Datsun etymology: What does its name mean?

Datsun is one of the most famous automotive names to be killed and resurrected, but what does the name formerly used on Nissan cars mean? Strap in, it’s interesting.

In 1914, Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works of Tokyo made its first production passenger car, which was named DAT after the initials of the company’s founders’ surnames: Den Kenjiro (田健次郎), Aoyama Rokuro (青山禄郎), and Takeuchi Meitaro (竹内明太郎).

When the Japanese government, in 1930, introduced a law allowing cars with engines under 500cc to be driven without a licence, the company began developing a smaller car to fit into this market segment. Launched in 1931, it was named Datson, as in son of DAT.

This was changed in 1933 to Datsun, partially because ‘son’ is a homonym for the word meaning loss in Japanese. Another justification is that the sun suffix paid honour to the rising sun on the Japanese flag — an important consideration in the nationalist fervour of the time.

While the company adopted the name Nihon Sangyo in 1928, later shortened to Nissan, the cars it exported after World War II were almost always branded as Datsuns. This was partly due the brand being more “pure”, because production of Datsun passenger vehicles had stopped before Japan attacked the United States, where Nissan military trucks ramped up at this point. So, any returning soldiers from the war would have negative feelings about the Nissan brand, but not Datsun.

In early 1980s, it was decided that the Datsun brand would be phased out in favour of the Nissan corporate name. After years of co-branding and awkward Datsun by Nissan tag lines, the Datsun brand was ushered out the door in 1986.

It was revived briefly when the D22 Nissan Frontier/Navara was sold in Japan as the Datsun. It wasn’t until officially revived until 2012 when Nissan decided it needed a low cost brand for developing markets, similar to Renault and Dacia.

Initially targeted at India, Indonesia, South Africa and Russia, the revived Datsun brand sells a mixture of unique low cost cars and rebadged models from other companies.