The strange habit of naming a boat

//The strange habit of naming a boat
history of boat names

The history of seafaring is riddled with memorable boat names: the Titanic, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the Bounty…

As long as boats have plied the waterways of this world, sea captains, skippers and boat owners have made sure there’s a worthy name wrapped around the stern of their water craft.

And this is not merely a historical phenomenon. Today, in modern times, the boat naming habit is as strong as ever. Take a walk along the docks of your nearest harbor. You will be hard pressed to find a boat with no name.

We became curious about this tradition and decided to dig into the mystery…

Why do boats have names? We don’t name our cars or bikes, yet we do name our boats. Why is this?

Why do boats have feminine names? When is the last time you sailed on a boat named Steve. Never, you have never sailed on Steve. That wouldn’t feel right. The boat must have a women’s name.

But, how did that come to be?

In this article, we will attempt to unravel at least some of this mystery.

Why did we start naming our boats?

Historically, ships were given a name for purely logistical regions. People needed to make sure they were talking about the same thing. A boat with a specific name would ensure passengers and crew were talking about the same voyage.

We do the same thing today, we’ve just taken all the fun out of it.

Currently, you might tell your friend, ‘I’m departing from Atlanta, tomorrow afternoon on Delta, Flight #543.’

But back in the days of piracy, you’d simply say, ‘I’ll be setting sail tonight on the Queen Anne’s Revenge.’

That told your friend everything they needed to know. There was only one Queen Anne’s Revenge, and anyone who was interested could see it was docked up in the harbor and ready to depart on the outgoing tide.

naming a boat

The pirate Stede Bonnet with the Jolly Roger in the background. Woodcut from 1725 (public domain).

Why do people still name boats?

Sea faring is a traditional sport. Sea captains always have one eye looking to the past. And as such, boats continue to receive names today.

It is no longer a logistical requirement for boats to bear a colorful name. They could be referred to using their registration number. This would be similar to using a license plate number to talk about a specific car. Yet, nobody uses a registration number to refer to a boat.

Every single boat has a name. If you need some witty examples, here’s our excellent list of funny names for boats.

So, aside from tradition, why hasn’t this ritual of naming a boat lost any steam?

In my opinion, the answer has a lot to do with ego. Boaters, in general, have a grand sense of self. It’s not often that you’ll encounter a quiet and introverted skipper.

And each type of boater has a different reason for their inflated sense of self.

Sailors love the fact that they’ve mastered sailing and don’t need an engine.

Fishermen see themselves as brave hunters pulling trophy after trophy from a vast ocean.

Speedy power boaters ride up on hydroplane and fly insanely fast across an otherwise placid lake or bay.

None of these activities seem to attract shy or humble personalities.

All this ego needs a creative outlet… and the name of the boat has become that outlet.

why are boats named after women?

A boat name becomes an extension of the ego.

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Why are boats often named after women?

The Andrea Gail, the Shala Rose, the Mary Celeste…As long as mariners have pushed out to sea, there have been vessels adorned with a women’s name. Why is this?

The answer to this question is simple. In general, women are more appealing than men.

Why ruin something as wonderful as a boat by naming it after a dude.

Would your friends really be that excited to load onto The Brad for the weekend?

Boats are beautiful, graceful, aesthetic works of art. You don’t want to sully that by naming it after some hairy brute who eats poorly and drinks too much.

When Columbus and his Spanish crew left Europe to find a new world, surely they had their doubts regarding the voyage. Yet, they continued with heads hung high and boarded the Santa Maria. Would the situation have played out the same if the crew was asked to board the San Mark?

I think not.

Here’s what I’m saying. When a crew of salty sailors ships out for a long journey at sea, it is absolutely critical for the morale of the crew to remain high. The crew must be enamored with their vessel and thus feel a great connection with the ship. If that connection is lost… mutiny is sure to surface.

There is no simpler way to foster an emotional connection between man and machine – than to give that machine a beautiful and graceful feminine name.

women boat names

Columbus leading his crew on the Santa Maria. We doubt he would have ever left Europe had skippered the Santa Keith. All great boats are named after women.

In summary

Well, I hope I’ve done my part in unraveling this long-standing, nautical mystery.

Truth be told, no one really knows why a boat needs a name, it just does.

If you’ve ever spent any time on a boat with no name, I’m sure you’d agree that it just feels wrong. The boat doesn’t feel entirely sea-worthy. You should have your doubts about embarking on a ship with no name.

Why take any chances? Just give the boat a name.



  1. kevin curran February 28, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    ah yes…but what about when you want to change the name of your boat?

  2. John October 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    What is this nonsense about “Jolly Roger” being the name of a ship? It is the name for the pirate flag. That woodcut from 1725 is of the pirate Swede Bonnet with A Jolly Roger in the background (i.e., the flag), and not THE Jolly Roger.

    • October 3, 2017 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      John – You are correct sir, sorry for that nonsense. I changed the boat name for that example – to the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

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