How to name a spaceship

Milennium Falcon and Star DestroyersSo you’ve got a spaceship. You’re ready to go boldly where no one has gone before, or to let the computers figure it out while you hypersleep and wait for the facehuggers. Either way, your ship will need a name.

Naming ships has been an important tradition in in the maritime world since the first seafarers, and that tradition most likely continue with spacefaring vessels. Here are some spaceship naming tips.

Military

Naval vessels are named after almost everything, so we’ll start here. Several sci-fi series, like Star Trek, believe the military naming tradition will carry over to future space fleets, which is why Starfleet ships carry the prefix “USS” and a hull number. Military names add some gravitas, and could possibly reference seagoing vessels from centuries past.

Naval ships are assigned specific types of names depending on their class. Obviously, these don’t all apply to spacecraft, but they give a good indication of how a name matches up with a ship’s purpose:

Aircraft Carriers: presidents, battles, famous navy ships

Battleships: states

Cruisers: cities

Destroyers and escort ships: Navy and Marine personnel

Submarines: fish and marine life (more recently, states and cities)

Amphibious Assault Ships: same as aircraft carriers

Destroyer/Submarine Tenders: national parks

Patrol Craft: numbers only

Transports: various

Geography

Choosing a name based on an Earth landmark will be a good way to remind you of home as you cross the galaxy. They are also a good may to circumvent national boundaries; mountains and rivers are more politically neutral than historical figures or events from a country that may be part of a unified world government in the future.

Adjectives

These are always a good bet, since, by definition, they describe how awesome your ship is. Adjectives are a favorite of the Royal Navy; examples include HMS Invincible, HMS Indomitable, and HMS Illustrious. One of my personal favorites is Intrepid, first used on a U.S. Navy ketch during the Barbary Wars, then on a World War II aircraft carrier, and eventually on a class of Star Trek ships. You don’t have to choose a name that begins with “I,” but there are plenty of good ones out there.

People

Naming a ship after an important person says a lot about the ship’s creators. A ship can embody the qualities of its namesake, or honor their remarkable achievements. That’s why so many American ships are named after presidents, especially ones that led the country through wars. On the other hand, Sea Shepherd (of Whale Wars fame) named their ships Steve Irwin and Bob Barker. Conceivably, a future nerd society could have ships named George Lucas and Isaac Asimov.

References

A ship name is the perfect place to slip some allusion into a sci-fi story. In the Alien series, several ships, including the Nostromo and Sulaco, have names that refer to Joseph Conrad. Appealing to nerds isn’t the only option; references to mythology are also a good way to give your ship a cool, original, name with some meaning. These names aren’t as obvious as Mount Everest or George Washington, which makes them a little more realistic and a little more interesting. In a spacefaring civilization, all the “good” names will get taken; shipwrights will have to get creative, and so will you.

For the sake of concision, these are just five of the many possible types of names. These five are the most popular types of ship names, but the possibilities are almost infinite. You can even combine two cool-sounding words like Millennium Falcon. Just try to think as an actual ship captain or owner: would you really want a certain name if the ship was real?

Remember that, no matter what a ship’s name is, tradition dictates that it is female. Even if your ship’s name is the Sean Connery, you should refer to it as a “she.” They may just be machines, but ships have always had a romantic quality. That’s why naming them is so important.

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