Jeep: a silly sounding name for a serious vehicle. Even though the name Jeep has burrowed its way deep into our cultural consciousness, its origins remain unclear. There are plenty of theories for the etymology of Jeep, but none of them are universally accepted as the definitive answer to the question: How did Jeep get its name? While it would be nice to have an official and final answer to this question, history is rarely straightforward.
Despite the murkiness of the origin of the Jeep name, there are several convincing (and sometimes conflicting) theories. Much like the ending of The Sopranos, you will have to come to your own conclusions. Without further ado, here are several explanations for the genesis of the Jeep name.
Jeep Origin Theory One: Eugene the Jeep
One of the more often offered explanations for the name Jeep has to do with America's favorite spinach swilling sailor: Popeye. In E.C Segar's Thimble Theatre comics, which features Popeye and Olive Oyl, there is a magical pet named Eugene the Jeep. Eugene is a dog and cat hybrid creature with a large bulbous nose who is known for his ability to go anywhere and do anything. Not only is his species a Jeep, but it's also the only word that would ever come out of his mouth.
So far, the link with the Jeep vehicle should be pretty clear right? Something named Jeep that can go anywhere? This is generally the theory. Many of the soldiers who were fighting in World War II would have invariably been fans of Popeye and his magical pet. Additionally, considering the rough war-time terrain that the Willys MB vehicle would have had to have conquered, its ability to “go anywhere” would be abundantly clear to all of the soldiers.
Jeep Origin Theory Two: GP
Here’s another theory that seems just as viable as the Eugene the Jeep theory. This one is even simpler, so if you are a fan of Occam's razor then this theory might be for you. The specific model designation for the war-time jeep's built by Ford was GP. Today, this has incorrectly been claimed to mean general purpose. While these vehicles were certainly capable of "general purposes,” the G stood for government and the P was a designation that indicated it was a recon car with an 80-inch wheelbase. How does this tie into the name Jeep though? GP phonetically is only a hop and a skip away from Jeep. It’s just as simple as that.
Funny enough, this is similar to how the Humvee got its name as well. Its designation was HMMWV, which stands for high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle. Since that is a much longer string of letters than GP, the name Humvee was a necessity.
Jeep Origin Theory Three: Military Slang
There are yet more theories for the etymology of the Jeep. Even before the premiere of the Willy’s MB vehicle, soldiers were using the term Jeep. As early as World War I, untested vehicles and newly enlisted soldiers were for some reason nicknamed Jeeps. Now, this does invite a whole other etymological investigation, but it is documented that this term was used in this way.
Irving "Red" Hausmann, one of the engineers working for Willys-Overland reported that he picked up the name Jeep from soldiers while testing the vehicle. Additionally, one of the first recorded instances of the name Jeep (in reference to the vehicle) popped up in The Washington Daily News in June 1941 when Red Hausmann crawled up the Capitol steps in a then prototype vehicle. The headline read "Jeep Creeps Up Capitol Steps."
Regardless of what actually happened, the name jeep has been floating around for quite a while now. That being said, this doesn't conclusively prove anything. While the name jeep was used here, the reason for it remains unclear.
Jeep Origin Theory Four: Automotive Acronyms
Here is one of the sillier theories explaining the name Jeep out there. There is a theory that has been making the rounds within the Jeep community for a while now, that while not likely true, reflects the bare-bones reliability that Jeep has come associated with throughout the years. Many avid Jeep fanatics have been spreading the message that Jeep is, in fact, an acronym for Just Enough Essential Parts. It’s quite unlikely that this is the actual explanation for the name Jeep, but it remains interesting nonetheless. To be fair, there are only just enough essential parts of base trim Wranglers, and that’s part of why people love them so.
As with most things, there isn’t one exactly correct answer. The most logical seems to be a combination of some of the above theories (except for just enough essential parts). The nature of Eugene the Jeep, combined with the title of GP and the already existing military slang made a perfect storm for Jeep to be named as such.