Name Game: Ships, History Victimized

Continuing from our Jan. 14 post, we want to end the confusion: You don’t have to be dead to have a ship named after you. Apparently you no longer have to be inspirational, either. Given the trend, “Your name here” may not be far fetched.

The Navy recently announced that one very much alive (and very uninspired) retired Sen. John Warner will have his name emblazoned on a Virginia Class sub. (Ignore the fact his is the only vessel in the class to be named for a person. It seems the Navy did.)

Concern over the Navy’s sullied name game has been growing for some time. Defense blog “The Stupid Shall be Punished” pokes fun at a once-proud tradition turned pathetic sideshow.

New U.S. Ship Naming Guidelines Announced
In a move long expected, the Secretary of the Navy today announced that the process for determining the names of Navy ships will “finally enter the 21st century”:

“In these days of tighter budgets, all government agencies must find creative ways to raise money for operating funds. As a result, I have today directed that naming rights for future naval vessels will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

“This does not mean we won’t continue to honor our heritage. Traditionally, names of all ships within a class have been related. Therefore, naming rights for follow-on Ford-class carriers will be limited to automobile manufacturers. I expect to announce the official naming of USS General Motors (CVN 79) within the next week.

“Bidders for naming rights to major surface ships will be limited to companies listed on the Fortune 500. The second Zumwalt-class destroyer will be christened USS Microsoft (DDG 1001). Amphibious ships will be named for foreign countries; each winning bid comes with a guarantee that the ship will not be used to invade its namesake.

“In another return to tradition, submarines following USS Mississippi (SSN 782) will be named after fish… restaurants. The keel for USS Long John Silver (SNN 783) will be laid early next year.”

As underscored by the Warner choice, one may deduce “alive and uninspired” may be one way to characterize the naming trend. (Did anyone catch the recent commissioning of the USS George Bush (CVN 77)?) In the modern Navy, the “not dead yet” practice has been around more than three decades. In 1975 former congressman and big-time Navy sugar daddy Carl Vinson was the first living person to have a ship (CVN 70) named after him, which must have given him pause. Others with this distinction include:

Daddy Nuke, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 709), President Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), President Gerald Ford (CVN 78) and Bob Hope (T-AKR 300).

It was the selection of President Jimmy Carter that drew considerable criticism. Norman Polmar’s “The Name Game” (Proceedings, June 1998) decried the selection, “Naming the SSN-23 for President Carter further proclaims the bankruptcy of the Navy in assigning names and designations to submarines.”

One name not on the list is President Bill Clinton. Despite hilarious sites devoted to the subject, he does not, in fact, have a troop R&R ship named after him. (But given the Navy’s erratic and ill-advised choices would it be any surprise?)

Could current Navy sugar daddy Virginia Sen. Jim “Women Can’t Fight” Webb have a beckoning hull in his future?

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