Ship Naming Controversies of the US Navy: The Continental Navy set the standard for breaking tradition right out of the gates!

“One of these ain’t like the others!” – Navy Crow


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Ship Naming Controversies of the US Navy. The Navy traces its ancestry to 13 October 1775, when an act of the Continental Congress authorized the first ship of a new navy for the United Colonies, as they were then known. The ships of the Continental Navy, and of the Navy later established under the Federal Constitution, were not named in any strictly categorical manner. Ship names in the Continental Navy and the early Federal navy came from a variety of sources.


It seems that though the U. S. Navy may have a standard as to how ships are named according to the various classes every few years SECNAV pulls a new trick out his hat and changes the name to fit something completely opposite precedent. Though you may think that this is something new, with the Secretary bowing to political pressure and a few “horse trades” it seems that this has been going on since the founding of the fledgling U. S. Navy.

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The procedures and practices involved in Navy ship naming are the products of evolution and tradition than of legislation. The names for new ships are personally decided by the Secretary of the Navy. Ship name recommendations are conditioned by such factors as the name categories for ship types now being built, as approved by the Secretary of the Navy; the distribution of geographic names of ships of the Fleet; names borne by previous ships which distinguished themselves in service; names recommended by individuals and groups; and names of naval leaders, national figures, and deceased members of the Navy and Marine Corps who have been honored for heroism in war or for extraordinary achievement in peace.


US Navy Frigate Boston

After the American Revolution the newly formed United States heavily in debt and with no form to raise taxes disbanded the Continental Navy, and in August 1785, lacking funds for ship repairs, sold its last remaining warship, the Alliance. But almost simultaneously troubles began in the Mediterranean when Algiers seized two American merchant ships and held their crews for ransom. Minister to France Thomas Jefferson suggested an American naval force to protect American shipping in the Mediterranean, but his recommendations were initially met with indifference, as were the recommendations of John Jay, who proposed building five 40-gun warships. Shortly afterward, Portugal began blockading Algerian ships from entering the Atlantic Ocean, thus providing temporary protection for American merchant ships.


Secretary of the Navy Knox suggested to President Washington that six different construction sites be used, one for each ship, rather than building at one particular shipyard. Separate locations enabled the allotted funds to stimulate each local economy, and Washington approved the sites on April 15, 1794. The official reason was to stimulate the economy of more than one locality, unofficially this provided federal cash flow to help the politicians garner local support (a tradition that we see today with the F-35 debacle).

Continental Navy and America's Navy


Starting at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Navy’s ships were named in accordance with a system, tailored to ship types. Names of states, for example, were borne by battleships. Cruisers were named for cities while destroyers came to be named for American naval leaders and heroes, as today’s destroyers are still named. Starting in 1931 submarines were named for “fish and denizens of the deep.”

As World War II ship construction programs included new types of ships requiring new name sources; and other classes required a modification of existing name sources to meet a perceived shortage of “appropriate” names. Mass-produced anti-submarine patrol and escort ships were named in honor of members of the naval service killed in action in World War II. Some were named for destroyers lost in the early stages of that war. Ships lost in wartime were normally honored by having their names reassigned to new construction. During World War II the names of individuals were once again assigned to aircraft carriers.

America's Navy Ships


According to Adm. Hyman Rickover says, “Fish don’t vote.” Naval Vessels must be paid for somehow and with Congress controlling the purse strings, the Navy Department has made a history of flattering the politicians in order to secure funding. This has led to several naming controversies such as naming a naval supply ship after the socialist labor leader Cesar Chavez, and naming a submarine after popular Congressman Henry Jackson.


Although traditions have varied over the last Centuries as to how a Battleships is named vice an Aircraft Carrier one aspect that stayed the same was not bestowing names upon naval vessels from living persons. The primary reason was that well we’re still human so there’s plenty of time to sour a name, and there are plenty of honorable persons from the past much deserving of the honor. But alas it’s all politics as seen with the USS Gabrielle Giffords named after the former Arizona Rep who was wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt. The decision by Secretary Mabus was seen by many as a political stunt and generated more discontent than previous naming controversies.

Independence Class Vessel

The Navy vessel, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, has been shrouded in controversy since the name was announced in February of 2012. Multiple high-ranking military officials, including retired Rear Admiral George Worthington, the former commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, argued that an actual member of the military, such as Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer, would be a more appropriate recipient. “Here is the issue. There are a lot of dead Marines out there whose names could go on anything that appears to be an amphibious ship,” Worthington told the Daily Caller. “We think fallen Marines and perhaps supporting sailors should go on fantails before random victims.”

For more information on this topic you can read the 2013 Congressional Ship Naming Controversies report for a low-ball figure of $62K.