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The Question:

How are U.S. Navy vessels named?

The Answer:

Since 1819, naming U.S. Navy vessels has been the responsibility of the Secretary of the Navy. Before that there was no system for naming ships. While the Navy has tried to remain systematic in naming ships, the process has evolved along with the sophistication and size of the ships as well as the expansion of the U.S. fleet.

The Secretary's primary source is a list of recommendations compiled by the Naval Historical Center, which are the result of research into the history of the Navy and suggestions from service members, veterans and the public.

Recent recommendations have depended on several factors, including what category the ship is (aircraft carriers, submarines, cruisers); the geographical distribution of other ships in the fleet; names of ships which have previously distinguished themselves in service; names recommended by individuals and groups; and the names of naval leaders, national figures who have been honored for their heroism.

Some popular sources for ship names have been: States of the Union; cities and towns; rivers; naval leaders and pioneers; Indians; birds; and famous Americans.

The Secretary receives an approved list of recommendations from the Chief of Naval Operations and he considers these suggestions, along with his own thoughts, and at appropriate times selects names for ships and announces them. There is no time frame, but it is customarily done before the ship is christened.

To learn more about how the U.S. Navy goes about naming vessels, read Ship Naming in the United States Navy, a fascinating, comprehensive article published by the Naval Historical Center.

—The Editors

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