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Boat Names: the good, the bad and the nasty

On our various cruises over the years, we were intrigued by the strange and tasteless names often emblazonedon the stern of the boats we encountered. Probably the strangest names we saw, to name a few, were: Cirrhosis of the River, Locomotive Breath, Grouper Lips and Breaking Wind. In fact, we passed sailboats named Breaking Wind, time and time again. Popular names we encountered were often horrible puns, like Sea-duction, Fanta-Sea and Seas the Day. It’s hard to imagine what they were thinking as they painted those names on their transoms. Of course, there are also the sexual puns, like Wet Dream and Blow Job and Xxxx My Deck. And although we didn’t personally see these last three names, they are on several Internet lists of terrible boat names.

On the other hand, there are a number of lists of the “best” boat names. BoatUS, the marine insurance company, has kept a list of the most popular names among their thousands of customers. According to their files, the most popular boat name is Serenity. Two other names high on their list are Moon Shadow and Summer Wine. We encountered boats with those beautiful names many times on our cruises.

The naming and christening of boats is not a frivolous activity. Both have been essential for the safety of vessels and their crews for thousands of years. The first to name their boats were the Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago. In about 300BC, the Babylonians christened their boats with the blood of a sacrificed Ox. The Vikings were said to celebrate the event with the blood of a human sacrifice. Over time, we moderated the procedure to require champagne instead of blood. It is somewhat astonishing, in modern times that christening a vessel is seen as crucial to safe voyages. Hardly ever is a boat launched or a ship come off the ways without a christening ceremony. A rare exception was Titanic. Her owners felt a christening ceremony was archaic folklore. And you know the rest of that story.

One of the consequences of so many terrible boat names, is a heightened number of boat purchasers eager to change those names. When we bought our old new cruising sailboat, she was named Paramour. Not a bad name, but one that simply didn’t seem to reflect anything about the new owners or the boat. At one time, she had been named Die Fliedermaus. We decided to re-name her Fandango. A fandango is a lively couple’s dance. It was also the title of ZZ Top’s 4th album and our Fales Navigator had that same old-time whimsical look as the Top’s old Ford. The name Fandango just seemed right.

But like so many things that have to do with sailors and the sea, changing a boat’s name requires awareness of a whole range of traditions and superstitions. For one thing, it is necessary to assuage the wrath of Poseidon, ancient god of the sea. To do this, you first must eliminate all traces of the old name from the hull or from accessories, like life preservers, and any documents or papers that might be aboard. Then you must perform a purging ceremony in which you implore Poseidon to remove for all time the boat’s former name from his ledger. This is done while drinking champagne, pouring champagne onto the boat and into the sea while sailing backwards. It is important to bring several bottles of wine to the ceremony, because you have to repeat the ritual to placate the four gods of the wind. If you do all this, two things might happen: the gods of the seas and the winds will safeguard your voyages, or you might not be sober enough to find your way back to your slip.

Marshall Riggan has been writing stories for more than half a century. Many have been made into movies and television productions. Much of his writing has been about sailing and the sea. His books Sulu Sea and The Last Traveler can be seen at