If you’re anything like the average American, you spend more time in the car each day than you do around the family dinner table. So perhaps it’s no surprise that many of us name our cars as though they were members of the family—an act that’s led to the October 2 being designated as Name Your Car Day.
But just why do we name our cars?
“We name our cars because it gives us a sense of control over them,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Most of us are not mechanics who understand all the inner workings of this big piece of machinery that we depend on to protect us. All we know is that our lives are in the hands of something that roars.”
Naming cars makes us feel safer because it humanizes them—and humans behave in ways we can anticipate. According Nicolas Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago, once we’ve named a thing, from a hurricane to a ship, we start seeing intentionality in its behavior. So when things go right—“The Beast” gets us safely home over icy roads or “The Silver Bullet” dashes up a big hill with ease—we appreciate the car’s performance as though it were a personal favor. We start thinking of our cars not just as companions, but as trustworthy and highly competent. “My daughter named her car Jeeves, after the fictional valet,” adds Dr. Lieberman. “She finds great fun in telling him, ‘Take me home, Jeeves!’”
Strangely enough, even when something goes wrong, we don’t lose faith in cars that we’ve named. One study put drivers in self-driving car simulators that got into an unavoidable fender bender. When the car was not anthropomorphized, the drivers wanted to punish it for the accident; when the car was given a name, gender and voice, the drivers still rated its competence highly and reported more positive driving experiences in spite of the (simulated) collision.
If you’re looking for a good name for your ride, start in one of the three basic categories:
• A favorite human name (Betsy, Suzy and Fred are popular ones)
• A spin on the car’s actual brand name (Corey the Corolla, Bug the Beetle, Minnie the MINI Cooper)
• A comment on the car’s appearance (Old Blue, Big Red, Green Machine)
Or take inspiration from some of our readers’ favorites:
— Philip Mintac (@1LTMintac) September 14, 2015
— Jason Hyett (@jrhyett) September 15, 2015
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