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Why do people name their cars?

Driving Miss Daisy, or Jimmy, or Foo Foo
While many of us might confess to calling our car names when it won't start or breaks down, some people give their cars pet names, even petting them like the family dog and talking to them as if they were listening.

It's called anthropomorphism, the practice of suggesting human characteristics for animals (dogs playing poker, perhaps) or other inanimate objects - like your car for instance. Cars may technically be inanimate, but we don't necessarily think of them that way.

Why is it that you might name your car, but you would never give a name to your TV set, refrigerator or your sofa?

The experts have some theories: Cars move, making them animate objects. People think cars are alive. We personalize our cars with our stuff. Cars are a thing of pride.

“Cars are certainly more personal objects than refrigerators are, and a source of more personal pride,” said Cleveland Kent Evans, associate professor of psychology, Bellevue University. “Vehicles of any kind are probably also more likely to be named simply because they move in the course of their normal use, and so are more easily to think of like they were animate objects instead of inanimate ones.”

True. But lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners move, and it's not generally acceptable to say, “I need to vacuum, will you get `Sucky' out of the closet for me?”

“People name their cars because they're `alive',” said Ray Browne, professor of popular culture, emeritus, Bowling Green State University. “People used to name their wagons and buggies, as well as their horses, cows, dogs and cats. Some even name their houses now as well as their estates and other artifacts of culture close to them. They carry this intimacy closer in their pet names.”

And even though cars are mass-produced, we personalize our cars with familiar smells, sounds and stuff like the picture of the kids taped to the dashboard or the tassel from graduation that hangs from the rear view mirror.

“I think that many of us spend a lot of time with our cars, not just driving/riding in them, but keeping them running, and counting on them to get us places,” said Ed Liebow, senior research scientist and associate director at Battelle's Center for Public Health Research in Seattle. “Many important things happen to some of us in cars -- relationships begin, grow stronger, end -- we listen to the radio or sound system and associate what we hear with powerful emotions. In short, our cars are not just utilitarian appliances. They occupy meaningful places in our lives. And despite being mass produced, they are individualized.”

Story courtesy Ford Motor Company eNews, posted Oct. 5, 2006