Nobody Knows for Sure How Jeep Got Its Name: Here Are the Most Likely Theories

Quick, where did the word “” originally come from? If you said it was a car brand before, think again. But no one is sure why “Jeep” was such a popular slang for popular among WWII soldiers. Here are the most popular theories so you can decide for yourself.

Theory 1: Jeep is slang for “GP”

1941 Willy | DeAgostini/Getty Images

All 1/4 ton 4WD Ford “Quads” built for WWII were badged “GP”. A common myth is that Jeep was a slang word invented by American soldiers for their trusty “GP” 4x4s. It is also a common myth that GP stood for a “General Purpose” vehicle. But the truth is a little more complicated.

versions were called MB. In this case, MB represented the second generation of the 4×4 “Military” model. Only later did the acronym GP come to mean “General Purpose” military vehicle.

The only problem is that the first recorded use of “Jeep” as slang for the quad predates license-built Ford models. Willys introduced his MA prototype to the press, famously driving it up the steps of the Capitol in February 1941. Test driver Irving “Red” Housman called the pre-GPW 4×4 a “Jeep.”

Theory 2: Jeep was a cartoon character

Tan Willys CJ-2A parked on gravel.

In 1936, a Popeye cartoon introduced an interesting sidekick for the sailor. Eugene the “Jeep” (also spelled Eugene-the-Jeep) was an interdimensional dog (species: Jeep) known for the ability to go anywhere. He can teleport, walk through walls, and climb any surface. After the comics, Eugene also appeared in the Popeye cartoons.

When Willys introduced the Jeep, there’s a good chance the general public thought its name was based on the Popeye character. Also, WWII soldiers may have been familiar with the Popeye character, so the slang name for the 4×4 has dropped out of their tongues. This theory has become a persistent urban legend, the only problem is that there is a much more likely origin of the name “Jeep”.

Check out Popeye’s pal Eugene-the-Jeep in the comic clip below:

Theory 3: Jeep is traditional military slang

Jeep name logo on a black car.
Jeep Logo | Jakub Porzycki/NurFoto via Getty Images

According to , the word Jeep dates back to at least World War I. In those days, it was military slang for a soldier or an untested vehicle. This would explain why Red Housman referred to the Willys prototype as a Jeep in 1941.

The letters “GP” on Ford versions, combined with the Popeye font, may explain why the slang spread so quickly among soldiers during wartime. Interestingly, the name wasn’t registered until after the war. Willy attempted to trademark “Jeep” when he launched the Civilian Jeep (CJ). But since the word was considered common slang, the government would not grant the trademark until 1950, after a long legal battle.

However the Jeep was named, the little 4×4 was universally loved throughout the war. Here’s what one correspondent had to say:

The Willys Jeep MB “did it all. It went everywhere. He was faithful as a dog, strong as a mule and agile as a goat. It consistently carried twice what it was designed for and still worked.

Ernie Pyle, Pullitzer-winning war correspondent

Next, read more or learn the story of the brand in the video below:

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