Taxonomy of Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Names

This chart of SUV names reveals a singular positioning strategy that permeates most of the brand names in this industry, resulting in the bulk of these names being assigned low marks on this scale. It's not that the names themselves are poor. Rather, it's because the names don't help to differentiate one vehicle from another; many of them are variations on the same theme (rugged, outdoorsy) and not pulling any marketing weight. Why does Suburban rate an elevated position? Because it's the most refreshingly different and honest name in the Experiential category.

  • Jeep
4         4
  • Suburban
  • Hummer
  • Jackaroo
  • Jeepster
  • Element
  • Xterra
  • Amigo
  • Aviator
  • Sidekick
  • Avalanche
  • Cayenne
  • Safari
  • Land Cruiser
  • Overland
  • Range Rover
  • Pathfinder
  • TrailBlazer
  • Travelall
  • Unimog
  • Blazer
  • Discovery
  • Defender
  • Escape
  • Excursion
  • Expedition
  • Explorer
  • Forester
  • Freelander
  • Mountaineer
  • Navigator
  • Scout
  • Tracker
  • Trooper
  • Wrangler
  • Armada
  • Frontier
  • Highlander
  • Matrix
  • Passport
  • Samurai
  • Silverado
  • Tundra
  • Typhoon
  • 4Runner
  • Rav4
  • Grand Vitara
  • Korando
  • Envoy
  • Liberty
  • Rendezvous
  • Tribute
  • Aztek
  • Bordeux
  • Bronco
  • Cherokee
  • Comanche
  • Durango
  • Kahuna
  • Montana
  • Montero
  • Murano
  • Navaho
  • Rainier
  • Rodeo
  • Santa Fe
  • Sequoia
  • Sonoma
  • Sorento
  • Tacoma
  • Tahoe
  • Touareg
  • Yukon
  • CR-V
  • EVX
  • EX
  • LX 470
  • MDX
  • ML55
  • QX4
  • SLX
  • SRX
  • X5
  • XC90
  • XL-7
  • Terracross
  • VehiCROSS
  • Bravada
  • Escalade
  • Sportage
  • Axiom

Levels of Engagement: These eight levels (y-axis levels from minus 2 to plus 5) represent the amount of material (meaning, stories, associations, imagery, multiple layers) in a name the audience has to play with and personalize – and how "engaged" they are by a name. Names in the minus 2 level are the least engaging, and likely to be quickly forgotten; the higher the number the better, with level 5 being the best.

Functional Names: The lowest common denominator of names, usually either named after a person, purely descriptive of what the company or product does, or a pre- or suffixed reference to functionality. (Infoseek, LookSmart)

Invented Names: "Invented" as in a made-up name (Acquient, Agilent, Alliant, Google) or a non-English name that is not widely known.

Experiential Names: A direct connection to something real, a part of direct human experience. Usually literal in nature, but presented with a touch of imagination. (Netscape, Palm Pilot)

Evocative Names: These names are designed to evoke the positioning of a company or product rather than the goods and services or the experience of those goods and services. Removed from direct experience, but relevant – evoking memories, stories, and many levels of association. (Virgin, Apple, Cracker Jack)

We encourage you to print this out and move names around, and see if you think they should be classified differently. It's an exercise that will get you thinking about the names in your own industry. (Here is a blank taxonomy chart you can print out.)

The first thing we do at the beginning of any naming or branding project is to thoroughly analyze the names and messaging of the competition in your business sector, and plot those names on a taxonomy chart like this one. This document is very helpful for everyone involved in the naming project to see the competitive reality and understand what types of names are overused and where we have to go to separate from the pack.

Further reading:

Sweet Snack Name Taxonomy