I'm a US Navy Commander when I'm not gardening or singing. This article was sent me by another Navy officer -- seems appropriate. Enjoy!
What's in a Name? "I NAME THIS SHIP........ " Research, even into the most mundane subject, can sometimes bring unexpected rewards. Recently, for reasons too dull to explain, I was attempting to discover the names of battleships which served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War. The reference librarian hopefully provided me with a huge volume which listed the names of every British warship ever built, and as I leafed through the index, I was impressed by the quality of the names that the British have given their warships. HMS RELENTLESS, HMS REPULSE, HMS RESOLUTION; fine names, names to gladden the heart of every true Brit and dismay any foreigners with a grasp of English. Names redolent of courage and firm-jawed determination - HMS SCEPTRE, HMS SCIMITAR, HMS SEADOG, HMS SPANKER - HMS SPANKER? It had to be a misprint, but when I looked at the relative page there it was, HMS SPANKER, minesweeper. I turned back to the index and soon discovered that HMS SPANKER was not the only warship to bear a silly name. A quick check unearthed the destroyers HMS FAIRY and HMS FROLIC, the light cruiser, HMS SAPPHO and the corvette, HMS PANSY. My first assumption was that these names had been chosen by some fresh faced innocent unaware of their connotations, but a careful reading of the index suggested that the choice of such names was deliberate and malicious. I have no proof for my theory, but I strongly suspect that they were the creations of an embittered clerk. He was a minor bureaucrat who had once dreamed of becoming a naval hero, a second Nelson or Benbow, but had been turned down for active service on the grounds of flat feet and myopia. The Sea Lords, kindly and foolishly, gave him an office job in the Admiralty. There, as he brooded upon the shattering of his ambitions, his envy of the jolly Jack Tars serving in His Majesty's ships turned to hatred and then into a desire to humiliate those who lived a life on the ocean wave. His big break came when he got a job in the Ship's Names Department and he set to work with a will. Having started with HMS PANSY, HMS FAIRY and HMS SPANKER, he moved into sexually suggestive names - HMS TEASER, HMS TICKLER, HMS TORRID, HMS THRUSTER and HMS THRASHER. Not content with the damage to morale that these names must have caused to morale he followed up with HMS INCONSTANT, HMS INSOLENT, HMS TRUANT, HMS DWARF and HMS DORIS. The man must have been twisted, but he was no mean amateur psychologist. Would a hard-pressed admiral be cheered by the news that HMS DORIS and HMS DWARF (a cruiser and gunboat combination that sounds like an avant-garde cabaret act) were steaming to his aid? Could he be certain that HMS TRUANT would turn up? That HMS INCONSTANT wouldn't change sides, or that HMS INSOLENT wouldn't reply to his signals with a stream of abuse? This evil-minded functionary worked hard to destroy fighting spirit, carefully calculating the result of call a ship HMS HAZARD. The cry, "HAZARD to port!" must have disrupted countless naval exercises and I strongly suspect that he tried to name a destroyer HMS MUTINY, thinking of the chaos that would result from the signal "MUTINY in Portsmouth". Someone spotted this and changed his proposed name from the English MUTINY to the French MUTINE, hoping that the ship would stir up trouble on courtesy visits to French ports. If my theory is correct, that someone was Clerk No.2. He worked in the same office as Clerk No.1, but his history and beliefs were very different. He had been invalided out of the Navy after a distinguished career and was a ferocious xenophobe who believed that the British had the right to intimidate and bully anyone who stood in their way. His existence is demonstrated by further study of the list of names. Most people would consider names like HMS CONQUEROR, HMS TERROR and HMS VENGEANCE adequate for the purpose of frightening Britain's enemies. Not Clerk No.2. He thought them namby-pamby and decided to rectify the situation. He wasn't as prolific as Clerk No.1, but he did his best christening such vessels as HMS ARROGANT, HMS IMPERIALIST, HMS SAVAGE, HMS SPITEFUL, HMS SURLY and HMS TYRANT. His finest hour came when he got the job of thinking up names beginning with V, he came up with HMS VANDAL, HMS VENOMOUS, HMS VINDICTIVE and HMS VIOLENT.
He too was a good psychologist - nobody who had dared to challenge Britain could fail to be moved by the news that HMS SPITEFUL, HMS VIOLENT and HMS VINDICTIVE were turning up to sort them out. In later years, as he sat writing letters to the Eastbourne Gazette demanding the reintroduction of public flogging for litter louts, he must have regretted not calling a ship HMS VICIOUS. However, he probably consoled himself with the thought that Clerk No.1 didn't get much of a look in on the V's. He would have christened the ships VACUOUS, VILE, VERMINOUS and VENEREAL. As it was he only managed HMS VANITY, which was presumably a sister ship of HMS NARCISSUS. Though Clerk No.2 no doubt deplored the behaviour of his colleague, he, too, allowed the problems of day-to-day existence to intrude into his work, though only after rows with his wife, hence HMS TERMAGANT, HMS VIRAGO and HMS TIRADE. I don't know for how many years they worked in the same office, but it must have been a fraught relationship. Each probably spent most of his time trying to trump the names of the other. Clerk No.1 christened HMS PANSY, No.2 responded with HMS MANLY. Clerk No.1 - HMS FAIRY, Clerk No.2 - HMS VIRILE. And so it went on until they retired and the ships they had named were either sunk or scrapped. Now our ships have boringly correct names, which is a pity, for names could make a difference. A truly chauvinistic government would do well to study the names dreamed up by Clerk No.2. If we can no longer terrify opponents with the size of our navy, we could try to frighten them with aggressive nomenclature. A good start would be to retrieve the name HMS VIOLENT and call sister ships HMS PSYCHOPATHIC, HMS BLOOD CRAZED and HMS CRIMINALLY INSANE. The Vandal class could include HMS RAM RAIDER, HMS HEADCASE and HMS TERMINATOR. Of course, a more progressive government might go for names which reflected the concerns of the Left - HMS BLACK SECTIONS, HMS STOP CLAUSE 28, HMS UNILATERALIST and HMS BINDING DECISION OF THE PARTY CONFERENCE. Perhaps not, the Daily Mail would have a field day if HMS UNILATERALIST was ever sunk. In any event, the name of the ship doesn't appear to have affected its ability to fight, HMS TRUANT sank the KARLSRUHE, HMS WALLFLOWER and HMS INCONSTANT accounted for several U-boats and I've no doubt that other ships with ridiculous names had excellent war records. But it is hard not to imagine the crew of HMS NARCISSUS leaning over the side to admire their reflections in the water, or the crew of HMS SPANKER being accosted by leather-clad masochists in dockside bars. The crews of such ships must have been relieved when security considerations temporarily ended the practice of having the ship's name emblazoned on the cap-band.