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What's in a name? A lot.

A while ago, I wrote about trends and oddities in the naming of US warships. It stirred up a bit of discussion (mainly about my accepting a submarine named after Jimmy Carter), but it blew over quickly.

Then, over on a discussion board for matters naval I read (never served, just a borderline-wannabe), the topic of ship names came up recently. And one contributor came up with a stunningly simple idea that I think would solve a lot of the arguments:

No ship, building, or other federal facility or property can be named after someone until 25 years after their death. The only exception he is willing to countenance is for posthumous Medal Of Honor winners.

I'd expand that slightly, and include those who die while in service to their country (also known as the JFK/FDR exception), but overall I like it. True, it would have cost us the Ronald Reagan, but it would have avoided the controversy over the Jimmy Carter and the flagrant sycophancy of the George H. W. Bush. Now, I still think both vessels are appropriate tributes to their namesakes (Carter was an engineer on a nuclear submarine, and Bush was a naval pilot in wartime), and both men served as president honorably (if less than successfully -- I save "dishonorable" for the likes of Nixon and Clinton), but a simple 25-year rule would ensure that the naming process is more removed from politics, and avoid the issue of a vessel's namesake embarassing himself and the vessel with future conduct (I cringe every time Carter does something else stupid, and feel for the sub's officers and crew).

Names mean something, and United States warships are often the biggest, most noticable representatives of America around the world. We should make sure that those ships bear names that speak to something compelling about our nation. Right now, it looks like the most flagrant form of pork-barrel politicking ("tell you what. We'll give you a submarine named after your guy if you let us have a carrier named after our guy's father."), and I really don't care for that being our hallmark to other nations.

We deserve better, and our Navy deserves far better.


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Comments (21)

"tell you what. We'll give... (Below threshold)
Mark A:

"tell you what. We'll give you a submarine named after your guy if you let us have a carrier named after our guy's father."

Umm, the Jimmy Carter was named long before this administration was elected -- well before GW Bush was in the national spotlight. See this page, this, and this. This may have been tit-for-tat for the Ronald Reagan but it most certainly was not for the current administration's preferences.

Otherwise, the idea of a 25-year "non-political" waiting period has merit.

25-year rule seems reasonab... (Below threshold)

25-year rule seems reasonable.

Thank goodness we are still sensible enough not to put the image of living persons on stamps and legal tender, like many kingdoms and dictatorships still do.

I dunno. Would take away a... (Below threshold)

I dunno. Would take away all the fun when Jimmy Carter runs aground before he dies, etc...

I like the 25-year rule wit... (Below threshold)

I like the 25-year rule with the exceptions you mention. I'd also like to see a return to the "systematic" naming approach, where each type of ship (carrier, cruiser, destroyer, etc.) was given a certain kind of name (city, battle, famous ship, etc.).

The tradition was, and shou... (Below threshold)

The tradition was, and should have remained, that only names of the dead could be used. 25 years is an arbitrary number. Even baseball hall of shame is only five after the play quits. We would still have the Reagan. It just may have had to wait until the next hull came along. But to truly honor the liberal ideals of Carter and Clinton, the sub should have been hyphenated. Just think, the USS Carter-Clinton. Carter because he was a submariner. Clinton because the sub is long and round and full of...

I like the 25 year rule, bu... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I like the 25 year rule, but even more so I think the guy should at least be dead, before you name something after them.

How about this.... No pers... (Below threshold)

How about this.... No personal names unless that person won the CMH. There are more than enough historical names for us to use. For Gods sake I just wish they'd bring back Lexington for the CVX. But our politicians are too stupid to honor tradition.... and tradition means more to sailors, marines, pilots, aviators, and soldiers than honoring a bloody President. We might not have the Gipper or the Big Stick... but I'd give up that to have Lady Lex back in American Service.

Why wait until 25 years aft... (Below threshold)

Why wait until 25 years after their death to name something after them. Considering that the person is worthy of such an honor, 25 years after their death seems like a long time. You'd most likely have a lot people scratching their heads wondering who this person was. I feel that their actual demise should be the only criterion.

"You'd most likely have a l... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

"You'd most likely have a lot people scratching their heads wondering who this person was. I feel that their actual demise should be the only criterion."

Well if the people are scratching their heads, maybe they don't need to be honored.

But I think the point of the wait is to try to screen out the political components and the tit for tat stuff.

I don't know whether 25 yea... (Below threshold)

I don't know whether 25 years is too long or not. But I think Jay has a point that some period of time to let history settle, so to speak, is reasonable. Having said that I can't remain totally objective because I think how nice it would have been for Ronald Reagan to have had the privilege of personally seeing "his" Carrier launched. I think he would have been delighted as well as humbled.

I am in complete agreement ... (Below threshold)

I am in complete agreement with you and with Chris. Naming ships for politicians stinks - the Stennis, Vinson, even the venerable old Forrestal, which, if I'm not mistaken was the first of the carriers to be so 'honored'. Once upon a time you could tell a ship type by its name, but those days are long gone. Tradition is out and pork is in.

Not to be off-topic, but I ... (Below threshold)

Not to be off-topic, but I see a connection between Andy Rooney, just below, and James Earl Carter: both hold themselves out as populist moralists, but whose laughably erroneous Cassandraic pronouncements about middle-American culture and politics have made them increasingly ignored and marginalized, to which condition they respond with bitterness, resentment and petty attacks on conservative thought and values. I feel better.

If I'm not mistaken, postag... (Below threshold)

If I'm not mistaken, postage stamps, coins & currency go by the "just dead" rule without a waiting period. It would probably work just as well for ships.

Time limit or not, I just w... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

Time limit or not, I just want a law preventing anything anywhere ever to be named after Michael Jackson.

Chirs: I'd also like to see... (Below threshold)

Chirs: I'd also like to see another LEXINGTON in the fleet, but I'm pushing the idea that maybe the first CXV should be named AMERICA, since the retired AMERICA is going to be sunk as a test target.

Blame it on Hyman G. Riocko... (Below threshold)

Blame it on Hyman G. Riockover.

When asked about his support for breaking with tradition and naming attack submarines for cities instead of fish, he famously replied "Fish don't vote." The only thing more resistant to change than a temporary solution is a high profile naming scheme which has become politicized.

Da_Wiz Sends

P.S. The Clinton should be a garbage scow home ported in Bayonne NJ.

well George H.W. Bush had t... (Below threshold)

well George H.W. Bush had the langley building named after him only 'cause he was the only CIA director to become president. I think that's fair, however I do agree with the dead rule. Having it named after hime while he's still alive is kinda tacky.

There's an old joke about h... (Below threshold)

There's an old joke about how a senior Senator called up the Postmaster General wanting to arrange to have his likeness put on a stamp. The PMG tried to explain to the Senator that the USPS had a rule that no living person could have their likeness on a stamp, but the Senator was insistent.

Finally, the Postmaster General had had enough. "Senator, if you're that serious about having your face on a stamp, I can tell you exactly what you need to do."

"Well it's about time," snapped the Senator. "Let's hear it!"


skybird: Actually,... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:


Actually, there already are warships named after Civil War battles. The USS Chancellorsville exists alongside the USS Gettysburg.

In fact, if you take a look, there is a general naming convention in place for most classes of ships:

Cruisers: Battles (Yorktown, Vella Gulf, Chancellorsville)
Destroyers: Naval heroes (Spruance, Burke)
Attack submarines: Cities (Honolulu, Dallas)
Boomers: States

Carriers used to be named for a number of things, but all the Nimitz-class are named after politicos or major naval figures.

The "cool" names seem to have gone to the amphibs: Wasp, frex, although some have been named after major MARINE battles (Inchon, Iwo Jima, Saipan).

Just as long as they don't ... (Below threshold)
Bill M:

Just as long as they don't name anything after Bill Clinton or John Kerry!

Time limit or not, I jus... (Below threshold)

Time limit or not, I just want a law preventing anything anywhere ever to be named after Michael Jackson.

Jay, I think you've just gotten your next contest inspiration!

And Bill M, I must point out that just such a naming was proposed last year.






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