Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Why a car by any other name would sound sweeter to Zoe

A Frenchwoman called Zoe Renault has begun a legal action to prevent Renault from naming their new electric city-car, the Zoe. I'm with Zoe on this — the she, not the car.

All her life she has probably been teased mercilessly about her surname and now she is to be burdened with an entire car name, but this time back to front, almost as if she were being removed for illegal parking by a tow-truck.

Let me admit: I have certain feelings about Renault because my first car was a Renault 10. Possibly Ten is a very popular personal name in Peru, or Burma, but it wasn't in Belfast, so it never gave me any problems — because neither Fenians nor Bluenoses were ever called Ten.

Admittedly, in other regards, she — yes, my car was a she — was imperfect. She wouldn't start if rain had fallen any time over the previous month. She had a top speed of about 120 mph, but only if encased in concrete and dropped from the back of a Lockheed Hercules. Otherwise, going downwards on a steep slope with a following wind, she was lucky to reach 70mph.

The Renault 10, you see, was rear-engined. Although emitting the power of a frostbitten glow-worm on its death-bed, the engine was as heavy as an anvil made of depleted uranium.

Mercedes, which itself |is a girl's name (the |company is actually called Benz) doesn't give other names to its cars, just numbers, with the exception of the mysterious Kompressor.

According to my English-|German dictionary, this means “poultice”. Rather useful in an |accident — but a rather pessimistic basis upon which to choose a car. Rather like buying a Ford Plasma, or a Fiat Rhesus Negative.

But Zoe is right. Car names can influence people. What chance has the accused got in any court if he is called Hiace McDonagh?

Moreover, I know from bitter experience just how a name can be destroyed before one's blameless eyes.

Kevin is simply an Irish, and originally early-medieval, version of the name of the current Catholic Primate of Vienna, Schoenborn. It manages to combine Irish and ancient Greek: Irish caomh, “comely”, and Greek gen, “born”. And it was once very unusual. Only 11 British soldiers with the name Kevin were killed in the First World War — all Irish, and mostly officers. Fifteen British soldiers called Kevin were killed in the Second War — now mostly enlisted men, but with three officers (one of them my uncle) and again mostly Irish. (Please don't ask: it's the kind of thing I know). So once upon a time, Kevin was a fine and rare name.

Yet by 1990, Kevin had become the most wretchedly accurate social-signifier in British nomenclatural history. These new Kevins, thousands and thousands of them, were 100pc English.

They were quite terrible. By |the age of 14, they had mugged their first blind pensioner and before they were 15, were injecting glue. By the age of 16, the average Kevin had done the equivalent of hijacking the London-Glasgow express as it left Charing Cross, and ordering the driver to take him to Norway. Kevins in |England were universally thick,|incontinent and violent: and |no one has the least idea how |the name became so popular amongst the dysfunctional English underclass, because there was no thuggish, leg-breaking footballer, or tone-deaf rock-star, called Kevin to serve as inspirational eponym. The name simply spread like genital-warts amongst the sexually active brain-dead in England, in which country, boys called Kevin are now even lower in social status than those homicidal vegetables called Wayne, Dwayne, Craig or Lee.

So, Zoe, I empathise. I know what it is to have one's name destroyed before one's very eyes.

One worse fate awaits me still: to wake and find a new car on the market, called the Reliant Kevin.

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