What’s In Boat Names? | Great Days Outdoors

There’s more to naming a boat than you might think.


We tend to name lots of things that we use in our lives, but boats are more often named than any other kind of non-living transportation. So, why do we name our boat and how do we go about it?


A Little Background

People have been naming boats and ships for as long as we’ve gone on the water. In the past, boat naming was a very serious, spiritual matter, and traditionally, boats were given feminine names. Exactly why a boat should be called “Mary” and not “Mack” probably relates to the fact that in many languages, the form of the generic word “boat” is in a feminine case, so the boat would be considered a “she”. So, boats were traditionally given female names.

Also, traditionally, naming a boat after an important female, like a queen or a goddess, was felt to put supernatural protection on the boat and the men who sailed her. Most men realize very soon in life that there’s nothing like the positive feelings of a woman to keep things going well.


In reality, boats and ships were named because this was just about the only way to track and keep account of a specific boat. Remember, we haven’t been titling and getting state identification stickers for boats for very long. Before we got our state or federal identification numbers, there was no way to keep up with which boat was what. So, we named our boats, painted the name on the stern, and then everyone knew the boat and the crew that went with it.


Giving your new boat a name can be a fun process. Make sure it's a name you can live with!

Every boat’s name should be meaningful to the owner- even if others don’t understand. Photo by Ed Mashburn.


So, How do We Choose a Name for a New Boat?

The happy day has arrived, and we have taken delivery of our new boat.  It doesn’t matter if the new boat is a sixteen-foot fishing skiff or a massive power yacht equipped with swimming pool and helicopter pad. We need to name the boat.

Even though our lives and our naming of boats have changed from the old, old days of going on the water in wooden ships, and we’re not nearly as restricted in what we call our boats these days, it’s a good idea to keep a few points in mind.


First, take the naming and selection of a name seriously. Simple and easy to understand boat names are good- you may have to report an accident or distress at sea over the radio, and a difficult to understand name can complicate the recovery process.

Next, remember, changing a boat’s name is not easy (more on this later). Pick a name you can live with for the long term.

Finally, make the name personal- make it match what’s important in your life. We have read that naming a boat is like getting a tattoo. If a humorous or somewhat risqué tattoo fits your lifestyle and you are good with this, then probably the same kind of name for a boat will work for you.

When naming a boat, especially if it is going to be registered, no profanities or racial slurs are permitted. Also, be careful of naming a boat after someone else. Particularly for single guys who get a new boat, naming a boat after a present girlfriend may become a problem if the present girlfriend becomes an item of the past. An old girlfriend’s name on the stern can be difficult to explain to a new girlfriend.


Some Boat Naming Considerations

Some folks might call these considerations superstitions, but most of these ideas have been around for a long time, and long-time things are of some value.

First, it’s bad luck to go on the water in an unnamed boat. How can you call for help if there’s no name to use?

Second, it’s bad luck to rename a boat. We can’t just change a boat’s name- there are rules to follow.

Third, it’s bad luck to name a boat with a brash or arrogant name. Don’t tempt the gods of the sea with names like Hurricane Hunter or Rich Guy’s Boat or Can’t Sink Me. Titanic II might not be a good choice.

When naming a boat, the name is not “official” until the christening ceremony is done. The process is simple, and it can be fun.

Traditionally, boat naming and official christening are done by calling on the god of the sea at the first launching (the god’s name is up to the owner). Then the boat’s name is called, and protection and guidance are asked for.  Then some sort of alcoholic drink is offered to the sea god, and a drink is poured for each witness to the christening.

Then we go fishing if the motor will start.


Renaming a Boat

Now, what’s a boater to do if a boat comes already named? Sometimes the name painted on the stern of a previously owned boat is not a problem- that’s a bit of good luck. But what if the name is totally unacceptable?  

Renaming a boat is a tough process. After all, the boat has already been named and recorded by the sea god.

Renaming a boat is a tough process. After all, the boat has already been named and recorded by the sea god.”

Here’s the way the boat renaming process is traditionally done.

Remove the old name from the boat. Remove everything with the old name on it- life jackets, glasses, charts- everything.

Don’t bring anything aboard with the new name until the ceremony is complete.

Inform the sea god that the old name is gone. Scratch the old name on a rock or a lead weight or anything else that will sink. Toss the name into the water. Ask that the old name be removed from the god’s list of protected boats, and pour a drink of alcohol into the water.

At this point, the boat can be renamed and rechristened with the same ceremony used for a new boat. The new name can now be attached.

We notice that there’s a lot of liquor pouring and drinking when it comes to naming a boat, and that is probably a good thing.


Our Favorite Boat Name

Now, since we at my house have very small boats that we use- kayaks and canoes, mostly, we have chosen simple names. There’s the Red Boat, the Yellow Boat, the Green Boat, the Orange Boat, and the Old Wooden Boat. No, we didn’t get too creative.

Our sailboat’s name is Shearwater which is a kind of bird which does not live around here on the Gulf Coast. The name made sense at the time we named it.

But my favorite boat name is Ichthus. This name is simple, easy to pronounce, and it’s meaningful. In case you don’t remember your Latin class from high school, Ichthus is Latin for “fish”.

I can’t think of a better name for a buddy’s fishing boat.

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