The vagaries of warship naming

HMS Ark Royal (R07)

Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t think it would take long. There have already been calls for one of the Royal Navy’s new supercarriers to be renamed HMS Ark Royal. Even though a poll in today’s Portsmouth News showed that 94% of people asked did NOT want a new Ark Royal right away.

Personally, I just cannot agree. The names selected for the two ships – Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales – are fine, historic names. Classes of ships should all have logical names that follow a pattern. To have one ship names Ark Royal and another named something completely random would make no sense at all.

The problem is, there is a precedent. The current Ark Royal (RO7) was due to be named HMS Indomintable, alongside her elder sisters Invincible and Illustrious (both, incidentally, names as famous as Ark Royal, if not more so). But the popularity of the old Ark Royal, helped by the TV documentary Sailor, led to an outcry demanding that one of the new Invincible class carriers should be named Ark Royal in her honour. Sadly, in this case their Lordships made a rod for their successors backs.

A quick glance at Colledge and Wardlow’s Ships of the Royal Navy shows that the Royal Navy has literally hundreds of famous and proud names that it could call upon. The Navy had so many ships in years gone by, that it pretty much had to scrape the barrell for names – how else could you explain the fearsome sounding HMS Beaver? I remember a few years ago the letters that flew back and forth in the Navy News and Portsmouth News, complaining that sailors were expected to go to war in ships named after furry little animals or plucked from the road atlas of Great Britain.

If we really want to talk names for Aircraft Carriers, then we have plenty to choose from – Courageous, Glorious, Eagle, Hermes, Furious, Victorious, Formidable, Implacable, Indefatigable… I might have been tempted to go for Glorious and Courageous, both ships sunk in the Second World War, or Perhaps Invincible and Hermes in tribute to the Falklands War.

Reportedly the naming of the new Type 45 Destroyers aroused controversy. The previous class of Destroyers, the Type 42’s, were named after British cities. This was great for building up links with the respective city. Wisely, the Royal Navy decided to carry on with the ‘alphabet’ system of ship naming for Destoyers and Frigates. As the last sub-batch of the Type 22 Frigates were given ‘C’ names, the Type 45 became the ‘D’ class – Daring, Dauntless, Diamond, Defender, Dragon, Duncan. All historic, brave sounding names. Yet some of the cities who had been twinned with the old Type 42’s threw their toys out of the pram, refusing to take up links with the new ships and insisting that there should be an HMS ‘insert name of city here’.

There are some even more random naming controversies. HMS London, a Type 22 Frigate launched in 1984, was originally due to be called HMS Bloodhound, but was ‘renamed at the request of the Lord Mayor of London’. Aww, diddums. Her sister ship HMS Sheffield was originally to be called HMS Bruiser, and another sister HMS Coventry was supposed to be Boadicea. Bloodhound, Bruiser and Boadicea are all fine names. Perhaps we can understand the sentiment of naming ships after vessels that were sunk in war, but is rushing to rename ships of another class really a dignified way to do it?

I’m surprised that we haven’t had calls to name the new Antarctic icebreaker HMS Endurance. The Navy has been brave in announcing that she will be called HMS Protector, an old South Atlantic ship name with heritage and also sounds formidable. Who says that it absolutely has to be called Endurance anyway? A change of name makes a welcome change from the not so great publicity regarding the ship in recent years.

But please, let the name Ark Royal rest in dignity for a while, ready to sail again in years to come. Ship names should be a case of ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. The Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence should issue a statement as soon as possible to shoot down all the spurious brownie point chasing. It’s quite distasteful.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “The vagaries of warship naming

  1. x

    I wouldn’t want another Ark. But I have wondered about PoW. I would have preferred Eagle.

    And I said before here I would have liked one of the A-boats to be an Ardent.

    Have you seen the prices the Sailor DVDs go for? I really, really regret not getting a copy when they were released. Perhaps BBC will repeat it on BBC4 one day………

  2. John Erickson

    So – would one of those proud, bold names be maybe Swan – used 24 times as of WW2? Or Cygnet – 18 times? Or Fly – 24 times? Or Pelican – 21 times? Bold, frightening names indeed! ;)
    I kid because we have some doozies. The USS Reuben James – a proud name with a long heritage, but c’mon – it sounds like a sandwich from a NY deli! (“Yeah, I’ll have the Reuben James on rye, hold the mayo.”) That’s a good stealth name – the enemy doesn’t know which to bring to bear first, the armaments, or the condiments! (rimshot) :D
    Sorry, I’m in a weird mood right now. We sent off a vet with a Boscombe Down style flag salute. Considering there’s over 2 dozen houses in this “town”, and only 3 of them fly a flag (us included), it’s a big deal. Took the wife and I several hours to put up flags along about 200 yards of frontage on both sides of the street, including covering our front porch with ‘em. The Veterans of Foreign Wars gents who supplied the honour guard, were visibly moved. One actually cried as they drove past. A sad day when we laid a friend and vet to rest, but a good day to salute our soldiers. And it was my honour and privilege to do it, so all the aches and pains were WELL worth it!

    • John Erickson

      X- “Bless”? A ship name? Bless me? (THAT ain’t gonna happen! :D ) Did you sneeze? I’m confused! (So what’s new?)

      • John Erickson

        Thank you, X, and sorry for my confusion. It’s been a crazy few days, sending our friend off yesterday and ending up doing the “routine” again today for another gent, a Vietnam vet we didn’t know, but a friend of a friend, and deserving, regardless of the degree of separation.
        Once again, thank you. And I’m sure our friend Lee would also send his thanks.

  3. john royal

    Leave well alone, I say ! The recently de-commissioned Ark Royal will hold memories for hundreds of members of ship’s companies who have served in her over the years — as, indeed,the original Ark Royal did for those who survived and remembered with affection her stately presence during WW2. As a footnote, may I claim to have been among that number. I served in the light cruiser HMS Enterprise in the Med in 1940. We were part of Force H under Admiral Sommerville who flew his flag in the Ark Royal. The memories of the old Ark are still clear in my mind. No more repeats,please !

    • James Daly

      Its the views of people like you that carry the day for me, John.

      Interestingly enough, the new Type 26 Frigates should, by rights, be named beginning with ‘E’, but sadly I cannot see it, as Enterprise and Echo have been used for survey vessels. I can remember going with my Grandad to Navy Days when the current Enterprise was on display. He was made up that one of the senior rates we spoke to knew all about the WW2 era Enterprise, his brothers ship 1940-2.

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