You can’t take boat naming too seriously

June 2004

By Dodge Morgan

The naming of a boat should be treated with at least as much care as the naming of a child and must always be done by her owners. It is said that it is bad luck for a new owner to change a boat name, but I believe this really applies if she has a special history. You would not put a new name on the schooner America or the 12-meter Courageous or the yawl Dorade or the catamaran Rogue Wave. I did not rename my Peterson schooner Coaster and the United States Naval Academy did not rename my sloop American Promise. If you acquire a pedigree, you should live with the name her original owner launched with her.

But the naming of a brand new boat or a boat asking for a new identity is a very serious responsibility and personal challenge. Don’t let someone else name your boat. I believe that a proper boat-naming process starts with writing a statement of objective and then making lists of alternatives that reflect that objective. There are four categories of focus for this statement of objective.

1. The Boat: Describe the vessel by the key points of its design and appearance. Such as power, speed, strength, agility, sleek, massive.

2. The Owners: Describe the owners’ style and attitude towards boating. Such as ocean passages, live-aboard, comfort, a work specialty.

3. Boat Use: Describe the primary use or purpose for the vessel. Such as racing, cruising, day sailing, gunkholing, partying.

4. The Poetic Owner Factor: Describe the key priorities in the owner’s life. Such as music, literature, family, humor, personal notoriety, competitive instinct, hobby, profession.

Let’s consider an owner by the name of Hardball, a well-known racing sailor who has just acquired a tug-style power vessel for Maine coast gunkholing and whose major joys in life are family, music, humor and poetry. The secret for creating engaging lists of name alternatives is to free the mind of pre-conclusions and assume you are not at this stage naming the boat but are brainstorming words that could trigger the eventual name selection. It is likely one will discover a name that fits several of the defined objectives. Lists for Hardball’s new vessel could come up like this:

•Patience, Trident, Tradition, Competence, Bluster, Persistence, Perseverance, Endurance, Tough Lady.

•Heritage, Ocean Affair, Safe Harbor, New Horizon, Freedom, No Windward Mark, Open Arrival, Negotiator.

•Explorer, Independence, Destination, Breakaway, Quest, High Hope. Inspiration, Discovery, Passing Time.

•Hardball’s Wake, Ocean Melody, Slow Rhythm, Joyful Presence, Sonnet, Sea Symphony, Rhyme and Reason, Poet’s Barge, Hilarity.

Some of my boat name selections: My first vessel at 10 years of age was an outboard engine crate I almost fitted out to float: Tar Pit. My next was a Hunt 110 sloop while I was flying fighters for the USAF: Scramble. Next was the dinghy for my schooner, Coaster, which my grandfather, “Cap Dodge,” claimed I would plant on some reef: Cap’s Wreck. The dinghy for my schooner Eagle became Feather. The little Peterson single-cylinder launch was given the grand name Alice P. Hoyt after my matriarchal mother-in-law. The Hood sloop that sailed me around the world alone and non-stop is American Promise (her name to me was always just Promise with American added when it was discovered no American had yet accomplished that voyage. To this day, no other has.) My Hood passage-making sloop is Wings of Time. First choice for her was Time of Wonder until I found a famous Alden schooner had claimed that name. (I asked for family input to my list as long as the concept of time was included, and my son whimsically suggested Waste of Time.) My commuter workboat is Wingnut, as I specified the name of a tool or piece of hardware. The Snow Island commuter outboard is Snowshoe, describing her shape, and the island barge is Snowhaul.

Names I do not appreciate are the cute ones, like Correspondent, Mama’s Mink, Broker Fee, Kids’ Inheritance. I am also shy of arrogant names such as Dominance and bad weather names such as Hurricane and Stormy.

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he single-handed American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86.