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Did you ever wonder how a ship gets it name? Well, those in the service to the following governments all follow a” somewhat” pre-set naming convention. Each government is a little different. What say we start with the Brits…

Royal (British) Navy

Royal Navy ships were named according to one of several standard systems; class names varied according to the system:

Capital ships such as battleships, battle cruisers and aircraft carriers always bore traditional and for the most part, inspirational names. Here’s a sampling

HMS Dreadnaught,
HMS Agincourt
HMS Iron Duke
HMS Centurion
HMS Conqueror
HMS Thunderer
HMS Valiant
HMS Resolution
HMS Repulse
HMS Renown
HMS Hood
HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Duke of York
HMS Courageous
HMS Glorious
And so on and so on…

Classes were named after a "name ship" of the class. The British usually tried to give ships of a class similar names; for instance "Lion" and "Tiger" usually went together, as did "Couraegous", "Glorious" and "Furious" and the distinctly British combination of "Invincible", "Inflexible", "Indomitable", and "Indefatigable"

"Letter Classes" are usually used for Destroyers and Submarines (The class name is a letter of the alphabet; all ships in the class have names starting with this letter.


"B"-class destroyers -- HMS Basilisk, Beagle, Blanche, Boadicea, Brazen, Bulldog.
"D"-class cruisers -- HMS Danae, Dauntless, Dragon, Durban, Diomede.
"U"-class submarines -- HMS Upholder, Undine, Unity, Ursula, Unbeaten, Undaunted, Upright.

"C"-class cruisers were the most elaborate of these letter classes, composed of several closely-related subclasses named after their first two letters:Examples "Ca" group -- HMS Cairo, Calypso, Cardiff, Calcutta, Capetown.
"Co" group -- HMS Colombo, Corsair, Coventry.
"Cu" group -- HMS Curacoa, Curlew

"Generic Classes" were usually used for Cruisers and some Destroyers. The class has some generic name and each ship in the class is named after a specific example of the class name. Examples:

Weapon-class destroyers -- HMS Battleaxe, Broadsword, Carronade, Culverin, Crossbow, Halberd, Musket, Tomahawk.
Tribal-class destroyers -- HMS Ashanti, Gurkha, Huron, Iroquois, Maori, Mohawk, Sikh, Zulu.
Town-class destroyers -- HMS Leeds, Campbeltown, Lancaster, Lincoln, Bath, Brighton, Newport.
Hunt-class escort destroyers -- HMS Berkeley, Exmoor, Southdown, Tynedale.
Cathedral-class cruisers -- HMS Exeter and York.
County-class cruisers -- HMS Cornwall, Cumberland, Kent, Dorsetshire, Shropshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex.
Flower-class sloops -- HMS Foxglove, Lupin, Rosemary.

Once a ship had been named, the name was almost never changed. Remainder of a belief that the ship's name was its "soul", changing the name was thought to bring bad luck to the ship. The major exceptions were of captured (or otherwise acquired foreign-built) ships, which were re-named if their name duplicated that of an existing British ship or sounded very "un-British".

United States (American) Navy

When the U. S. Navy first expanded out from coast defense, American ships were named according to rules established by Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt

Battleships were named after states

USS Maine
USS Oregon
USS Texas
USS Arizona
USS Idaho
And so on and so on.

In addition, battleships had unofficial names based on their name-states -- the West Virginia was "WeeVee", the California was "The Prune Barge", New York was "The Empire State Battleship", and the Pennsylvania was "The Keystone".

Battle cruisers - were named after territories-- USS Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico.

Aircraft Carriers - were named after either famous battles or other famous ships from the navy’s history.-- USS Lexington ("The Lady Lex"), Saratoga ("Old Sara"), Ticonderoga, Belleau Wood- USS Ranger, Essex, Enterprise ("Big E"), Constellation ("Connie"), Wasp, Bon Homme Richard ("Poor Richard").

Cruisers - were named after cities- USS Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Atlanta, Brooklyn, St Paul, Salem.

Destroyers - were after famous Naval personnel of the past -- USS Fletcher, Farragut, Decatur, Cole, Truxtun, USS The Sullivans, John Paul Jones.

Submarines - were named after fish -- USS Nautilus, Squalus, Wahoo, Bonito, Gato, Albacore, Skipjack, Scorpion, Thresher.

In addition, each ship type was distinguished by a type code of two to four letters; pennant numbers were always assigned consecutively within a ship type. American ship classes were always named after the "name ship" -- the first of the class counted by low pennant number. A shorthand form of class name was the pennant number of the name ship

Some exceptions did exist; one carrier was named "Shangri-La" after a fictional land, a cruiser was named "Canberra" after a foreign city. Originally armored (heavy) cruisers were also named after States and Battle cruisers after Battles and Famous Ships. (The first large American aircraft carriers -- Lexington and Saratoga -- were built on converted battle cruiser hulls, and later carriers followed this practice.)

Following the British tradition, once a ship had been formally named (at the launching of the hull), the name was normally not changed. Before this formal naming, names were often shuffled around during construction.

With the evolution of naval technology, new ship types replaced others, and the naming system changed accordingly. Originally new nomenclatures (and descriptive codes) were tacked on:

A new type of ship -- the Frigate , actually an enlarged destroyer -- was introduced with Destroyer names; later reclassified as light cruisers because of their size, they retained their destroyer names.

The Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine or "Boomer" -- able to launch nuclear missiles at land targets -- were introduced and named after historical statesmen: USS Lafayette, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin.

Ballistic Missile Submarines- after States -- USS Ohio, Alabama.

Attack Submarines - after Cities -- USS Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Corpus Christi (the last renamed City of Corpus Christi ("Triple-C") after protests from the Catholic Church).

Aircraft Carriers - after Admirals or Politicans -- USS Forrestal, Nimitz, Kennedy, Reagan.

Nuclear-powered cruisers - after States -- USS California, Virginia.

Cruisers - after Battles -- USS Ticonderoga, Gettysburg.

Destroyers - retained their traditional names, the only type whose naming convention went unchanged -- USS Spruance, Burke, Perry, Cole, Kidd.

In addition, older ships remaining in service retained their names (and nomenclature), resulting in a confusing mixture of names. Adding to the confusion was the practice around of occasionally naming any major combatant after a currently-living politician. At first, politician's names were limited to dead statesmen who had been involved with the Navy, but this soon broke down , ships of all types were being named (and renamed) as political payoffs.

Japanese Navy (Nihon Teikoku Kaigun)

Japanese warships were named according to their warrior tradition of "aestheticized violence", which looked upon combat as a work of martial art. Weapons and combat techniques were often given highly-poetic names, and warships were no exception.

Battleships - were named after the traditional provinces of Japan -- Fuso (Land of Divine Mulberry Trees), Ise, Nagato, Kaga (Great Joy), Yamato (Great Japan), Mushashi, Shinano.

Aircraft carriers - were named after flying creatures, almost always with a mythical slant such as the dragon (-ryu), the phoenix (-ho), and the crane (-kaku, associated with the person of the Emperor) -- Hiryu (Heavenly Dragon), Soryu (Blue-grey Dragon), Shokaku (Heavenly Crane), Zuikaku (Auspicious Crane), Ryujo (Sacred Dragon), Taiho (Great Phoenix), Ryuho (Dragon-Phoenix), Shoho (Luck-bringing Phoenix), Zuiho (Auspicious Phoenix).

"Type A" (heavy) cruisers and "Super Type A" (battle) cruisers - were named after mountains -- Kongo (Steadfast), Kirishima (Misty Island), Akagi (Red Castle), Amagi (Heavenly Castle), Takao (High Hero), Myoko.

"Type B" (light) cruisers - were named after rivers in the Japanese home islands -- Kuma (Wounded Valley), Abukuma, Mogami, Kumano (Snowbell Ringer).

"First-class" (heavy) destroyers - were named after weather phenomena such as wind (-kazi) and rain (-ami), snow (-yuki) and frost (-shimo), ocean waves (-nami) and tides (-shio), clouds (-gumo or -kumo) and mist (-giri or -kiri), phases of the moon/names of the months (-tsuki or -zuki), or traditional holidays -- Kamikazi (Divine Wind), Akikazi (Autumn Wind), Akitsuki (Autumn Moon), Terutsuki (Pale Moon), Yugumo (Evening Clouds), Makigumo (Rolling Clouds), Hayanami (Quickly-following Waves), Okinami (High Seas Waves), Arashi (Storm), Nenohi (New Year Festival). Names were usually assigned within a class in groups of four -- four winds, four waves, four clouds, etc. -- intended to operate together as four-ship squadrons

"Second-class" (light) destroyers - were named after trees -- Momo (Fir Tree), Matsu (Pine Tree), Momi (White Pine), Kashi (Oak Tree), Sakura (Cherry Tree), Hatsuzakura (First-blooming Cherry Tree), Tachibana (Orange Tree).

Again following British tradition, warships were never renamed once formally named. With conversions from Battle cruiser to Battleship, Battle cruiser to Aircraft Carrier, fleet auxiliary to Aircraft Carrier, and Light Cruiser to Heavy Cruiser, the navy ended up with quite a bit of cross-naming. The only exceptions were if merchant ships or non-combat auxiliaries were converted to combat ships; they would then be renamed to a proper warship's name.

Russian Navy

The Russian Empire has always been primarily a land power. Despite this, at various times Russia has fielded a navy; the most powerful of these was the "Red Navy"

During this period, the Russian Navy only named major ships -- cruisers and capital ships. Smaller ships (including submarines) were only given pennant numbers such as "K-219"

Names were of three main types:

Cities- Kiev, Minsk, Moskva, Leningrad. (After the Second Russian Revolution, the largest submarines -- previously unnamed -- were named according to this tradition.) Some never-built battleships were to have been named after provinces -- Sovietski Soyuz (Soviet Union), Sovietskaya Ukrania (Soviet Ukrania) -- and one cruiser was actually so named -- Krasny Kavkaz (Red Causacus).

Politicians (or "Heroes of the Revolution")-- Kirov, Frunze. (Before the First Russian Revolution, when Russia was a monarchy, capital ships were often named after Tsars of the past. This custom was revived after the Second Russian Revolution, when all surviving ships were renamed; Kirov became Pyotr Veliki -- "Peter the Great".

Naval Heroes (from times when Russia had a Navy) -- Admiral Senyavin, Vice-admiral Drozd.

Because of this period's volatile politics, the Russian Navy never developed a tradition of not changing ship names. Ships named after politicians were especially prone to renaming as their namesake "Heroes of the Revolution" were jailed, killed, or disappeared with the next power shift in the ruling party

The main peculiarity of Russian naval nomenclature is class names. All Russian ship classes were "named" by a two-to-four-digit "Project Number" assigned at design time. These Project Numbers were assigned completely at random as a counterintelligence measure. Subclasses (blocks) were distinguished by a decimal fraction or a letter suffix in the Project number. Examples:

The "Kiev Class" of missile cruiser/carriers were "Project 1357"; the first block of these ships (Kiev and Minsk) were "Project 1143.1"; the second block, built to a modified design (Novossibrisk) were "Project 1357.3".

The "Oscar Class" of cruise missile submarines were "Project 949"; a later, modified/refitted version (Kursk) was "Project 949A".

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