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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress



Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

On July 13, 2012, the Navy submitted to Congress a 73-page report on the Navy’s policies and practices for naming ships. The report was submitted in response to Section 1014 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540/P.L. 112-81 of December 31, 2011). 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 July 2012 Navy report to Congress states: “Current ship naming policies and practices fall well within the historic spectrum of policies and practices for naming vessels of the Navy, and are altogether consistent with ship naming customs and traditions.”

For ship types now being procured for the Navy, or recently procured for the Navy, naming rules can be summarized as follows:


  • Aircraft carriers are generally named for past U.S. presidents. Of the last 13, 10 were named for past U.S. presidents, and two for Members of Congress. 
  • Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines are being named for states. 
  • Destroyers are named for deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, including Secretaries of the Navy. 
  • Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) are being named for regionally important U.S. cities and communities. 
  • Amphibious assault ships are being named for important battles in which U.S. Marines played a prominent part, and for famous earlier U.S. Navy ships that were not named for battles. 
  • San Antonio (LPD-17) class amphibious ships are being named for major U.S. cities and communities, and cities and communities attacked on September 11, 2001. 
  • Lewis and Clark (TAKE-1) class cargo and ammunition ships were named for famous American explorers, trailblazers, and pioneers. 
  • Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) ships/Afloat Forward Staging Bases (AFSBs) are being named for famous names or places of historical significance to U.S. Marines. 

The Navy historically has only rarely named ships for living persons. Since 1973, at least 14 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.

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: November 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RS22478
Price: $29.95

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