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Lucky number reason for Toyota spelling change

TOKYO — With Akio Toyoda's name in the news — the Toyota president faced lawmakers' questions Wednesday at a Washington hearing on safety issues that sparked massive vehicle recalls — here's one more question: Why the different spellings?

The company is "Toyota." But Toyoda spells his name with a "d," as did his grandfather, who founded the automaker.

Why the phonetic switcheroo?

It goes back to 1937 when Kiichiro Toyoda established his new company. In choosing a moniker, he decided to replace the final consonant of his surname with a 't' to soften the last syllable.

Not only did it sound better, "Toyota" takes exactly eight brushstrokes to write in katakana, one of the two phonetic alphabets in Japanese. "Toyoda" requires 10.

Eight, widely known as a lucky number in China, is also fortuitous in Japan. Its luck stems from the way "eight" is written two strokes side by side, placed so that the character resembles an open mountain top. For the Japanese, the wider base symbolizes growth and prosperity in the future, which is exactly what Toyoda hoped for both his company and country.

The spelling tweak also served as a symbolic break from Japan's agricultural past. "Toyoda" literally means "fertile rice fields." Toyota the company, however, sought success through innovation and manufacturing prowess.