Tag Archives: humour

Japan Journal #3: Comical car names

I sometimes wonder whether wine labels are the product of random word generators. Or hallucinogens. How else could a single grape product offer lingering impressions of liquorice, tobacco, Old Spice, gumboot rubber and Scandinavian sauna timbers?

Product names can also seem somewhat arbitrary. Car names, for example. Mitsubishi’s Pajero model remains in circulation here despite an under-researched Spanish translation that rhymes with banker.

Toyota once released a short-lived wagon in Australia that was branded the Tercel but the public was clueless as to whether it was pronounced Turk-ell, Terse-ell or another way. Ultimately, the phonetics didn’t matter as it was nick-named the Turkey.

Arriving in Tokyo, my first impression of the cars was that they were boxy and tiny – built to fit cramped parking spaces in narrow suburban streets. I was also impressed by the extent to which Japanese manufacturers tailor vehicles to populations. The big Japanese cars we see in Australia were few and far between on roads in their country of origin.

But back to names. I thought locally made cars might be labelled with Japanese characters that I wouldn’t be able to read. Nope. English prevailed – although I’m unsure how fluent the marketing teams were, based on the models I observed over the course of a six-hour bus ride. Please buckle up for the quirkiest car models I spotted – and some possible interpretations.


  • Cocoa (Small, brown and never as warm as you’d hope?)
  • Latte (Small, brown and able to jump start its driver in the morning?)


  • Fit (Only drives you to gym and back?)
  • Freed (Only for ex-convicts?)
  • N Box (Lets you check your email while driving?)
  • N One (The car you have when you’re not having a car?)
  • Spike (For Buffy fans or for when you need to puncture a traffic snarl?)
  • Stepwgn (Suitable only for blended families?)
  • Vamos (For when you want to vamoose?)


Axela (Built for choreographed spinning on icy roads?)


  • Clipper (For sea captains, barbers or hit-run drivers … or those who park by touch?)
  • March (For those who prefer to walk?)
  • Note (For forgetful drivers? Or secretaries?)
  • Stagea (Hmm. For those who love the limelight?)


SEdition (My personal favourite. Clearly for the rebel in the family?)


  • Allion (For the king of the urban jungle?)
  • Alphard (Mountainous roads best avoided?)
  • Fielder (Toyota teammate to the Batter and Pitcher?)
  • Isis Platana (I’m stumped by this one. A fertility boosting, dreadlocked green machine?)
  • Noah (Strictly for bearded drivers transporting species two by two?)
  • Ractis (Golly. A medical issue?)
  • Spade (For when you need to dig yourself out of snow?)
  • Vellfire (Because Hellfire sounded too satanic?)
  • Vitz (Pill-shaped and designed to put the pep back into your life?)
  • Voxy (Petite, opinionated and possibly diseased?)
  • Wish (As in you wish you had an Aston Martin?)

As a proud owner of a Japanese car, my translations are totally tongue in cheek. Then again, perhaps my future is in consulting to the car industry on model names. Or concocting wine labels…

Your Wish is granted.
Your Wish is granted.
The Vellfire - for motoring through Hades? Or on a velodrome?
The Vellfire – for motoring through Hades? Or on a velodrome?
The randomly named Ractis.
The randomly named Ractis.

What’s in a name?

I should probably make a confession.

If I don’t like you – and by that I mean you have somehow earned sufficient demerit points to enter the Zone reserved for the utterly loathsome and grudge-worthy – then there’s a (slim) possibility I might name a character after you.

It will probably be a villain. Or a victim. You know the type. The kind of character that gets one bitchy line in a horror movie and then gets slashed in the next scene. That type of character. Expendable.

Indeed, I find it amusing when authors offer readers the chance to be a character in their next book as a ‘prize’ in a competition. What responsibilities rest with that offer? Is the winner guaranteed a character that is healthy, wealthy, wise and lives in a tropical paradise? Is the author ethically bound not to mess with the character’s fortunes?

It’s not an offer I’m likely to make because I don’t always know how my characters will fare during the course of a story I’m writing. I’d hate to inform you that you’re a winner only to write a chapter where I discover your character contracts a terrible disease or crosses paths with a serial killer. It wouldn’t seem fair. Unless you’re a resident in the aforementioned Zone…

So, back to naming conventions. I’m regularly asked where my characters’ names come from. Sometimes the answer is as simple as, “I like the name”, “It sounds right,” or, “It’s easy to type”. Other names can involve actual work.

I check baby name books and websites for the meaning of monikers, mainly because I want things to gel. Unless I’m deliberately trying for humour, I wouldn’t want a scrawny, pacifist character to have a name that means ‘bloodthirsty, musclebound, axe-wielding warrior’, for instance. These things matter. Wherever possible, I strive for names that mean something in relation to the character’s personality or the plot.

In the manuscript I’m currently working on I was considering calling a Japanese character, ‘Asami’. I looked up the meaning and found it defined as ‘beautiful linen’, which didn’t match my plot at all. Then I met an Asami and politely asked why her parents would choose a name with that particular meaning. After she finished laughing, she said the name also meant ‘strength and quality’ … and that the Kanji character used to write her name could also mean ‘marijuana’.

Handy to know, right? As a result of that conversation, the character I have in mind is now called ‘Michiko’, which means ‘beautiful, wise child’.

Being of tabloid journalism origins, I am attracted to pun names, too. ‘Dan’, from my novel Five Parts Dead, was originally named Stu – in part because he’s a worrier. He stews a lot, geddit? Sigh. My publisher didn’t like it either and quite rightly suggested I seek a name with a more contemporary feel. I opted for Dan not so much for the biblical meaning (God is my judge) but for the story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

I also keep an ear out for accidentally memorable names – like Reverend Blood, Doctor Death and my all-time favourite, Cardinal Singh (pronounced Sin). I’ve read of a Collingwood supporter’s daughter being christened Victoria Park and been told of a Vietnamese-Australian family naming their first-born Donald Duc. I don’t know that I’d ever deliberately use a real name (although my subconscious chose one once and I almost dug myself a very deep hole) but it’s good to reserve the right to go with an outrageous option once in a while.

As for those special folk in the Zone, well, I wouldn’t use your names outright, either. There are laws against that sort of thing. I might take a syllable from a name and merge it with part of another odious acquaintance’s name. The end result would be a hybrid and very fictitious name – matched to some truly despicable character traits. Authors need some semblance of power, after all.

No one would know the origins but me. And I think that’s for the best. Luckily for all of us, I very rarely hold a grudge.

April Fools

My graduation certificate from the University of Melbourne is dated April 1, 1989. Classic. I couldn’t have organised it better if I tried.

Is it real or a joke? If it gets people guessing that’s not such a bad thing.

Books for boys 2

Of all my posts so far, Books for boys has attracted the most eyeballs. Getting boys to pick up a book, open it, begin reading (often slowly and grudgingly) and then persevere right through to the finish, can be a real challenge. As a result, there are countless parents and teachers out there on a Holy Grail-style quest for titles that can engage and entertain.

I’m no literacy expert. But I was a compulsive reader when young. Still am, really. I read to my son every night, select books for him from the local library, chat to him and his mates about what they’re reading (if they read at all), visit schools to talk about being an author and journalist, and consume a lot of books myself – many in the Young Adult category. I reckon that gives me a pretty good spider sense for what will snare male readers and what won’t.

While I reckon almost all the titles in my earlier Books for boys post are winners, those listed below are also well worth a look. And if you want to delve even deeper, here are some themes I reckon you should watch for:

Competition: This doesn’t have to mean sport. It could mean who farts the loudest. But boys are inherently competitive and once they get sucked into a competition, they’re more likely to stick around for the medal presentation.

Action: This doesn’t have to mean guns and blood. It does require interesting developments every few pages. Boys are impatient. They don’t want to wait for stuff to happen. I recently read a really well written junior fiction book about two girls whose friendship was on the wane. They talked about it a lot and eventually made up BUT NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. I guess that’s why the cover was pink.

Short chapters: Yes, I know, this rule is broken by Tolkien and many others. But if you have a seven-year-old who is only beginning to read, they want to feel like they’re getting somewhere, not bogged in a chapter that never ends. Short chapters let them pause, take a break, absorb what they have read and, cue parent voice, turn the light out before midnight.

Humour: Hard to write, great fun to read. Lots of boys like reading gross-out material about bums, snot and slime generally. I actually think the key to this stuff isn’t how sticky or stinky it is. I reckon it’s the story and the slapstick. Boys want to laugh at weird and wonderful things happening – mainly to adults.

Interests: If your boy has an interest or obsession, play to it. Buy books that detail the boots worn by Beckham or the sword swung by Sir Lancelot. If you can’t find a bookstore carrying Japanese manga card game characters, look for them online. Where there’s a market, there’s a publisher.

Comics: Don’t shy away from graphic novels – but do check the suitability for your boy’s age group. There are some fantastic graphic novel series available and, reading is reading, whether there are pictures or not.

I’ve gone on too long and haven’t listed any books yet. I’m not great at pumping my own tyres but I’d note that my own debut novel, Game as Ned has been popular with male (and female) readers aged 13 and up. Judging by the letters I’ve received, the boys like that there’s lots of action (after a slow start), occasional humour, short chapters and a tense finish. When a 15-year-old writes to say “I don’t like reading but your book is the best book I’ve read”, it’s a mighty compliment.

Anyway, here are some more Books for boys that are well worth a look, with suggested reader ages in brackets:

Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy (a bit trippy and obtuse in places but funny and sassy and most boys look at the cover illustration and go “whooooa – I want to read that.”) (10+)

Contest – Matthew Reilly (Most Reilly titles are great for boys but, of those I’ve read, this is my favourite.) (12+)

Kill the Possum – James Moloney (Covers some heavy terrain but teen males will identify with the narrator’s emotions) (15+)

Looking for Alaska – John Green (15+)

Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy (14+)

For younger readers, check out:

The Tangshan Tigers series – Dan Lee (my son found these by himself, read them and loved them) (7+)

The Captain Underpants series and The Dumb Bunnies – Dave Pilkey (6+)

The OK Team – Nick Place (7+)

Just about anything with Andy Griffiths’ name on the cover (6+)

Ditto for Paul Jennings (7+)

Star Wars graphic novels (7+)

I’ll keep adding to this list as I keep on reading. To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag so you can search titles I believe boys will enjoy.