How the name of an aircraft determines it fate

The Sam Wise Report Nominative determinism in people is a well known reality. It’s why every Smith you’ve ever met has their own anvil and all Coopers supply breweries with their barrels. I myself, as an incredibly intelligent person, am living proof of this. As I often do I was thinking about aviation one afternoon when I started wondering about aircraft names and the effect they have on both the perception of the aircraft but possibly even the actual success itself. It’s long been remarked that looks play a huge part in the success of an aircraft, with very few truly hideous designs getting to production, but how about their names? I decided to turn my mighty brain to this matter and investigate. Support Hush-Kit with our high quality aviation themed merchandise here

Nothing moves an Englishman more than the pleasing roar of a passing Shrew.

It’s hard to think of many properly successful aircraft that have genuinely atrocious names. Indeed, in hindsight maybe the aircraft go on to make the name famous after the fact. The Spitfire, icon of freedom and defiance, has cemented that word in history as a symbol of aviation design. Imagine if its original name – the Shrew – had stuck. Would we still talk about the aircraft in just reverent tones now? Likewise, the B-17, the Flying Fortress. As incredibly campy a name as it is, it more than does what it says on the tin with its famous defensibility and wall of lead it could put into the air against its attackers.

A hot mess

On the other hand, let’s talk about the utterly dismal Airacuda. I mean…Airacuda. How did anyone think that could be taken seriously? It’s a total non-word meant to sound “sky-y” and it’s little wonder that the engineers couldn’t be bothered to actually design something worth flying when they had to read that word every day in the office. The design was atrocious anyway, a real hot mess of aerodynamic design, but it’d have been a hard sell PR wise. (Note, the similarly named Airacobra gets a pass here because “cobra” is at least a word on its own. Then again, it wasn’t very well-received in the Anglophone countries, get its sterling reputation as a fighter on the Eastern Front with the USSR – perhaps Аэрокобра has some extra contextual meaning in Russian folklore, or something.)

Polish marketing inspiration

Another aircraft with a pretty dreadful name is the PZL M-15 Belphegor. Ok, if you know that its namesake is a biblical demon your first thought is that it’s a pretty rad name for a jet plane, right? But perhaps those Poles that bestowed this nickname upon it were unaware that Belphegor is the demon of the cardinal sin of Sloth. Then again, maybe they did – with a maximum speed of 200kph the M-15 is the slowest production jet in history, designed for and not very good at crop-dusting and other agricultural work. It’s also, perhaps appropriately, sinfully ugly. The thing is, I’m not sure if the name engenders a distaste for the aircraft and perhaps the reputations it has developed, or if the aircraft’s general shitness creates a negative association with the name. Pretty sure it’s the former, though, given what an ugly word it is.

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Retiarius_stabs_secutor_(color) It’s little wonder that the Gloster Gladiator – a warrior, a fighter, often to the last breath – fared better in the public imagination than the Gloster Gamecock.

Gamecock. Keep bloodsport human for naming purposes.

I’m being serious, would we really tell tales of Faith, Hope and Charity, those mythical….Gamecocks? Still, it’s better than the Gnatsnapper, insert crying-with-laughter emoji here! The single Sopwith Sociable was used on a thoroughly unsociable and totally failed bombing attempt on German docks before being abandoned for being too introverted, and do I really need to explain how utterly, utterly garbage a name the X-20 Dyna-Soar was?


On the other hand, despite having a thoroughly unpleasant title, the Pipistrel Virus has absolutely followed its calling with a highly successful run of over 1000 built for customers all round the world – you could say it’s gone globally viral, though there’s been congestion on the production line for its sister-design the Sinus (is that enough topical virus jokes?). I firmly believe that no one would’ve bought a plane called the Virus if it weren’t absolutely set in the stars that such a name would have to spread far and wide. However, by far and away the worst name any unsuspecting aircraft has ever had bestowed upon it has to be the Aviation Traders Accountant. I actually yawned while typing that. You name an aeroplane something so achingly ennui-inducing as that you absolutely deserve to fail. And the good thing is, as demonstrated above, the universe will make sure you do.
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A name to stir the imagination

One comment

  1. AndrewZ

    A name has connotations and even the sound will create a certain impression, so the name is part of the sales pitch. How much it matters depends primarily on how hard the manufacturer has to compete to get the customer’s attention. If the company has been asked to submit a proposal then it will be thoroughly considered even if it’s called the Westland Chlorinated Chicken. At that point, the name only matters if there are two or more candidates which are so closely matched on every objective measure that subjective impressions come into play. Then the Chicken is stuffed.

    However, a manufacturer competing to attract customers in a crowded market needs to make the product stand out in every way possible, and the more ordinary the product the more exciting the image has to be. That’s why there’s a disposable razor called “Mach3”, and why “Accountant” was such a terrible name for an aircraft with many similar or better competitors.

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