Navy Ship Names

The United States Navy, sometime back in the 20s or 30s had a really nifty system for naming ships:

Destroyers were named after famous Americans (USS Monssen, USS The Sullivans, etc.)

Cruisers were named after cities (USS Indianapolis, USS Chicago, etc.)

Battleships were named after states (USS Arizona, USS Missouri, etc)

Aircraft Carriers were named after battles (USS Yorktown, USS Saratoga, etc.)

Submarines were named after fish (USS Skate, USS Thresher, etc.)

Even Hospital ships had logical names like Hope and Mercy.

Then in WWII they started doing weird stuff like naming Carriers after bugs (Hornet, Wasp) and people (Franklin). Then there’s the Los Angeles class submarines that are named after cities, just like the cruisers! Then a whole class of subs named after presidents. (even Jimmy Carter!) Then they start naming carriers after presidents too! (USS Reagan, fer-crying-out-loud!)

My question: Is there any rhyme or reason to the naming process these days or do they just pull the names out of some congressman’s ass?

Can’t answer your question, PB, only add to the confusion. When my dad was in the Navy, he was on an ammo ship named after a volcano, the USS Diamondhead. Actually, he may be a good source of info on this topic.

There is a lot of reason for the ships’ names. Its just that they change the reasons from time to times.

For a full history check this link out:

Certain classes of ships are named for certain things, ammunition ships have ‘explosive’ names, LSTs (Tank, Landing Ships) had names of Counties. Carriers are now named after famous people, usually Presidents. Subs after states and cities. Amphibious ships after battles and some of the new ones are named like the WWII carriers, Hornet and Wasp and the like.

There is a system, but since they change the system from time to time to keep up with new ship types and fashions, you get confusing things like attack subs AND supply ships names for cities at the same time. Just because they change the naming system, they are not going to rename ships already in commission.

Some of these ships are kept in use for 20-30 years and more. That is more than enough time for the naming system to alter a bit and then it gets confusing.

Speaking of naming things strange: Isn’t naming the airport in Washington DC after Reagan a lot like renaming Altanta after General Sherman?

PapaBear sed: The United States Navy, sometime back in the 20s or 30s had a really nifty system for naming ships…

I used to work for a Navy contractor, and I noticed the system you mentioned. (Assault ships have Type-A adjective names: Aggressive, Assertive, Persistent, etc.) I also noticed a system for the Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships: hospital ships, supply ships, troop transports.

But then they started changing their system, and I don’t know why either. The CVNs (nuclear-powered aircraft carriers) were given people names instead of battle names. I think they’ve even started using state names for subs.

The sub name that made me laugh was the USS City of Corpus Christi. The Navy got in trouble with Christian right-wingers for initially calling it just USS Corpus Christi, because it appeared that the sub was named after the body of Jesus Christ. It’s surprising that they haven’t protested naming a whole class after angels (Los Angeles).

Actually, Wasp and Hornet (and Enterprise) were named after battles–or the earlier Navy ships that might have participated in battles. The first corruption of the system was naming the third Midway class carrier the FDR (shortly after he died). That tradition got carried over to the Forrestal and later the Nimitz, Kennedy, Eisenhower, etc.

The Los Angeles and the Ohio are somewhat attempts to “update” the older system, using the names of states for the ships that have the heaviest “punch” (now using ICBM’s) and the names of cities for heavy-weights that are not quite so powerful.

I do generally agree that the current naming tradition is more than a bit confusing. I have not recently found the current naming convention list.

In the late fifties (although the system was already corrupted) the convention was:
battleships = states
battlecruisers = territories
heavy cruisers = large cities
light and AA cruisers = cities
frigates, destroyers, destroyer esorts = famous men of the Navy or Marines or inventors or congressmen
submarines = fish (or other sea creatures)
mine layers = abstract terms (e.g., Terror
mine sweepers = birds
ammunition ships = volcanoes or explosives
hospital ships = synonyms for relief
cargo ships = stars and constellations
tankers = rivers
troop transports = Navy, Marine, or Army officers (differed from destroyers by including the man’s rank in the ship’s name)
repair ships = mythological names
submarine tenders = submarine pioneers
seaplane tenders = ocean bays and sounds
anything smaller got a number (although I have a vague memory of U.S. Navy tugs being named).


Wait a minute! I was sure that it was illegal to name any federal property after a still living person. They also can’t issue a stamp or coin bearing a person’s likeness until said person has died. Now I suppose you can make the point that Reagan suffered brain death around 1982, or possibly earlier, but what about Carter? Are you sure there are naval vessels named after these people?

FYI, Greg:

USS Jimmy Carter SSN-23, a nuclear attack submarine.

USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76, a Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carrier. (under construction)

Bob Hope has a ship named after him too, a supply ship or oiler I think.

Attack subs are mostly named after cities. Nearly all of the US’ attack subs are Los Angeles (SSN 688) class. There are a lot of them (around 50) and the newer ones have names like USS San Juan and USS Tucson. The 688s are constantly being improved and are expected to serve for many years. The remainder are the new Seawolf (SSN 21) class of subs, of which the Jimmy Carter will be the third. There will not be nearly as many of that class built and their naming system will probably be haphazard.

Nuclear-ballistic-missile-launching subs are generic and are named after states (Alabama, Ohio etc.). (There is an exception: one of that class is named for hawk Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.)

There are 2 US subs which support special operations like SEAL teams etc., they are former ballistic subs with the missile tubes taken out and diver-support space put in. They are leftovers from the old Daniel Webster/Benjamin Franklin class, and are named the Kamehemeha and the James K. Polk. That whole class was named for “significant Americans”, whatever that means.

AEGIS cruisers are all named for battles. The new AEGIS destroyers (Arleigh Burke class) are named for notable servicemen.

Aircraft carriers are currently named after Presidents.

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I know for a fact that there was a (liberty class I think) ship named The USS College of William & Mary (or possibly the USS William & Mary)-- it was mentioned in an alumni newsletter.

how does that fit in? Do they have the USS Harvard or Stanford or whatever?

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What law governs this–specifically, whether a Navy vessel may be named after a living person or not, let alone a coin, paper bill, stamp, or whatever? I am a paralegal, and I can look this up really easy, but I’d like the person who brought it up to give me a citation–a Federal statute (Title, section, subsection) or federal case law (The Supreme Court or such-and-such Circuit or District Court). As for the “Christian right-wingers” who did object or may have objected to the name “Corpus Christi,” they must not have seen too many maps, since Corpus Christi is a well-known Texas seaport. (Did anybody object to using names like “Brotherly Love” [Philadelphia], “Holy Faith” [Santa Fe] or “Sacrament” [Sacramento]? This suggests gross ignorance among “Christian right-wingers” who don’t know what cities are in Texas (like “Saint Anthony,” “Yellow,” or “The Passageway.”)

Yes. There was a Victory ship called William & Mary. There was a Stanford and a Harvard and a Yale, too.

Here’s a list:

BTW - Victory ships didn’t belong to the US Navy. They were part of the merchant marine, so the ship in question would be the SS William & Mary, not the USS William & Mary.

“The sub name that made me laugh was the USS City of Corpus Christi. The Navy got in trouble with Christian right-wingers for initially calling it just USS Corpus Christi, because it appeared that the sub was named after the body of Jesus Christ. It’s surprising that they haven’t protested naming a whole class after angels (Los Angeles).”

Umm, if I recall correctly, the Christians who were squawking about the USS Corpus Christi were generally left-wingers, not right-wingers. They didn’t like the name of the Prince of Peace (one of Jesus’ many titles) used on an “evil” weapon of war.

Which reminds me of a statement and a question, both greatly off topic:

**Just so people realize, there ARE leftist Christians. Ever heard of “liberation theology?” This despite the fact that some people, inside and outside the media, like to use “right-wing Christians” as if it were a redundancy, automatically adding “right-wing” in front of any reference to Christians or Christian organizations, since of course “right-wing” and Christian are synonymous.

*The obvious question, then, is why do some people automatically make this association of “right-wing” and Christian, even in instances where it’s obvious that the Christians are left-wing, or the right-wingers aren’t Christian.

Would a right-winger really be attaching negative connotations to a warship and thus find the name USS Corpus Christi slanderous? Or would that be infinitely more likely to be a leftist view?

And I’ve heard a few (admittedly not many) radio announcers refer to the hate group “Church of the Creator” (tied to the Benjamin Smith racist murders) as a right-wing Christian organizations. This despite the fact that this so-called “Church” condemns Christianity and Christians as dupes of the Jews and “mud races,” to use their vile terminology.

Ah, the Merchant marine! Thanks, that makes sense now!

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I should have commented on this earlier. “Right-wing” or "Left-wing"cannot properly apply to Christians, if they follow Jesus’ principles; he plainly told the Roman politician Pontius Pilate that "My kingdom is no part of this world."The point is that being of a political extreme is improper for a Christian, people like Pat Robertson or the Berrigan brothers notwithstanding.

The US Navy does not have two commissioned vessels of the same name at the same time. There is, however, a tendency to reuse names for ships.

If you’re interested in such things, in addition to the link listed above for Navy History, you can peruse the following sites:

Possibly offensive political gibe coming…

Let’s not forget military helicopters, which are traditionally named after Native American peoples the US has tried to exterminate.

I have no idea how to look up the law that federally property can’t be named after living people. Clearly, it’s now been lifted, but I’m not sure when.

I have one really half-assed cite for you though. About 20 years ago there was a movie about the USS Nimitz magically returning in time to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, which of course they would have the ability to prevent. (Don’t ask the name because I’ve forgotten.) In the course of things, a contemporary U.S. Senator or other official is taken on board. (Don’t ask why, because I’ve forgotten that too.) The first thing the official wants to know is why the ship is named after the still living Chester Nimitz.

They were at once her reason for life and her reason for despair.
– Eris, on programmers.

I remember that silly movie. It had some totally no sequitor title like “Final Countdown” or something. I think the senator objected to the Nimitz being named after an “active” commissioned officer. Perhaps it’s okay if the person in question is retired, like Carter and Reagan.

I do remember learning that only dead people could appear on stamps, but I’ve since noted some living people have been so honored. I wish I could think of an example, perhaps as part of one of the USPS’s entertainment or art series.


I recognize the English versions of San Antonio and Amarillo, but which Texas city means “The Passageway”?

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective