Proceed Marvie, combines all of these elements and includes the Spanish mar for ocean and the French vie for life. Its Bongo Friendee van picks up the word "friendly" but drops the difficult "L."

Sometimes, something is lost in translation: Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s Starion, the Colt Starion in Europe, obviously was supposed to be a frisky "stallion." Funny things happen, it seems, even on the way to the global marketplace.

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