No matter how much human intelligence has uncovered, there are some things in this world that cannot be fully understood. For instance, there’s dark matter. This is a collection of unknown and unobservable subatomic particles that make up about 25% of our universe and can bend light with its gravitational force. There’s the question of monarch butterfly migration, the Great Pyramids, and the fate of the solar system.
And, maybe less obvious, there’s the mystery of how Jeep got its name.
Why is it Called Jeep?
Don’t let anyone tell you they know for a fact how Jeep got its name. It’s highly unlikely; nobody can pinpoint its exact roots. But that hasn’t stopped authors, historians, and passionate car enthusiasts from speculating over the years. One thing we do know is that it’s catchy, short, easy to spell, rhymes with beep and most importantly, it’s fun to say.
The most famous story comes from the brand’s auspicious beginnings as the automobile of choice for the United States military during World War II. The rumor is that Jeep comes from the military acronym GP, meaning for Government Purposes or General Purposes. Put the G and the P together, sound it out, and you’ve got Jeep. Easy peasy, seems to make sense, right? Although this is probably the most logical etymological explanation for the US’s favorite sports and off-road vehicle, other stories run the gamut from outrageously bizarre to conspicuously grandiose.
The quirkiest tale claims that Jeep was named after a minor character from the Popeye cartoons, a magical and slippery creature named Eugene the Jeep, who was apparently very popular in his time. The story goes that the troops were so impressed with the uncanny all-terrain abilities of their new 4X4, which was originally called the Willys MB, that they rechristened it with the moniker of their favorite cartoon… well, no one is sure what exactly Eugene the Jeep is. He’s a Jeep!
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The most ostentatious story involves Irving “Red” Hausman, the test driver for the Willy-Overland automobile company, the original manufacturer of the Jeep, who drove it straight up the steps of the United States Capitol in order to display the vehicle’s astounding agility. Hausman was later asked by a reporter what the newfangled stair-climbing machine was called and he answered simply, “It’s a Jeep!” It’s not entirely known where Hausman first heard this term, but many speculate it was from soldiers at a nearby army base so his reputation as inaugurator of the brand name is, at best, dubious.
Though many of the great mysteries of our universe might never be solved, that doesn’t stop scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and online prognosticators from trying to crack them. Likewise, America’s fascination with Jeep remains steadfast. It’s a part of our culture—from World War II to the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Jeep means whatever you want it to mean. Have you heard a different story behind the brand name? Comment below.
Travis McDonald is a professional freelance writer who creates content for a wide variety of clients. He received his bachelor’s in English from The University of Texas at Austin and his MFA in creative writing from Virginia Tech.