Ship names in Star Trek

I’m not a Star Trek fan, but I find it fascinating as a closed system of history, technology, politics and relations between different peoples. What I’d like to ask: Is there any meaning in Federation ship names and numbers? Most ships have a number consisting of NCC with several digits following, and a name with a the three prefix letters USS (how do you call those letters, btw?
Every ship in real life has a set of them before the actual name). This can hardly mean United States Ship, as it does in real life. Is there any system in the nomenclature of Federation ships?

There have been several groupings of names; I don’t have my docs with me, but there were famous admirals/other ships (Potemkin, Hood, Yorktown), famous peacekeepers or otherwise non-combatants (Gandhi, Pasteur), and assorted inspirational words (Enterprise, Voyager, Stargazer, Intrepid). Then there’s the Mariposa, but I have no idea why they chose that name…

Maybe United Star Ship for USS?

USS was for United Star Ship (United federation of Planets)
The NCC #### was the ships designation number. All the ships use NCC (not sure what that meant)
But there was once a breakdown where originally the numbers designated the class of the vessel. IE NCC 17XX designated a Constitution class vessel, NCC 18XX were destroyers etc. That changed as the movies and new series progressed.

In the end it really means nothing as the numbers just make the ships look more official, and it is after all just a TV show.

The original explanation for “USS” was “United Space Ship,” but I believe that has fallen on disfavor with purists and it is now simply accepted as one of those things that don’t stand for anything, like “NCC,” which was once explaned (apocryphally I believe) as standing for “Naval Construction Contract.”

As with everything Star Trek, some geek spent way too much time compiling a list of ships, names, designations, etc.

I found it with Google.

You may find it here:

NCC stands for Naval Construction Contract.

I think the “USS” started as a goof, but the semi-official explanation is that it stands for “United Star Ship” with the “Federation” being implied after “United.”

I had understood it was United Systems Starship. United Space Ship or United Star Ship doesn’t refer to the overarcing entity at all; it just means the ship itself is united. Presumably, you’d lose the USS designation if the Klingons fragged you.

Runabouts, the new version of shuttlecraft, are typically named after Earth rivers.

A great many of the combat ship names spawn from those of actual distinguished naval vessels which served in His/Her Majesty’s Service:

Exeter, Hermes, Agamemnon, Repulse, Ajax, Victory, etc.

Similarly, a number of ships are named after distinguished American naval vessels:

Essex, Constitution, Kearsarge, and of course, Enterprise.

I theorize that there are more British names than there are American names for two reasons. First, American ships often borrowed their names from British ships (the Big E being one of them). Second, there are a lot more distinguished British ships! (I suppose that’s an argument for another day.)

Science and research vessels also often take their names from naval ships of the same background:

Endeavour, Beagle, and (possibly) Challenger

One of the most endearing traits of the ships the Star Trek universe is that their naming schema by class is only somewhat consistent, just like real ships of the world’s navies. For example, Kearsarge was an American battleship not named for a state.

You know, after looking over the list I posted the URL to above, I realized that the non-Terrans in the Federation must feel really put down by “the man”… Every single Starfleet ship which is named after something is named after something from Earth.

One ship was named the ‘Valley Forge’! Like they’re going to care about a decisive battle in a country which no longer exists almost half a millenia from now.

You are a real old-time Trekkie/Trekker if you can name all twelve of the TOS ships:

(great name for a STAR ship!)
Bonhomme Richard

Please note that not all of these ships were actually seen in TOS, but they were all in the Writer’s Guide.

Note that all are Anglo-American, with one crumb thrown to the Russkies. :slight_smile: Not only is the Federation earth-dominated, but apparently English-dominated.

True. They tried to remedy this in the sequel series by using names like Yamato, Tiananmen, Tsiolkovsky, Tecumseh, Okinawa, etc.

The official alphabetized list of all ships seen in movies and on TV is linked here.

And, since it might come up eventually, experimental ships, such as the Defiant (and incidentally, the Enterprise in the new series), have an NX-##### designation. (The Enterprise is NX-01.)

-Brianjedi (Just because I’m a Jedi doesn’t mean I don’t like Trek.)

I found it curious that they used so many naval traditions and naming conventions while not giving a new ship of the same name a different hull number as a previous one. Hull numbers are not reused and letter suffixes indicated variants in aircraft types. Having the first two digits of the hull numbe indicate class doesn’t wash as the various incarnations of Enterprise are each of a different class, or so says the NCC-1701-D poster in my office.

Sailors on the USS Enterprise (CV-65) refer to it as the “big E” but I doubt if any federation types would get the Elvis reference.

FWIW Constellation (CV-64) is a great name for a great sea going ship too. I just hope they don’t have a starship Ranger (CV-61). That boat had bad karma.

Gene Rodenberry said that NCC means nothing. He saw that aircraft numbers begin with ‘NC’ and he just added another ‘C’.

<nitpick> Actually, the name “Big E” started with the WWII era CV-6 Enterprise (and has no relation to Elvis). In fact in 1962 was published The Big E, the story of the USS Enterprise by Commander Edward P. Stafford, USN, relating the exploits of this grand lady during the war.

Go there if you want to know more about the various Enterprises, both historical and fictional ones. </nitpick>

The Starfleet starship registry prefix “NCC” doesn’t officially mean anything other than it is the standard prefix for starships in service. There have been other prefixes, notably “NX,” denoting a prototype, or experimental vessel. The two most famous ships with this prefix would be the U.S.S. Excelsior NX-2000 and the U.S.S. Defiant NX-74205. Once the U.S.S. Excelsior was rendered operational, the prefix changed to the standard NCC.

When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was asked this question, he replied that there was no significance to the letters and numbers comprising the registry of the U.S.S. Enterprise. At the time Star Trek first aired, airplanes commonly had “NC” on them, and adding the extra “C” updated the look. Original series art director Matt Jefferies is reported to have said that he chose the “1701” number because it was legible from a distance.

FWIW: NC and NX were used only on US civil aricraft before and possibly just after WW2. The Spirit of St Louis was NX-#### (I forget the number) because (so I was told) N was and is for the US and X is for experimental. NC was US, Commercial.

The thing to remember is that it’s just a TV show, and the people who come up with the names basically pull them out of their ass. I was in a bookstore and was perusing a clearance Star Trek book that listed some of the different ships by name, number, and so on and noted that a disproportionate number of them had to do with California. Based on these names, I would make the educated guess that the writer of the book and probably the assocaition or whatever that picks the names is out of southern California.

At least there’s no starship “John Stennis” or “Carl Vinson”. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a USS San Fernando, or USS Malibu.