Toyota Explains its Most Iconic Model Names

Toyota and the Japanese in general are known for being notoriously bad at naming their cars, though most of that’s in the past now…

We’re sure you already have a dozen examples that you want to share with us. However, what are the origins of their most popular models’ names?

The automaker recently made a list of its 10 most well known offerings, featuring a short description for each model and why it’s called the way it is. Do note, though, that the list only features some of the brand’s more recent (and more successful) names and none of the ridiculous old ones.

Feel free to remind us of any Toyota (or just generally Japanese) models with silly names that still baffle today in regards to how they ever made it past the naming committee meeting…

Note: Below you will find an explanation of how the names came to be and what they mean in Toyota’s own words (…not ours), courtesy of the official Toyota Blog.


The name ‘Previa’ is derived from the Italian word ‘previdenza’, which means providence or foresight. The Previa was the world’s first MPV with a mid-mounted engine to maximize cabin space – no other manufacturer before Toyota had had the ‘foresight’ to fit a mid-mounted engine into an MPV.


Auris takes inspiration from the Latin noun ‘aurum’, meaning gold. It is also inspired by the English word ‘aura’ – the two combine in a car with a ‘golden aura’. Fitting then, that the concept version of the car – unveiled at the 2006 Paris Motor Show – was finished in a striking gold hue symbolic of the global importance of the model in terms of sales.


Avensis is derived from the French verb ‘advancer’, meaning ‘to advance’ and is indicative of the step forward that the model represented over its predecessor – the Carina E – when it arrived in 1997.


Yaris is an amalgamation of words from Greek mythology and German. In Greek mythology, ‘Charis’ was a symbol of beauty and elegance. Toyota swapped the ‘Ch’  with ‘Ya’ – German for ‘yes’ – to symbolise the perceived reaction of European markets to the car’s styling.


Camry comes from the Japanese word ‘kanmuri’, meaning ‘crown’. It’s an apt name for the car, which as the best-selling car in America for 12 years straight, really can claim to be a jewel in Toyota’s crown.


A ‘corolla’ is the ring of petals around the central part of a flower. The name was intended to evoke the image of a beautifully styled, eye-catching small family car.


A heavenly smooth drivetrain and linear power delivery were always staples of the Celica. Fitting then, that the name is Spanish for ‘celestial’.


Supra is a Latin word meaning ‘above’. The name is apt for a car that was able to punch well above its weight in magazine road tests – it famously defeated a Porsche 911 Turbo and an Aston Martin DB7.


The Corona was the first Toyota model to be exported to the UK, way back in 1965. Its name is routed in astronomy; the corona is the ring of pearly light around the sun. The name was a reflection of the robustness of the car – like a light at the end of the tunnel for motorists saddled with less reliable European cars at the time.


Prius is Latin for ‘prior’ or ‘previous’. Its name can be interpreted as a reference to the fact that at the Prius’ Japan launch in 1997, there had never been a mass-produced hybrid car prior to it.

  • 500normal

    I kinda wanna know what tacoma, rav4 and levin mean

    • Six Thousand Times

      Really, Tacoma? If only the internets offered some way to look things up, somehow. 😉

    • Tacoma is a city in Washington state on the west coast of the US. Everyone there drives a medium sized pickup made by Toyota, and so Toyota said thanks by renaming the Hilux after them.
      Rav4 is a city in Washington state on the west coast of the US. Everyone there drives a medium sized SUV made by Toyota, and so Toyota said thanks by renaming the CRV after them.

  • SamuraiJack

    Avensis derived from ‘Advancer’? Ok, if you say so

  • I disagree with the note, many of the Japanese models had interesting, memorable names – and seemed to prefer names ending in “A” (Corolla, Carisma, Micra, Impreza, Integra, Vitara, Miata…)
    Toyota used to have a love affair with names starting with “C” and has a crush with the word “crown” in different languages – Crown, Corona, Corolla, Camry.
    – Celica comes from Latin (coelica) – ‘celestial’ in Spanish is ‘celestial’
    – Tacoma is a city in northwest USA (Washington state)
    – RAV4 stands for Recreational Activity Vehicle 4×4 (or so they said when introduced back in 1994)

    • It’s all Japanese to me

      You’ll probably find the preference to names ending in “A” or at least the ahh sound, is down to the phonetic compatibility with the auditory flow of the Japanese language in gerneral.

      Based on no evidence, I have a feeling a lot of the weird and wonderful car names (and acronymic names) constructed out of the western Latin alphabet to come out of Japan were purely influenced by how easy it was for the Japanese to pronounce.

      • You got a good point; I agree with you on the Japanese using easy-to-pronounce names; too bad they’re going for alphanumeric crap (Legend beats RLX anytime)
        I loved my MR2, but knowing it sounded like ‘shit’ in French made laugh..

        In the end, the Japanese had some great names (IMO):
        — Toyota: Aristo, Celsior, Supra, Soarer, Estima, Tundra, Highlander, Cressida, Altezza, Avensis, Vellfire
        — Nissan: Matrix, Solara, Serena, Maxima, Stanza, Cedric, Cima, Elgrand, Cefiro, Fairlady Z, Murano, Avenir
        — Honda: Legend, Accord, Odyssey
        — Mazda: Miata, Cronos, Xedos
        — Mitsubishi: Diamante, Galant, Lancer
        — Subaru: Impreza, Outback
        — Suzuki: Samurai, Vitara, Swift
        — Isuzu: Impulse, Trooper

        Other ones… well, to put it politely, somewhat terrible (IMO):
        Pajero, Laputa, Rumion, Moco, Fuga, Homy, Wingroad, Terrano, Rnessa, Coaster, Allion, Probox, Mark II, Alphard, Kluger, MR-S, Platz, Quickdelivery, Windom, Scrum, Bongo, Hobio…

        • aliXFR

          I agree 100% with this, for me the worst three japanese car names are:
          > Nissan Fuga (sounds like a cross between Booger and Fugly)
          > Toyota Platz (cross between the british word for a type of female hairstyle and the british word “Prats” meaning moron, fool, cretin etc).
          > Lexus Soarer (I ADORE this car, but am I the only one who think this word sounds pain related e.g. Sore throat).

          But the Ultimate top 3 Japanese car names have to be:

          1> Toyota Chaser – easily the coolest name for a car, by far.
          2> Mazda Xedos – a mix of classy and cool.
          3> Toyota Celica/Toyota Carina – ok, so in all honesty I like these names because throughout the years I have met a few women called Karina, Karin/Karen and even the odd Salika/Sally, and they are all very attractive women. Therefore I feel that these names are linked to women and beauty.

  • fj1300

    Yaris from the german word for “Yes” would be Jaris. Great spelling over there!
    But what’s the thing with the Japanese going Spanish?
    Some examples: (Spanish-English)
    Nissan Moco – Nissan Booger
    Mazda Laputa – Mazda TheWhore
    Mitsubishi Pajero – Mitsubishi Wanker…

    • TheHake

      Yes, but then English speaking countries would have pronounced it with the same J as in Jack, or Job. Thus, I would guess, changing it to Ya for the phonetic sound.

      Also, thats why the Pajero is called the Montero in Spain. 😉

  • Bo Hanan


  • j60dnl

    Funny how they say Toyota had “the foresight” into making the Previa, mid engined – but the photo shows the FF layout Previa.

  • JpCosta

    toyota MR2 can be read “full of shit” in french. that is why it is called MR5 in france.

  • Designerdrew

    Urban Cruiser? Explain THAT in one paragraph!

    • TheHake

      mini-mini-Land Cruiser for Urban areas only…

  • TheHake

    FJ Cruiser – Based on the Land Cruiser 120 chasis with styling cues that point back to the FJ40 of the ’60s, thus… et voila.

  • Patrick

    In Indonesia, we have Avanza instead of Avensis, and that’s a completely different car.
    We also have Agya instead of Aygo, and that’s also a different car.

  • Squeezit Wafflenose

    A “mid-mounted engine to maximize cabin space” in the Previa? What?!?!?! Yeah, surely there’s plenty of cabin space in the mid-engined Porsche Boxster and the like… If the Previa were mid-engined, it would have its engine somewhere between the second and third row of seats.

    • An easy Google search would reveal the power train layout of the first-generation Previa (Estima/Lucida in Japan); the engine was sideways under the floor, I remember it was a pain to fix (in those rare cases when it broke down…)
      Check the attached image(s)
      (These images were not posted by me originally, so I give credit to their original sources)

  • lorenzo

    I am italian and as like french or spanish and portugaise it’s a Latin language. But a big difference in the sound of Italian Language compared to those other is that all the words finish with a vowel like Japanese words. I want to give my contribution to the names that are or seems italian and help to translate in English to give an idea if some of them sounds good or ridiculous in my country.

    I refer to the following:
    — Toyota: Aristo (Italian surname that remember the Greek Aristotele).

    Altezza means several things: height, stature, reference to a king, altitude.

    Corolla: As in many other countries means the corona/ring of the flowers.

    Corona: Crown

    Sera: Evening

    Dahiatsu: Materia same in english, Cuore: Hearth,

    Nissan: Serena: name for female that means Quiete and calm ( Serenity ), Maxima ( similar to Massimo that means Maximum ), Stanza = Room, Cima= Peak, Murano= Island of Venice famous to manufacture the Glass, Avenir = remember Avvenire that means Come, or better Occur ( referred to the future ), Silvia = Italian name for Silvie etc…

    — Honda: Accord= Accordo, Odyssey = not very good name if referred to the literature of the Odyssey: a travel full of problems made by Ulisse…
    — Mitsubishi: Diamante stand for italian Diamond, Galant in Italy Galante=Gallant
    — Suzuki:Cappuccino : type of coffee that also means little hood, cowl

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