What's in a name?

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For a starting price of $32 million, you can own the Duesenberg trademark.

A Duesey of a price? Not according to Frank Delano, CEO of Frank Delano International, who has been hired to sell the rights to the storied but defunct motorcar brand. "We are talking about the sale of one of the greatest iconic brand names in the annals of American marketing and advertising history."

Tom Kinnear, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan, said an existing car or truck name that's well-known can be worth a couple of billion of dollars in brand equity. Heck, even an established vehicle name with negative baggage is worth roughly $200 million.

Though automakers sometimes name their own vehicles, they routinely hire experts to pitch names for new models. Mr. Delano said he bid $100,000 to name American Honda Motor Co.'s first pickup but lost to a low bidder of $30,000 who came up with the moniker Ridgeline (Honda couldn't be reached for comment).

Mr. Delano said auto names should capture one of three things: the essence of the product, the uniqueness of the product or the spirit of the vehicle. "The great names do all three," he said. Ford's Mustang and Nissan's Pathfinder, which Mr. Delano's firm named in the 1980s, are classic examples.

However, among U.S. luxury carmakers, traditional names are disappearing. When Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln brand shifts to alpha-based car names this fall, it will become the last luxury marque to make the move to something the experts call "alphabet soup."

Lincoln's 2006 midsize Zephyr sedan, introduced late last fall, will be reintroduced as the 2007 MKZ and Lincoln's Aviator replacement will be the MKX. Despite the ordering of the letters, Lincoln calls them "Mark Z" and "Mark X," a spokeswoman said. "There may be a little period of adjustment for people to get used to how we are pronouncing it."

But Jim Singer, president-creative director of Namebase, New York, which has worked with Suzuki and Kia, said the trend toward alphanumeric car names (which started four years ago with General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac) is "a big jumble" that causes confusion among consumers. He said alphanumeric names often fail to reinforce the owner's emotional bond with the car.

Lincoln will have to spend big to educate consumers about its new vehicle names and correct pronunciations, experts said. It could take consumers up to five years to understand Lincoln's new nomenclature system.

According to the Lincoln spokeswoman, the automaker wants consumers to focus on the Lincoln name, not individual models. Art Spinella, president of auto consultant CNW Marketing Research, said, "Of all the problems Lincoln has, changing the names of its vehicles should be far down the list."

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