kid staring at Rosetta Stone on display with a kia logo superimposed on a gradient background

A Rio-se by Any Other Name

Where Does the Kia Name Come From and What Does It Mean?

For better or worse, our names tell the world a lot about us. Whether it’s a family name with a lot of social distinction or one that carries some baggage, your name is a “pre-first impression” that can either turn off or recommend you to a potential employer or relationship prospect before you’ve even met them. Is it fair? No. Do we have to find positive ways to deal with it? Yes.

While most of us will keep the names with which we were born for our entire lives, businesses and brands must choose their names, adding a degree of complication that can result in hilarious and spectacular failure or glorious triumph.

Kia’s brand name is a compound word in Korean that is made up of the characters: “Ki” and “A.” The first syllable meaning “to rise from,” and the A is a common way to depict East Asia. Together, the word Kia means “To rise from Asia,” which more than adequately describes Kia’s quest in the global automotive market.

What do Kia Model Names Mean?

We’ve had a lot of fun with Kia’s whimsical vehicle names before, but if you’re wondering where they come from and what they mean, here’s a short run-down:

Kia cars name meanings

  • Rio means “River” in Spanish. Likely chosen for the flowing nature of the subcompact’s design and engineering. (READ MORE: The Battle of Rio)
  • Forte means “Strong” in Italian, and is a colloquialism for “Strength” in English. Its use signifies Kia’s confidence behind the compact sedan or hatchback.
  • Optima is a stylized take on the English word “optimal” or “optimum,” both meaning the “Best.”
  • Cadenza is Italian for “cadence,” which means a complex rhythm. It reveals Kia’s attention to design and thoughtful detail in their full-size flagship sedan.
  • K900 comes right from Kia’s Korean sedan naming conventions (K3 for Forte, K5 for Optima K7 for Cadenza). To avoid naming the car after a common English term for a dog (canine = K9), Kia added two zeroes to their full-size luxury sedan
  • Stinger is an English word that signifies the part of a bee, scorpion or other stinging animal that can inflict the damage to predators. Similarly, the Stinger serves as a weapon against the bigger badges in the luxury sports sedan market.

Kia SUVs and van name meanings

  • Soul is self-explanatory and signifies Kia’s valuing of the subcompact crossover as a personality-filled and outgoing vehicle that summarizes the brand’s favorite parts of its self-image.
  • Niro is perhaps the most difficult name to pin down. As near as we can tell, the name is a stylized version of the name Nero. Italian for “Black” and Greek for “Water,” the most immediate connotation is the wicked Roman emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned.” Honestly, we don’t know. If anybody from Kia is reading this, we’d be happy to learn!
  • Sportage is a combination of “Sport” and the suffix “-age” which describes a state of quality (postage, passage, etc.). Simply, the Sportage is a vehicle that is most comfortable existing in a sporty mode.
  • Sedona is a small city in Arizona. We think Kia chose to name their minivan the Sedona because it’s so different from competing models’ names (all which promise explicit thrill and adventure in a boring vehicle that looks like an upside-down shark). That said, the word “Sedona” is a very pleasing word to say and has the sophistication and elegance of the model that bears its badge.
  • Sorento, like Sedona, describes a place. A small village in Italy, Sorento is named for the prevalence of those who revered the sirens from Greek mythology and this name lends itself to the alluring nature of Kia’s third-row, mid-size crossover.
  • Telluride is a city in Colorado and signifies the upcoming Kia Telluride’s presumed knack for outdoorsy fun in a stylish and comfortable full-size SUV.

blue 2018 kia forte driving down highway

Proud of their compact car, Kia named it the Forte which means “strong” and is often used in place of “strength.”

2017 kia cadenza in black parked on lot

Similarly, the Kia Cadenza uses Italian to convey sophisticated and detail-oriented design.

Always Rising, Kia Lives Up to Its Name

With new awards being heaped on the Korean automotive manufacturer seemingly every day, Kia has proven itself to be the “rising star” its name would suggest.


To test-drive one of these fun and appropriately-named Kia models (the Niro is fun!), or for more information on Kia vehicles past present and future (we’ll try our best with that one), contact us today!

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