What’s in a name?

When spending millions of dollars on a new vessel, it’s understandable that most shipping companies will opt for a sober, sensible name. Something that exudes their brand values and heritage, the class of the ship, its home port, or the voyages that lie ahead. All perfectly respectable, but not always the most exciting.

Of course, it’s tough to argue that Pioneering Spirit isn’t a good name for one of the world’s largest ships, designed to lift and move entire oil platforms, or for Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Allure of the Seas, both of which do exactly what it says on the tin. And Auto Eco and Auto Energy are apt names for the world’s first dual-fuel car/truck carriers.

But if you look hard enough, there are some gems to be found. Favourites include the infamous Titan Uranus, an Australian-flagged tug named Tom Tough, and HMS Spanker, a name bestowed on four Royal Navy ships, first in 1794 and most recently in 1943. Last year it was great to see then-US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus push the envelope with naming conventions, despite some criticism, with the likes of USNS Harvey Milk, USNS Cesar Chavez and USS Gabrielle Giffords.

Beyond this, we need to turn to the world of fiction for a little more originality. For the master of the art, look no further than the late, great Scottish author Iain Banks. If you’re prepared to forgive the fact that his ships were spaceships rather than the ocean-going variety, he sets the gold standard for names.

Among the dozens of ships featured in his science-fiction novels were such classic names as Just Read The Instructions, Helpless In The Face Of Your Beauty, Unwitting Accomplice, It’s Character Forming and many more. Not to mention a few names that seem perfectly apt for today’s shipping markets, such as A Momentary Lapse Of Sanity (what over-ordering crisis?), Profit Margin (missing, presumed lost), Congenital Optimist (surely freight rates will recover this year?) and Messenger Of Truth (hello to our friends in the maritime media).

Perhaps none of this matters. After all, a rose by any other name… But wouldn’t it be good to see a little more originality and irreverence, even if just to help capture the imagination? Whilst the UK Government didn’t see the funny side when Boaty McBoatface topped an online poll asking for names for a new ocean research vessel (eventually named Sir David Attenborough), they did at least bestow Boaty upon one of the ship’s AUVs. At a time when shipping is fighting for recognition among the wider public, this was an occasion when at least one vessel had the nation talking.

By Simon Phillips, Senior Consultant

Twitter: @BLUECOMMS