Ever wonder how the Navy goes about naming its vessels? Let the Naval History and Heritage Command, our parent command, bring you up to speed. Today we bring you part three of four of “Ship Naming in the United States Navy.”
“Nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines, built to carry the Polaris strategic deterrent missile, began to go into commission in the early 1960s. These were rightly regarded as ships without precedent. Thus, a name source of their own was deemed appropriate. Our first ballistic missile submarine was named George Washington, and the rest of the ‘41 for Freedom’ bore the names of ‘famous Americans and others who contributed to the growth of democracy.’ Some of these submarines were later reclassified as conventional attack submarines under the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) agreements. Though they lost their missile capability, they continued to bear such names as Patrick Henry and Ethan Allen. The newest Trident missile submarines of the Ohio class bear state names, one of the name sources originally considered for the first Polaris submarines. One of the class, Henry M. Jackson, honors a legislator who had a strong share in shaping American defense programs.
“Into the mid-1970s attack submarines continued to be named for sea creatures, though a few were named for such legislators as Richard B. Russell and L. Mendel Rivers. Ships of the more recent Los Angeles class bear the names of American cities. One exception, Hyman G. Rickover, honors the man who has been called ‘the father of the nuclear Navy.’ The new Seawolf class has departed from this scheme, with Seawolf representing a ‘denizen of the deep’ and Connecticut named for the state; the third ship of the class has not yet been named. [This vessel would become USS JIMMY CARTER (SSN-23.]
“After World War II aircraft carriers were given a mix of such traditional carrier names as Ranger, Saratoga, and Coral Sea, and names of individuals. The first of these, as we have seen, was Franklin D. Roosevelt, later followed by Forrestal and John F. Kennedy. All the ships of the current Nimitz class bear the names of such national figures as Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and Ronald Reagan.
“The names of American battles have been perpetuated by the newest class of guided missile cruisers. The first of these was Ticonderoga; twenty later ships of this class honor actions fought from the Revolution to World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. One ship is named Thomas S. Gates for a statesman who served as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense.
“Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers continue the tradition of honoring naval leaders and heroes. There are the typical exceptions; Roosevelt (DDG 80) was named in honor of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, while Winston Churchill honors the great war leader of World War II. Some destroyers bear names of recent heroes, while others carry on the traditions of distinguished former ships of the same name.
“The Navy is not only made up of combatant ships. Throughout its history it has depended on its auxiliary ships, a generic term used in referring to the many different types of ships used to support the Fleet. Auxiliary ship types are numerous and varied, and display many different name sources. Submarine tenders, for instance, are ‘mother ships’ to submarine squadrons and bear the names of submarine pioneers (Simon Lake, Hunley, Holland). Ammunition ship names are names of volcanoes or words denoting fire and explosives (Suribachi, Pyro). Fleet tugs, big seagoing ships capable of rescue and firefighting as well as towing, bear American Indian names (Powhatan, Navajo), while salvage ships have names indicating salvage (Safeguard, Grasp). Ocean surveying ships have been named for individuals who distinguished themselves in ocean sciences or exploration (Maury, Wilkes, Bowditch); the name of one, Pathfinder, points to its role at sea. Oilers, large tankers fitted to refuel other ships at sea, are named for rivers (Monongahela, Patuxent) or for famous ship designers or builders (Joshua Humphreys, Benjamin Isherwood). Fast combat support ships provide fuel, ammunition, and other supplies to aircraft carrier battle groups. The newest class of these ships honors the names of honored supply ships of former years (Supply, Arctic).
“How will the Navy name its ships in the future? It seems safe to say that the evolutionary process of the past will continue; as the Fleet itself changes, so will the names given to its ships. It seems equally safe, however, to say that future decisions in this area will continue to demonstrate regard for the rich history and valued traditions of the United States Navy.”