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Did Tesla Really Name its Cars to be S-3-X-Y?

Anne Dennon

Anne Dennon

Technology and Finance Writer

5 min. read

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Elon Musk’s juvenile naming convention is part of a long line of quirky product-christening backstories.

First the Model S, then the Model X, then the Model … 3? It might not be immediately obvious (try tapping into your middle-school imagination here), but Tesla’s CEO has long gotten a kick – as written about by Inc., Electrek and others over the years – out of telling audiences that rearranging the model names gives you S-E-X. Well, S-3-X.

Ford threw a wrench in the works of Tesla’s original letter lineup when the heritage car manufacturer claimed rights to the Model E, as reported by Fortune in 2014. No matter, Tesla rotated the character 180 degrees.


With the Thursday night reveal of the midsize crossover Model Y, Musk’s dreams of owning a S-3-X-Y car company have finally come true. Musk has intimated that he’ll move on to his next whacky naming convention from here, but the history of quirky and unusual product naming didn’t start with him.


Screenshot: Tesla

Whether colloquial (Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) or technical (Kenmore 61202), product names can disguise more than they reveal about the product itself. One thing’s for sure: Product names are not always the result of cold hard science, nor standard marketing practices. If you look closely, a certain kind of whimsy is revealed in the naming of products, from the Tesla models that came after the initial roadster, to the iPhone X.

At first glance, there’s nothing mysterious about the iPhone X. It’s the 10th generation phone, right? Actually, several products manufactured by Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry (nostalgic sigh) all skipped the 9. Some people think they did this to make the product appear to have greatly advanced since the previous iteration. Others think they were side-stepping superstition. The number nine carries negative connotations in Japan because it sounds similar to the word for torture and suffering, National Geographic reported in 2013.

In potentially another bid to keep good feelings around their products in Asian countries, Bose’s headphone line-up skipped QuietComfort 4, going straight from QC3 to QC15. In China, according to HowStuffWorks.com, the number four is avoided as a building floor just like number 13 is avoided in the U.S., because it’s pronounced similarly to the word for death.

On a more positive note, Quartz.com wrote in 2017 about how IKEA takes its furniture names from Swedish lakes and bodies of water, plant names and place names, Scandinavian islands, and vernacular slang expression. Even better, these points of naming inspiration are assigned to specific types of goods. So for example, children’s products are largely named after mammals and birds, while kitchen accessories are given the words for different fishes and mushrooms.

After the brass tacks of prototyping and manufacturing, producers get handed the comparatively breezy task of naming their creations. The decisions that inform what they select and what they avoid betray the inner psychology of industry gurus in ways that can be curious, quaint, or cringe-worthy. What will be our response be to Musk’s next naming concept? We’ll C.

Featured Image: Tesla

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