Adam and I have spent a great deal of time over the recent months absorbing the names of other people’s boats…not for sheer amusement, but so that we could develop a five-part name categorization system for the majority of boats out there. It is by no means iron clad and has quite a bit of overlap, but here it is.
1) Naming your boat after a lady. As I write this, we’re anchored across from an old fishing boat named Barbara, probably one of the most popular fishing boat names out there, except for maybe MasterBaiter, but that belongs in an entirely different category – so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s a universally accepted tradition to refer to boats using feminine pronouns and names, which is why you don’t see many Mac or Charlie or Franks out there – as you may be able to tell, we’re going through a bit of an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia renaissance. As far as I can tell through a hasty google search, there are two main theories as to why this is the case.
Theory #1: It has been surmised that all ships were once dedicated to goddesses or other mythical figures, and later in history were named after important, be it mortal women, such as Captain’s wives or mothers. Interestingly enough, although seamen historically connected the spirit of a female figure to their ships through the idea of safety and protection, actual women were considered certain doom, and at the very minimum very bad luck at sea. Continuing in that tradition, Adam and I have taken to blaming me for all of our boat-related problems.
Fun facts though when researching ship’s figureheads:
In their heyday, figureheads were the subject of some nautical superstition. Sailors from Germany, Holland, and Belgium believed that a spirit lived in the figurehead and protected the ship and its inhabitants from all kinds of harm. If the ship sank, the spirit would conduct the sailors to the afterlife, so sinking on a ship without a figurehead was extremely bad luck, causing the sailors’ ghosts to haunt the sea for eternity. Cited here.
Figureheads apparently went out of fashion in the 18th century because the addition weight on the front of the ship could significantly affect the ship’s aerodynamics. According to the same article, in later centuries, the typical figurehead became smaller, often consisting of only a bust, and many ships did not have a figurehead at all.
The contemporary definition of figurehead – as a person who holds an important title – derived from this carved figure on the bow of a ship.
Theory #2: This theory focuses on the basis of European languages. A number of languages, such as German and French, have a complex system of gender involving grammatical terms in which objects are assigned specific masculine or feminine tones. Olde English also used this system of naming, with many inanimate objects such as boats referred to in the feminine form. As the English language changed and evolved, the tradition of using this feminine form for ship names continued and is still present today. Cited here.
2) Pun – Inspired Boat Names. I am saddened to admit that this seems to be the most popular of the boat name categories. Folks love the double, sometimes triple entendres, especially if you can get something nautical, or better yet sexual, in there too. Some popular examples: Wet Dream, SeaMan, Pier Pressure, BoatWeiser, Rest A Shore, Channel Surfer, Devocean, Seas the Moment, Breaking Wind, Aqua-holic, Ship Happens, Marlin Monroe, Altitude Adjustment…and a dinghy name that I just came across that speaks my language: Row vs. Wade.
I love a good pun as much as the next guy, but in my opinion, the punny boat names cheapen the whole thing…or maybe I need to just lighten up, and enjoy them just for the hull of it.
3) Naming your boat after a stage of life. Rowing around harbors in Catalina we’ve already seen a slew of these boat names: Assisted Living, Second Chance, Plan B, Instead of Kids, Early Retirement, Easy Living, Taxes Evaded, Worth the Wait..
Then you have your funny, but actually sad and awkward boat names like: Cause for Divorce, Son’s College Tuition and Yes Dear. We rowed by this particularly sobering, but categorically correct boat name yesterday.
4) Nautical/Wind Related Boat Names. This is definitely a catch-all category of all things nautical/ocean/wind themed. Some examples that we’ve seen recently: SeaQuest, Windseeker, Wind Pirate, The Coconut, Islandia, Wind Dancer, Summer Wind. You also have your Jimmy Buffet themed boat names, which could actually be a category of their own – Parrot Head, Wasted away in Margaritaville, Come Monday, Son of a Son of a Sailor, Havana Day Dreamin.
5) Foreign Boat Names. These boat names come from different origins and I tend to like these names the best because they are pretty, sometimes mysterious and even though they might be puns, I wouldn’t know it. My family’s first boat was named “Tusitala” which was a Tahitian name given to Robert Louis Stevenson that meant “Storyteller.” I love boat names that have a story, or deeper meaning and significance for the family that named it.
So where does Grand Slam fit into these categories you might be thinking? Well, it does and it doesn’t. For those of you who don’t know it’s origin, it’s a hat tip to the Hopps’ family’s favorite sports – tennis and baseball and the SLAM is a sort of acronym for the family members’ first names: Shaun, Laurie, Adam and Molly. :)
Along with most things nautical, there is a superstition behind changing a boat’s name after it’s been christened. The solution can involve silver dollars, purging the boat of its former identity, champagne and Poseidon, the god of the sea…perhaps a blog for another day.
3 thoughts on “Boat Names, Bad Luck and Poseidon, god of the sea.”
“Quit playing with your dinghy” Good catchphrase.
So would Grandpa Norm’s boat “Epiphany” fall into the stage of life category? And do you remember the “Ollie-Bobbie”?
I always figured the reason why boats were named after women was quite simple. Man: I’m thinking of buying a boat. Woman: Keep thinking. Man: I’m thinking of naming it after you. Woman: Fine… but if you catch any fish, you still clean it and cook it yourself. Man: Yes, dear…
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