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The Meaning Behind Toyota’s Car Names

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2017 Toyota Tacoma

The meanings behind some car names, especially those from American brands, are often obvious. It’s clear, for instance, what the Ford Expedition is implying by its name. When it comes to names that have no basis in the English language, however, things get a little trickier, and sometimes it seems as though automakers simply throw darts at random letters on a wall to pick a new car name.

In Toyota’s case, however, you can find intentional meaning and motivation behind every car name—yes, even behind the unfortunately named Toyota Isis that is still sold in Japan and Singapore and is probably overdue for a name change.

Toyota sells a lot of vehicles around the world, and delving into the meaning of each of their names would take ages, so let’s take a look at just the ones that are currently sold in America.

4Runner A combination of “4WD” and “off-road runner.”
86 A reference to the AE86 model code of the popular Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno of the 1980s, the latter of which was immortalized by the Initial D anime.
Avalon In Celtic legends, the island of Avalon is a mythical paradise. The car is meant to evoke the feeling of spaciousness, comfort, and sophistication.
Camry The Japanese word for “crown,” cementing the idea that the Camry is the queen of the Toyota lineup.
Corolla Named after the ring of petals around the central part of a flower, suited for a car designed to be compact yet beautiful.
Highlander Named after people who live in the Scottish Highlands, which are associated with ruggedness, energy, and power.
Land Cruiser This one is a no-brainer: it can go anywhere on land!
Prius Latin for “prior,” or “to go before,” a fitting name for the world’s first mass-market hybrid vehicle.
RAV4 A simple acronym: “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4WD.”
Sequoia Named after the giant sequoia trees, also known as redwoods, for their great size, beauty, and longevity.
Sienna Named after the Italian city Siena, famous for its beauty and heritage.
Tacoma Named after the Washington State mountain now known as Mt. Rainier, which provided water to the Salish Indian tribe and was associated with strength and power.
Tundra A self-explanatory name meant to convey ruggedness and power.
Yaris Derived from Charis, the Greek goddess of beauty and creativity, blended with the German word “ja”—pronounced “ya,” meaning “yes”—to represent the styling’s popularity.