IN A NAME?
Bird's Eye View of Boat Names
1990/2011 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved
I do not like her name.
Orlando: There was no thought of pleasing you when she was
- Shakespeare - As You Like It
phenomenon peculiar to boats and ships, which we tend to take
for granted, reveals much about mariners. That is the universal
custom we have of naming our watercraft.
were naming their Nile River boats before they built the
pyramids, and the tradition flourished ever since. Some names
have etched themselves indelibly into the annals of human
Nina, and Pinta are probably the most familiar
boat names in America. One of the earlier sailboats to cruise
the Med, Argo, is still remembered for helping Jason
bring home the Golden Fleece. Bounty, Titanic,
Spray, Calypso, each through its own good or bad
fortune has earned its place in maritime folklore.
Just why we
name our yachts today is hard to say. Of course, there's the
tradition; everyone else does it. And there's the Marine Patrol.
They usually insist on something being written on the
registration, even if it's "No Name.” But mostly I
suspect we do it because it's fun. We like to infuse our proud
vessels with their own distinct personalities, often reflections
of our own. It's a form of self-expression, like the message on
a T-shirt or a vanity license plate on a car, only bigger. A
boat's name may provide some of insight into the personality and
the real or wishful self-image of the person doing the naming.
reasons for naming boats, name them we do. There are funny names
and cute ones, bold and audacious names and humble ones, too.
Noble, proud, joyful, serious, functional, egotistical,
ideological, meaningful, and meaningless; historical, original,
and just plain tacky. The sheer numbers of boats and ships, even
with the inevitable duplication of names, suggests the
staggering number of appellations currently in use around the
world. Multiply that by the number of different languages and,
well, there must be millions!
as the names themselves are the superstitions we attach to them.
Barely a century ago, Old World sailors feared it was bad luck
to sail aboard a ship with a six-letter name, but if the name
had seven letters the ship was lucky. Even today a lot of people
that buy a pre-owned boat are reluctant to change the vessel's
name because it's "bad luck." Those fortunate enough to launch a
brand new boat, who's original name they have chosen, do so with
an elaborate "christening" ceremony. This unlikely ritual
requires a bottle of champagne to be broken across the bow,
usually by a woman, who pronounces "I hereby christen thee
‘so-and-so’", thus somehow ensuring good fortune to the boat and
lending the name an almost divine significance.
Have you ever
looked at a beautiful yacht and then been sorely disappointed
when you read the name on the transom? Sometimes we can't help
thinking we could have come up with something much more
appropriate had it been up to us. Ah, but that’s often easier
thought than done. How do you come up with a truly outstanding
original name for your boat, one that expresses everything she
means to you, when all the really great ones seem to be taken?
are actually lots of places to look for a boat name. Books, for
example, both fiction and non-fiction, from which you can pick a
favorite character (like Peter Pan or Crazy Horse). In fact, the
name of any favorite person is a candidate - Vivaldi, Rocky, or
your sweet Aunt Sara. Another place to seek a boat name is in
your ethnic heritage; La Bamba, L'chaim, Leprechaun, Lagniappe.
Flip through a dictionary or a thesaurus for ideas. Try military
names; Legionnaire, Trooper, or Scout. Movies (take your pick!).
Songs, stars, animals, weather, colors - all are sources for
interesting and creative boat names.
Other possible sources (and examples) for boat names are:
Geography (Pride of
Biology (Blue Eyes)
CB Radio (Big Mama)
Liquor (Tia Maria)
Other Languages (Ma Chere)
Nursery rhymes (Rockabye Baby)
Sports (Home Run)
Native American (Cochise)
Brand Names (Liquid Joy)
A few other categories or feelings to consider are:
Utopian (Endless Wave)
Patriotic (Old Glory)
Boring (_____'s Dream)
might be useful in searching for a boat name include The New
Age Baby Name Book (Sue Browder, Workman Publishing
Company), Let's Name It: 10,000 Boat Names (Corcoran &
Hackler, Seascape Enterprises), and How To Name Your Boat
(Michael Deer, Western Marine Enterprises). All include pages of
name suggestions, one of which might strike your fancy. Or you
could just Google “boat names” and start surfing the web.
dinghy, the ship's tender, can invite even more creativity than
naming the boat. Some of the best dinks bear names that
compliment the mothership's. A boat named Thunder would
naturally tow a dinghy named Lightnin' (or Rumble
or Thor). Pelican's tender might be Bill.
How about Meringue and Foxtrot? Spring Fever
and Summertime Blues? Windward and Backward!
Dinghy names are sometimes more fun simply because we don't tend
to take them so seriously.
practical guideline, an easily recognizable, English language
boat name will be more readily understood when spoken over the
radio in home waters, whereas an obscure or foreign language
appellation must often be repeated and spelled out. One fellow
named his liveaboard sailboat “Waipipi,” which means “house on
the water” in Polynesian. It’s a noble enough sentiment, but
every time he says it over the VHF people think he’s joking… or
ask, “Why not?”
There is only
one certainty when it comes to naming a boat. Most other people
won't really like the name you pick. They'll all have "better"
ideas. Of course, their ideas won't really be better, just
different; as different as people's personalities, lifestyles,
backgrounds and values are from each other. In the end, the
ultimate criterion for your boat's name is that you like
it. As the song said, "You can't please everyone, so you've got
to please yourself." (Ricky Nelson, Garden Party)
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