By Ben Kesling,
Nov. 10, 2014 8:48 p.m. ET

ERBIL, Iraq—When drivers here in Iraqi Kurdistan go car shopping, they face a tough choice: whether to get a hardy vehicle for rough roads or a sleek sedan for the smooth main routes.

It can come down to a Wanawsha versus an Obama .

“That’s a Wanawsha,” said Birwa Kamal, a 20-year-old car salesman, pointing to a Toyota Land Cruiser on his lot.

Foreign cars have flooded into Iraq’s Kurdish north since Saddam Hussein ’s fall in 2003, thanks to free trade and economic gains. But the Kurds have trouble pronouncing some of the marques.

So they use nicknames that roll more easily off the local tongue. Wanawsha is the screen name of a famous Kurdish actress and singer who is generally thought classy, like the sometimes-swanky Toyota SUV.

“People don’t know what a Land Cruiser is,” Mr. Kamal said, “if you don’t use the One recent evening, Kurds flocked to dozens of car lots that jam together outside downtown Erbil, the region’s capital. Hundreds of men strolled, drinking sodas, smoking and eyeing the sea of new and used vehicles.

“Some people can’t pronounce the names, so we come up with beautiful names,” said Amanj Azad, 21, a car salesman from Erbil.

“Did you tell him about the Obama?” he asked friends standing with him.

The Obama, a popular sedan in Iraqi Kurdistan, is a car Americans know as the Chrysler 300. “When he became president, that car first came to the Kurdish region,” Mr. Azad said.

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