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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

Names for Navy ships traditionally have been chosen and announced by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President and in accordance with rules prescribed by Congress. Rules for giving certain types of names to certain types of Navy ships have evolved over time. There have been exceptions to the Navy’s ship-naming rules, particularly for the purpose of naming a ship for a person when the rule for that type of ship would have called for it to be named for something else. Some observers in recent years have perceived a breakdown in, or corruption of, the rules for naming Navy ships.

The 10 most recently named aircraft carriers have been named for U.S. presidents (8 ships) and members of Congress (2 ships). Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines are being named for states. An exception occurred on January 8, 2009, when the Secretary of the Navy announced that SSN-785, the 12
th ship in the class, would be named for former Senator John Warner. Destroyers are named for U.S. naval leaders and heroes. Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) are being named for small and medium-sized cities. San Antonio (LPD-17) class amphibious ships are being named for U.S. cities. An exception occurred on April 23, 2010, when the Secretary of the Navy announced that LPD-26, the 10th ship in the class, would be named for the late Representative John P. Murtha. The Navy announced on June 27, 2008, that the first LHA-6 class amphibious assault ship would be named America, a name previously used for an aircraft carrier (CV-66) that served in the Navy from 1965 to 1996. Lewis and Clark (TAKE-1) class cargo and ammunition ships are being named for noted explorers and pioneers of various kinds. Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs) are being named for American traits and values. An exception has occurred with JHSV- 4, the Navy’s second JHSV (JHSVs 1 and 3 are to be operated by the Army), which the Secretary of the Navy announced on March 25, 2010, was being named for the city of Fall River, MA.

The Navy historically has only rarely named ships for living persons. At least 11 U.S. military ships since the 1970s have been named for persons who were living at the time the name was announced. Members of the public are sometimes interested in having Navy ships named for their own states or cities, for older U.S. Navy ships (particularly those on which they or their relatives served), for battles in which they or their relatives participated, or for people they admire. Citizens with such an interest sometimes contact the Navy, the Department of Defense, or Congress seeking support for their proposals.

Congress has long maintained an interest in how Navy ships are named, and has influenced the naming of certain Navy ships. The Navy suggests that congressional offices wishing to express support for proposals to name a Navy ship for a specific person, place, or thing contact the office of the Secretary of the Navy to make their support known. Congress may also pass legislation relating to ship names. Measures passed by Congress in recent years regarding Navy ship names have all been sense-of-the-Congress provisions.

Date of Report: March 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS22478
Price: $29.95

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