Naming a car can be difficult. Just ask the folks who came up with the Mitsubishi Pajero or the Buick Lacrosse (both of which turned out to mean wanker in other languages). There are also the unintentionally funny ones given by English dictionary-adverse marketers like Suzuki Every Joy Pop Turbo or the Hino Dolphin Dump. Thankfully, when Prince Motor named its premium Skyline sedan, it chose a word that had lasting resonance and helped the car gain international acclaim even though it was never intended to be sold overseas. It has now won an award for naming excellence, but the origins of the name have always been controversial.
The Japan Naming Award recognizes the best product names in the country. It’s given by the Japan Naming Association, made up of copyrighters, designers, typographers patent attorneys, and such. Alongside the Skyline, awards this year went to icons such as Cup Noodle instant ramen, anti-brand retail brand Muji, and the Tokyo Sky Tree tower.
“The Skyline name, which has been passed down for more than 60 years, is still appealing is to Japanese customers who loved and raised the “Skyline” and to its current model,” said Nissan Executive Vice President Asako Hoshino, “It is the result of supporters who have been passionate about the car.” As with anything people feel passionately about, there are bound to be disagreements.
According to the Japan Naming Association, which likely had to recognize the official origin story, when it came time to replace the boringly named Prince Sedan the Skyline name was decided upon by two men. Those men were Fuji Precision Industry (predecessor to Prince Motor) president Ino Dan and chairman Shojiro Ishibashi, also the founder of Bridgestone. Ishibashi liked the name Skyline had several products with similar names, the Skyway tire and Blue Sky golf balls.
The competing story that enthusiasts have always thought to be true was that it came from Shinichro Sakurai, the Prince engineer called the father of Skyline. We may commonly think of “skyline” to mean the outline of a city viewed from a distance, but an alternate meaning is the view of a mountain chain against the sky. As the story goes, Sakurai went skiing in Kusatsu, a town in the Agatsuma District of Gunma Prefecture. Standing at a vista point there, he was inspired by the beautiful mountain ridges he saw in the distance.
People who support the first theory say that it would have been unlikely that Sakurai, who would have only been 26 at the time and thus a junior level employee at the company, could have had such an influence. Those who support the second theory, however, say that there was an internal contest for name suggestions, as Japanese companies were often fond of doing back then, allowing Sakurai to get his nomination to Dan and Ishibashi’s desk.
We will probably never know its true origins. Regardless, the Skyline name means a lot to many people around the world, and now it has been acknowledged for its importance in Japanese culture.