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The term "Jeep" predates most people reading this right now. Thanks to that, and the huge popularity of open-air Wrangler four-wheelers, it's one of the most familiar and recognizable monikers out there. But have you ever wondered where the name came from?
It isn't really an acronym (unless you count the colloquial "Just Empty Every Pocket"), nor is it taken from the company's founder like Ford or Ferrari. The iconic Jeep name became broadly known in World War II—but its roots date back even earlier. It's an interesting origin story, and who knows, it might help your trivia team advance to the next round someday.
The United States Army notified American automakers in June 1940 that it was looking for a new workhorse. Ford's Model T and various motorcycles had been used for years, but it was time for a purpose-built light reconnaissance vehicle. It had to meet certain criteria including a wheelbase length of 75 inches or shorter, a height of less than 36 inches, a rectangular layout, a two-speed transfer case, a folding windshield, four-wheel drive, three bucket seats, and a carrying capacity of at least 600 pounds.
Willys-Overland, American Bantam, and later, Ford met the challenge. They rapidly produced prototypes that were delivered in November 1940 and were cleared to build 70 vehicles apiece for testing. A little more than a year later, in December 1941, the U.S. entered WWII following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The LRVs quickly became a crucial part of the conflict.
Legend has it that the Jeep name was adapted from "GP," a common abbreviation that military members used for "General Purpose." The slang term had been used decades before, too, in World War I. A military dictionary called Words of the Fighting Forces by Clinton A. Sanders included "jeep" in 1942—little "j"—and included in the definition was "any small plane, helicopter, or gadget." So while it was previously a broad category that all types of machines fell into, the 4x4 buggies quickly claimed it for themselves upon introduction.
That's the most widely accepted origin story, but even Jeep will tell you it's not entirely sure. There was a character in the Popeye cartoon named "Eugene the Jeep" and it could have been lifted from there. It seems a little less likely, but it's worth considering at the very least.
Willys picked up on the name's popularity and was awarded the Jeep trademark on June 13, 1950, after a seven-year legal fight. Everyone was referring to the Willys MB by that name already, but that's also what they called Bantam and Ford's machines. Gaining the exclusive rights to the moniker was key for marketing purposes and all these years later, Jeep gives a nod to Willys with Wrangler and Gladiator trims dawning the name.
If you asked Jeep what its name stands for, it'd probably tell you something along the lines of "capability, durability, and versatility." That might be true, but now you know how the name came to be in the first place. Or, at least, how we think it did.