The Grammarphobia Blog

Why is a Jeep called a Jeep?

Q: You were discussing “Jeep” on the air and you said something about Popeye but I didn’t catch it all. Anyway, I saw on the Internet that “Jeep” comes from GP, an Army abbreviation for “general purpose” vehicle. I hope you find this helpful.

A: Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, you can’t believe everything that you see on the Internet. So keep an open mind.

For the real story, let’s go back to 1936 when Eugene the Jeep, a cartoon character, first appeared in the Popeye comic strips. Eugene was a cute little guy—a fuzzy creature the size of a small dog, with the ability to disappear into the fourth dimension in an emergency and to foresee the future. He ate a diet of orchids and the only sound he could make was “jeep, jeep.”

Eugene was tremendously popular and adopted as a mascot by several government contractors and other corporations in the late 1930’s. A bomber plane, a naval boat, an Army truck, and other military vehicles were whimsically referred to as Jeeps. Some even had Eugene’s picture painted on the side.

When the Army introduced its small all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle in 1941, the little car was made mainly by two big companies, Willys-Overland and Ford. It just so happened that Ford, on its models, used the factory designation GP (G for government contract and P as a code for 80-inch wheelbase).

So GP wasn’t an Army designation, it didn’t stand for “general purpose,” and it wasn’t the origin of the name “Jeep.” When Willys-Overland unveiled its prototype, reporters wanted to know its name. The publicist said, “You can call it a Jeep.” Later Willys began using the name officially. The company changed hands over the years and now the trademark “Jeep” is owned by Chrysler.