The Name Game

by Dennis Clarke - S/V Polaris, Victoria

Remember Shirley Ellis from a song around 1965? "Shirley Shirley Bo Birley …"
In case you don't, here's a little game you can play with any name you like at:

But .. um, yes. Back to boating and boat names.

Have you spent more time choosing a name for your boat than you spent choosing a name for your child or pet? Landlubbers think we are all crazy but most boaters will agree, choosing boat names is an expression of ourselves, our passions, or, our dreams. So, what's in a name? Boat names are often cute VEJA DU, clever XTSEA, or downright unpronounceable PAMUULAAA. A boat by any other name might float the same but would it really reflect your own personality?

Whether your boat is large or small, old or new, beautiful or in need of much attention, adding a name can make a personal statement. Most people chose a name with some sort of meaning behind it, after all, the name reflects on you. A boat, no matter how small, scruffy, or ostentatious, should sport a dignified name rather than something tacky, OAR-GAS-UMM. Besides, when you are sinking and want help quickly you don't really want to be spelling out MY AQUATIC INFATUATION over the VHF!

When you are cruising you essentially become your boat name. You use your boat name to identify yourself on the VHF or to make reservations. People remember you by your boat name; it becomes a big part of your identity. People often ask "Why did you name your boat PLEASURE OF THE DEEP"? So of course, naming a boat is not something to be taken lightly.

According to the U.S. Boat Owners Association, the three most popular boat names in the last few years were, OBSESSION, ODYSSEY, AND OSPREY. These are of course all fine names in their own way, but may appear a bit odd if you consider the long harboured superstition that ships whose names begin with O are unlucky! While that belief is loosing ground these days, there are still a few seamen who hesitate to tempt the gods by giving their ships certain names. One superstition avoids names that are too impressive or haughty, remember the TITANIC. Some say "never name your boat after your wife" (You might change your wife!). There is also considerable superstitious behaviour revolving around changing the name of a boat. The sea gods must be appeased, a process which usually involves much celebration and suitable quantities of adult beverages for the boat, the gods, the skipper, and crew. For more on this see Vigor's Boat Denaming Ceremony.

Rules and Regulations:

There are also many rules and regulations regarding the location, size, etc of the boats name. This all depends on your location, if the boat is registered or licensed and the skippers desire to be completley legal. For more details on this, at least in Canada, see [this site's Government Directory for the Office of Boating Safety for marking name or numbers on a boat and Transport Canada about boat registration].

One little known fact is that when a vessel is "registered" its ownership is divided in to 64 indivisible shares! Why, you say, well apparently no one REALLY knows. However here are three explanations, all very interesting and plausible:
  1. That for the convenience of practical men, the binary system was used, where the shares in the vessel were halved until the whole was reduced to 64 parts;
  2. That the custom grew out of the fact that in olden days most vessels had 64 ribs;
  3. That during the reign of Queen Elizabeth ship owners were taxed to pay fornaval protection and to secure this tax the Crown took 36 of the original100 shares in each vessel, leaving the owner 64 shares, and that although the tax was later remitted the custom of vesting absolute title through 64 shares has persisted.

PS: If you haven't figured it out yet the little logo I use on my signature represents Polaris (Aloha 28) the boat sailing along with spinnaker towards Polaris the star! One last boat name: B SEA N U
In 1734, Lloyd’s List made the decision to refer to all ships as ‘it’ in spite of arguments from the British Royal Navy and yacht builders. To this day, the Lloyd’s List continues to remain gender neutral in their stories about ships.