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.
Twelve of the 13 most recently named aircraft carriers have been named for U.S. Presidents (10 ships) and Members of Congress (2 ships). The Navy on May 29, 2011, announced that the aircraft carrier CVN-79 would be named for President John F. Kennedy. 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 12th ship in the class, would be named for former Senator John Warner. Destroyers are named for U.S. naval leaders and heroes. Although the third and final DDG-1000 class destroyer was procured in FY2009, the Navy has not yet announced a name for the ship. Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) are being named for small and medium-sized cities. An exception occurred with LCS-10, which the Navy announced on February 10, 2012, would be named for former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Earlier exceptions arguably occurred with LCS-3, LCS-5, and LCS-7, which the Navy named for the relatively large cities of Fort Worth, TX; Milwaukee, WS; and Detroit, MI, respectively. 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 were named for noted explorers and pioneers of various kinds. The Navy announced on May 18, 2011, that the 14th and final TAKE-1 class ship was being named for civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs) were at first being named for American traits and values; they are now being named for small cities. An apparent exception occurred with JHSV-2, which the Navy on November 3, 2011, named Choctaw County, for counties of that name in Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. On January 4, 2012, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the Navy’s three Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) ships were being named Montford Point, John Glenn, and Lewis B. Puller.
The Navy historically has only rarely named ships for living persons. Since the 1970s, at least 13 U.S. military ships 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: February 16, 2012
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