Why Is It Called A “Trunk”? (Car’s Cargo Compartment)

For many car owners, their choice of vehicle is determined by the trunk space. Or, if you’re British, the boot space.

Why do we have these names for a car’s cargo compartment?

In this article, we look specifically at why this space is called a “trunk.”

Here Is the Short Answer To Why a Car’s Cargo Compartment Is Called a Trunk:

The word trunk is the American name for the cargo compartment of a car. A trunk originally referred to a chest often attached to the back of old vehicles to transport luggage before the invention of a modern cargo compartment.

So, when the era of the cargo space came, Americans stuck with the name trunk.

When Did the Cargo Compartment Get the Name “Trunk”?

As far back as the 19th century, old cars had to move with an external box or chest, or as many called it, a trunk containing clothes and other luggage.

Around that period, a few vehicle makers like Buick and Chrysler had to provide rear racks to accommodate people having to attach these trunks or luggage chests.

However, the development of an integrated cargo compartment became noticeable in vehicles in the 1930s. Even with the invention, the space remained known as a “trunk” by Americans.

Meanwhile, Ford had designed the first modern-like trunk in 1950. It was the first “open and close” car cargo compartment built just like the ones seen with modern vehicles.

Make sure to check out our article on the 14 popular cars with an extra big trunk here.

Why Do the British Call it a “Boot”?

The Brits and the Americans have a lot of linguistic divergences when it comes to naming objects. The emergence of “boot” as the British variant to “trunk” is just a little drop in an ocean of numerous dual terms known between the two nations.

There are different theories as to why the British refer to a “boot”

That said, the Britons maintained the use of the word “boot” to refer to the cargo compartment of a car because the space served the same function as the old boote used with the traditional coaches.

History claims that the boote only served as a side seat for servants while their lords traveled in a coach or horse carriage around 1600. However, the side seat was moved to the back of the carriage to become a storage area in the 19th century.

Another suggestion is that the storage area on coaches remembered the shape of a boot. While a further suggestion is that the name “boot” derives from the purpose of this storage box as a “boot box” for boots (shoes) to be stored while traveling.

So, when modern vehicles started emerging, first with external luggage at the back and later with integrated cargo space, the British maintained the name boot for its reference.

What Other Names Are Used for the Trunk of a Car?

Aside from boot (British English), people also refer to the trunk of a car as a luggage compartment or a dickey.

We believe “luggage compartment” is clearly explanatory. It’s just one of the nominal ways people derive the name of an object from its major function.

Where did the name “dickey” originate?

Well, if you happen to have lived in South Asia, particularly India, you might have heard the word dickey before. It is another word that Asians call the cargo compartment of a car.

Dickey was a term the Brits used for the rumble or dickie seats provided at the rear deck of their old vehicles. When unclasped, the seat becomes an upholstered space designed for the servants while their masters travel in the cabin.

Note that this seat could accommodate up to two passengers, and it was also known as “mother-in-law seat”. Meanwhile, the rumble seats also served as a luggage compartment for the people when unoccupied.

When we look back to history, Indians and some other South Asians were once colonized by the British. It happened that people have become accustomed to the use of the word dickey and the word was retained when a modern car cargo compartment started surfacing.

Mind you, don’t mix up ‘trunk’ with the word frunk. Unlike trunk, frunk refers to the provisional space under the hood of electric vehicles since it has no engine. It is a portmanteau of front and trunk.

That said, you might want to check out eight cars with a trunk in the front.

Where in the World is the Word “Trunk” Used?

The use of the word trunk to refer to the cargo compartment of a car is most prominent in North America, including Canada, US Virgin Islands, and, of course, the United States of America.

This could be because these countries share the same geographical region as the United States.

While Jamaica uses English because it was a British colony, the Jamaicans have also adopted many American words and spellings. So, it is possible to hear some of them say trunk instead of boot.

As for the Canadians, they use a mix of both British and American English. However, their use of “trunk” is more prominent. This could also be because the US is their Southern neighbor.

American English is the official language in the US Virgin Islands. So, it is normal to hear people use “trunk” to refer to the car cargo compartment.

Final Thoughts

Depending on national affinities, different countries of the world have maintained the use of either boot or trunk when referring to the cargo compartment of a car.

This explains the same linguistic divergence we have with the use of hood and bonnet to refer to the engine space of a car.

If not for America’s role in international trade and technological advancements, the English-speaking world probably would have maintained the use of “boot” instead of “trunk.”

This is because many English-speaking countries like New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, and several others, including some African countries like South Africa and Nigeria, call the car cargo space a “boot”.


Boot and Trunk | World Wide Words

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