Volume 13, Issue 41 ~ October 13 - October 19, 2005
What’s in a Boat Name?
If you buy it, you’ll have to name it
by Maureen Miller

Jaques: I do not like her name.
Orlando: There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.
–Shakespeare: As You Like It

While canoeing down Lerch Creek one day, my husband and I chanced upon a friend admiring his new boat. Long ago we had found the best way to strike up a conversation with a boat owner was to ask how the boat got its name.

“What’s Damifino stand for?” we asked looking at the clean letters on the stern of the Bay-built fishing boat.

“Dammed if I know,” responded the owner, Preston Hartge.

The conversation continued for another five minutes before we asked the question again. When the same response was given, the light dawned. Damifino: dam if i no.

Time-Honored Custom
In recorded history, I found, the Egyptians were the first to name their boats. Today’s boats don’t require a name for registration, but the tradition flourishes.

This had me wondering: Do people ever name their boat Titanic or Lusitania? What is the most popular boat name? The most common name? Should you change a boat’s name?

The name Titanic was chosen to convey a sense of overwhelming size and strength. Aptly named, at 52,310 long tons (a long ton is 2,240 pounds), the Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time of its launching. My research turned up no other boats named Titanic. Perhaps because the name brings to mind the original’s disastrous end.

The subject of boat names, I learned, has spawned numerous debates; books have been published and advice freely given. There are hundreds of websites to help in choosing a name for your boat.

Hartge said he had no name in mind while he was building his boat.

“Friends kept asking me what I was going to name her,” said Hartge, “and I just kept responding, dammed if I know. Suddenly I realized that was her name.”

Some folks find their boat’s name in sudden inspiration.

Nicole Christie’s name for her J120, based in Annapolis, came to her on a race to Puerto Vallarta.

“That’s when I first heard the song Euro Trash Girl by Cracker. The song is about a boy who searches the world over for a girl. It has a great rousing chorus, and I thought then that it was a great name for a boat — not too whimsical or romantic (that is not me), but very memorable.”

Many people name their boats after relatives. Work boats on the Bay, especially fishing boats, tend to be named after family. That tradition is spreading to pleasure boats. Galesville seems to be running a spate of it lately: Oscar, Nancy Lakin, Hannah Brown.

Nancy Lakin, Bill Brewer’s 47-foot, Dave Gerr-designed motor yacht, is named after his grandmother.

“Nancy Lakin was famous in our family history because she was a tough lady and lived a very long time,” says Brewer. “She died in her mid 90s, unusual for the 19th century and rather inspirational. If my boat, Nancy Lakin, does as well, I’ll be pleased.”

Peter Bell also named his Wauqiez 40 after his grandmother, Hannah Brown.

Oscar, Donna Schlegel’s Frer 41, is named after Oscar ‘Uncle Emile’ Hartge. “I loved him from the moment I first met him, in 1994, two years before he passed away,” said Schlegel.

Family names are given to many Newfoundland boats, but another tradition sees Newfies naming their boats after Newfoundland’s rugged coast and severe terrain, which explains such names as The Artic Incisor or The Polar Grinder.

The Angles of Naming
Some boat names are a family decision.

“Our children decided that our first boat, a C&C 30, should be called Red Baron because of its red hull color,” says Don Wagner of Shady Side. “And they named the dinghy Snoopy.

“Since we often were confronted after a day of racing the previous boat with the question ‘How did the Baron do today?,’ “Der Baron seemed to be a good name for our new boat, added Wagner. Der, he explained, “is red in reverse and also means the in German.”

Some names are born of frustration. Tantrum’s owner, Tim Savage of Philadelphia — who keeps his Tartan 10 in Annapolis — told me there’s a long story behind the name.

“Basically, Tantrum sounds a lot better than Spasm, which was my first choice. We took delivery at Herrington Harbor in 2003, the day before the Governor’s Cup, and raced it south with the rest of Annapolis. It didn’t have a name yet, so over the winter we went through the dictionary, thesaurus and any other book we could find trying to get a better name than Spasm.”

Some names are named by pattern and prescription.

In the U.S. Navy, classes of ships receive certain types of names so that one can tell a ship by its name. Today’s aircraft carriers are named after public officials (Eisenhower), battleships and ballistic missile submarines after states (Missouri, Iowa); attack submarines for cities; cruisers for famous battles (Ticonderoga); destroyers and frigates are named after famous persons; minesweepers after birds or desirable qualities.

Obsession was the most common — or popular — boat name from 1990 to 1999. This is according to BoatUS’s highly unscientific but immensely interesting annual survey. Aquaholic has been on the list three years running now. The 10 most popular boat names in 2004 were: Aquaholic, Island Time, Hakuna Matata, Happy Hours, Fish Tales, Liberty, Seas the Day, Freedom, Ohana and Summer Wind.

There are no strict rules for selecting a name, but it is recommended that a name not be identical, actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to seek assistance at sea.

Named for Life?
If you don’t like you boat’s name, can you change it?

Some folk believe it’s bad luck to rename a boat. Christopher Columbus , however, was not of this belief. He changed the name of one of his rented vessels to the Santa Maria. The original name was La Gallegos, since its original owner was from Galicia.

Most people believe it’s okay to change a boat’s name — as long as you perform some type of ceremony. Old salts used to burn the mast or stick a knife or hatchet into the mast. Modern day sailors put a new penny under the mast and/or perform denaming and renaming ceremonies. This is done for good luck but also as an excuse for a party. The denaming part consists of removing and destroying all records and artifacts containing the boat’s oldname followed by a blessing, such as Vigor’s Interdenominational Denaming Ceremony.

After a boat is denamed, you simply rename it using a traditional christening ceremony, preferably by breaking a bottle of champagne on the bow and saying : I name this ship , and may she bring fair winds and good fortune to all who sail on her.

Then sit back and wait for people to ask you why you chose that name for your boat.

Maureen Miller calls herself a gypsy. Her last camp was Galesville; her next may be St. Marys, Georgia. She and artist husband Craig Miller reliably winter in the Bahamas. She last wrote the Earth Journal “My Nemesis Comes from a Long Line of Destroyers,” which appeared on August 18 (Vol. xiii, No. 33).

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.