How Ships of the Navy Are Named

On November 18, 1889, the Navy launched the battleship USS Maine at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But the ship’s beginning would turn out to be not nearly as famous as its ending – an explosion that sent it to the bottom of Havana’s harbor in 1898, triggering the Spanish-American War and giving rise to the slogan, “Remember the Maine!” The Maine was one of several battleships named after states. Over time, the Navy has developed a system (sometimes ignored) for naming vessels.

Aircraft carriers are often named for great Americans, such as the Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Amphibious assault ships are named for famous Navy ships, such as the Wasp and Essex.

Guided missile cruisers are usually named for famous battles, such as the Ticonderoga and Gettysburg.

Destroyers are named for naval leaders and heroes, such as the Farragut and John Paul Jones.

Frigates are named for heroes and distinguished members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, such as the Robert G. Bradley and John L. Hall.

Ballistic missile submarines are named for states, such as the Ohio and Alabama.

Attack submarines are named for cities, such as the Los Angeles and Norfolk or states, such as the Virginia and Texas.

Other traditions include: mine countermeasures ships are given names representing strength and defense – Avenger and Guardian; dry cargo ships are named for famous explorers and pioneers – Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea; coastal patrol boats are often given storm-related names – Typhoon, Thunderbolt; hospital ships are given names indicating care – Comfort, Mercy.