The Edsel Could Have Been Named The Intelligent WhaleS

On New Years' Day I decided to ask the Jaloposphere for a name for the goofy little car I've been drawing for a number of articles. Commenter 62ImperialCrown suggested "Utopian Turtletop," which was a rejected name created by poet Marianne Moore for the Ford Edsel.

A poet was asked to come up with names for one of the most legendary flops of all time? How had I not heard about this? It has all my favorite things: cars, failure, weird ideas, turtles — so I did a bit of looking.

The story's reasonably well-known, and while that makes me feel a bit like an idiot, there's no reason any of you have to. So here's the whole story.

Back in 1955, when the Edsel line (it was originally intended to be an entire sub-brand) was in development, there was lots of confusion as to what to name the car. The ad agency Foote, Cone and Belding was retained to come up with names, and boy did they, cranking out a list of six freaking thousand of them. Those names, interestingly, included a number that the Edsel would use on model types and would also go on to be names for other cars, both Ford and other brands. Names like Pacer, Ranger, and Citation.

Still, nothing in this huge list was getting anyone really excited, so, not entirely officially, members of the marketing team reached out to modernist poet Marianne Moore, who was known for her wit and unorthodox thinking. She even wrote (later on) the liner notes for Muhammad Ali's spoken word album!

They sent the poet a letter that said, in part:

We should like this name to be more than a label. Specifically, we should like it to have a compelling quality in itself and by itself. To convey, through association or other conjuration, some visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design. A name, in short, that flashes a dramatically desirable picture in people's minds.

So, based on these instructions, Moore came up with a pretty incredible list. Now, it's not really a list of car names that you could ever imagine actually being used, but there's a number in there I think would have been pretty incredible. The Ford Silver Sword has a really great rhythm to it and is just fun to say — go ahead, try it out. Plus, Resilient Bullet? That's pretty tough. Thunderblender? Evokes a really dangerous appliance too much, maybe. Astranaut is pretty fun, though Pastelogram is just weird and Varsity Stroke sounds like some advanced masturbation technique.

I've got the full list below, thanks to the good data-hoarders at Lists of Note.

Of course, in the end, they went with "Edsel," after Henry Ford's late son. And it was a colossal flop, of course, partially due to the name, which no one outside of Ford insiders really understood or gave a crap about. Oh, and just to make things nice and confusing, around this same time there was a poet named Edsel Ford, completely unrelated to any of this, even though his name and occupation are a perfect combination of this entire event.

Here's the entire list. Enjoy!

  • The Ford Silver Sword
  • Hirundo
  • Aerundo
  • Hurricane Hirundo (swallow)
  • Hurricane Aquila (eagle)
  • Hurricane Accipter (hawk)
  • The Impeccable
  • Symmechromatic
  • Thunderblender
  • The Resilient Bullet
  • Intelligent Bullet
  • Bullet Cloisoné
  • Bullet Lavolta
  • The Intelligent Whale
  • The Ford Fabergé (That there is also a perfume Fabergé seems to me to do no harm, for here allusion is to the original silversmith)
  • The Arc-en-Ciel (the rainbow)
  • Arcenciel
  • Mongoose Civique
  • Anticipator
  • Regna Racer (couronne a couronne) sovereign to sovereign
  • Aeroterre
  • Fée Rapide (Aerofee, Aero Faire, Fee Aiglette, Magi-faire) Comme Il Faire
  • Tonnere Alifère (winged thunder)
  • Aliforme Alifère (wing-slender a-wing)
  • Turbotorc (used as an adjective by Plymouth)
  • Thunderbird Allié (Cousin Thunderbird)
  • Thunder Crester
  • Dearborn Diamanté
  • Magigravure
  • Pastelogram
  • Regina-Rex
  • Taper Racer
  • Varsity Stroke
  • Angelastro
  • Astranaut
  • Chaparral
  • Tir á l'arc (bull's eye)
  • Cresta Lark
  • Triskelion (three legs running)
  • Pluma Piluma (hairfine, feather-foot)
  • Adante con Moto (description of a good motor?)
  • Turcotinga (turqoise cotinga-the cotinga being a South-American finch or sparrow) solid indigo.
  • Utopian Turtletop