“and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” Genesis 2:19b
A few years ago, we bought a used two cylinder, 660cc Honda mini car to match our new Tokyo lifestyle. (Imagine a classic VW Beetle and think smaller.) The name of our car, N-One, initially puzzled us, but we soon learned that the “N” stood for “New,” “Next,” “Nippon” (“Japan”) and “Norimono” (“vehicle”). Apparently, we were driving a car with an identity crisis! We didn’t mind the intriguing name as it was a great car that served us well for several years. We soon nicknamed it “Panda” as the color scheme reminded us of a giant panda. A few years later, I discovered that there are actually websites to help owners come up with nicknames for their cars as they become like members of our families.
Car names in Japan have actually been a continuous source of humor among foreign residents. We couldn’t help but chuckle sometimes when we pulled up behind a Dunk (Honda), a Scat (Daihatsu) a Lettuce (Mitsubishi), a Homy (Nissan), a Bongo (Mazda), a Joypop (Suzuki), a Noah (Toyota) a That’s (Honda), a Scrum Wagon (Mazda), a Charade (Daihatsu) and the prize-winning, Naked (Daihatsu). I’m sure there were many good reasons for selecting these particular names and the attributes they supposedly represented, but not all such choices successfully stand the test of time.
For a few years we owned a Subaru (スバル) and wondered about the symbolism of its logo on the back of the car. Someone eventually informed us that “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the constellation Pleiades, which is cleverly represented by the six stars in the Subaru logo. A little further investigation into the name origin of various Japanese car companies reveals the following:
- The Toyota (トヨタ) Company was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda, whose slightly modified surname was used for his new car company founded in 1937. Toyoda means literally “fertile farm field.”
- The Nissan (日産) name comes from the combination of two Japanese kanji. The first one, 日 (ni), meaning “sun,” is also the first character for Nihon (日本), which means “” The second kanji, 産 (san), means “production.” Taken together, Nissan translates to “made in Japan,” a very appropriate name.
- Honda (ホンダ) is less interesting as its name is derived from its founder, Soichiro Honda.
- Mitsubishi (三菱) Motors is actually a collection of companies, which explains why the word “mitsu,” meaning “three,” is incorporated in the name and stylistically represented by the three red diamond Mitsubishi logo.
The power of name giving was one of the first responsibilities God entrusted to Adam when all the animals were brought to him in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19). This ritual symbolized the authority that mankind was granted over all of God’s creation and man’s supreme position, as he alone was created in the image of God. The pattern of name giving is particularly highlighted in the Book of Genesis as each generation gave way to the next one with many of the names steeped in symbolism or prophetic significance. But the unparalleled name of God, “I AM,” first revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14), stands out among them all. This name is described as “holy,” “majestic,” “powerful,” “glorious,” “praiseworthy,” “awesome,” “fearsome,” “merciful” and “good.” It is a Name we would do well to remember, and to revere.