Monday, September 19, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Name It Like You Mean It

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and, rather than fall back to the more popular terms sailors in the Golden Age might have used, I thought I’d set a new course. So today, a brief discussion of ships’ names from our seafaring history. Not only is this a fascinating subject but it was one that was quite dear to every sailor’s heart. The name of your ship was your name too, at least to the extent that you were part of that collective body known as a crew.

Many superstitions raged around the naming of ships, probably from very early times. Some of those that were virtually set in stone by the dawn of the 19th century include:

Never give a ship a name that begins with A.

Never name a ship after a reptile (Alligator or Rattlesnake for instance. It should be noted that ships with both names were at one point in Royal and U.S. Navy service).

Do not change a ship’s name for any reason.

Though this last rule was stringently adhered to in the service, pirates and privateers in general renamed their ships with gleeful abandon. This was usually due to the need for covering up the origin of the ship in question as it was often a prize of questionable legality. In the Golden Age names like Frolick, Revenge, Adventure and Royal Fortune were so popular that multiple pirates sailed aboard ships with those names.

In the privateering era, ship’s names became more individualized and, at times, curious. Two Brothers/Dos Hermanos/Deux Frères – depending on what language you were using – was hugely popular throughout the period. More unique names like Philanthrope (“philanthropist” in French), Tigre and La Popa (a fortified hill behind the city of Cartagena) turned up in Barataria and Galveston. Other curiously named vessels included Mousenest, Who’s Afraid (both British privateers), Sturdy Beggar, Grumbler and Growler (both Massachusetts privateers), Catch Me Who Can (a Baltimore privateer), Precious Ridicule, Free Love (both New Orleans privateers).

The list could go on of course but that’s a nice smattering of unique names, I think. When she comes in, name your ship wisely Brethren and you’ll always be luck at sea. Happy ITLAP Day to one and all!

Header: Meditation by the Sea c 1860, artist unknown


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I think my favorite has to be "Free Love"... That's pretty funny.

Wait, doesn't "Adventure" violate the "Never give a ship a name that begins with A" rule? Or do you mean using "A" as a separate word, as in "A Sturdy Beggar" or something like that?

Pauline said...

I like Grumbler and Growler which, as an aside, would be nice names for a pair of mastiffs.

The "A" rule is unclear with regard to specifics but then "Adventure" was a popular name for pirate ships and the flouted the rules shamelessly.

Privateers were rarely better. As an example "Aigle" (French for eagle) was a popular ship's moniker with Baratarians Louis Aury and Jean Jannet.