Oct 29

Society of Sponsors of the U.S. Navy (Ship Naming Process)

Friday, October 29, 2010 12:00 PM


As Delivered by the Director of Naval History Rear Admiral Jay DeLoach USN-Ret., Society of Sponsors of the U.S. Navy Fall Luncheon, Alexandria, VA, Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and members of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. A special thank you to Mrs. Linda Winter for this invitation to speak with you today. Her ship, USS San Diego, has a particular tie to this third generation Navy man in that it is the Navy town where I was born. I would like to acknowledge many people here today but this is such a star-studded group that I would spend half my allotted time recognizing everyone. One couple I would like to recognize to illustrate further the ‘six degrees of separation’ we share in this close-knit Navy family is Vice Admiral Jeff Fowler and his lovely wife Katie who is the sponsor of North Dakota. Jeff is an Academy classmate and fellow submariner. Katie and I went to the same high school where she was a classmate and good friend of my younger sister. Indeed, it is a small world and I thank you all for being here today.

Let me begin by saying a few words about the command responsible for the stewardship of the Navy’s history and heritage…the Naval History & Heritage Command. If I could direct your attention to the navy blue brochure, please open it to the insert of the pictorial map of the United States. This picture depicts the entire Naval History & Heritage Command which is comprised of 320 personnel in 35 facilities in 15 different geographic locations. We have 20 historians and researchers capturing the Navy’s history since 1775, an operational archive holding 128 million pages of records and documents, the Navy’s oldest library started in 1800 at the request of President John Adams who said go out and collect books from other maritime nations so that we can learn from them as a young Navy. Our underwater archaeology branch is responsible for 3000 military shipwrecks and 14,000 aircraft underneath the waters around the world per the Sunken Military Craft Act. We have 30 thousand pieces of Navy artwork, and over a million artifacts in three warehouses or have been loaned out to commands and other museums in 54 states and territories as well as over two dozen countries. We operate 11 museums and one heritage center as well as the Navy’s first nuclear powered submarine, now the historic ship Nautilus, and the Nation’s oldest commissioned warship, USS Constitution. Lastly and on the back of the brochure, to make history ‘come alive’ for our Sailors and the millions of American citizens, we use a robust website and variety of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to tell the Navy’s rich heritage. As a submariner and nuclear engineering major, not a historian, I will tell you this is really fun job!

As most of you know, the Navy celebrated its 235th birthday about two weeks ago. The Navy traces its lineage to 13 October 1775, when an act of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia authorized the procurement of the first two ships of a new navy for the United Colonies, as they were then known. And on November 2nd, Congress authorized the money to pay for those warships and gave the Naval Committee authority to appoint officers and enlist sailors.

Yes, today’s Navy is more than just ships – to meet today’s mission requirements we have many types of aircraft, Seabees, SEALs, and we even have Sailors serving on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan … but the lifeblood of our Navy is still the ship. And the ship is unlike any other military organization or unit. You see, in the Army, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and even in our own Navy aircraft squadrons, military units are just a number … First Infantry Division, Third Marine Regiment, VFA-101 … but in the Navy, the Coast Guard and for most of our counter-parts around the world, our ships have a name … and that means a connection. It means that that ship has been named for a place, an event, or someone of significance worthy of such great honors. It means that a ship, from the day it is christened to the day it is ultimately stricken from the Navy’s rolls, is the living embodiment that carries on the legacy of that noble battle, person, or place for which it was named. This living embodiment is why we in the Navy never precede USS with the word “the”. Saying “the USS Nimitz” would be akin to saying “the Jay DeLoach” – it is impersonal and does not account for the living status of a naval vessel.

So, this brings to question “what’s in a name?” or “how do we name a ship?” Most of you are aware, I’m sure, that there is somewhat of a logical manner for naming our ships and I’ll speak more about that in a moment, but it wasn’t always that way. The ships of the Continental Navy and of the Navy later established under the Constitution were not named in any strict categorical manner. Early names came from a variety of sources. Ironically, to emphasize the ties that many Americans still felt to Britain, the first ship of the new Continental Navy was named Alfred in honor of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex who is credited with building the first English naval force. Another ship was named Raleigh to commemorate the seagoing exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh. Some ships commemorated the young nation’s ideals and institutions, such as Constitution, Independence, and Congress. Small warships, like brigs and schooners, were named for positive character traits – Enterprise and Diligent. Still others had classical names like Syren or Argus, while other had the names of small creatures with a potent sting – Hornet and Wasp. You may recognize the names of some of those ships because of the legacy they carry on today … and more on that shortly.

On March 3rd 1819, Congress formally placed the responsibility for assigning the names of ships in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy, a prerogative which he still exercises to this day.

This act stated that “all of the ships, of the Navy of the United States, now building, or hereafter to be built, shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President of the United States, according to the following rule, to wit: those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name.” The last-cited provision remains in the United States Code today.

The Secretary can rely on many sources in helping him name ships. Every year, the Naval History & Heritage Command under the expertise of one of my historians, Kevin Hurst, compiles primary and alternate ship name recommendations and forwards these to the Secretary via the Chief of Naval Operations. These recommendations are the result of research into the history of the Navy and by suggestions submitted by service members, veterans, and the public. The Secretary considers these nominations, along with others he receives as well as his own thoughts in this matter. At appropriate times, he selects names for specific ships and announces them. While there is no set time for assigning a name, it is customarily done before the ship is christened.

The Navy has attempted to be systematic in naming its ships, but like all government organizations it has been subject to evolutionary change, and the naming scheme has changed significantly over time.

Today, we name our largest ship, the aircraft carrier, after prominent national figures. Cruisers are named for famous battles. Destroyers for naval leaders and heroes. Submarines, originally named for fish and “denizens of the deep”, are now named after states – an honor traditionally reserved for the most prominent ship-class of the Navy. Two of our newest class of ships are named after cities – the San Antonio Class of amphibious ships is named after larger cities, while the LCS or Littoral Combat Ship is named after small and medium sized cities. And of course, there is always the opportunity to name ships based on legacy – names borne by previous ships which distinguished themselves in service, such as Enterprise and Bonhomme Richard.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule … USS Roosevelt named for Franklin AND Eleanor Roosevelt and USS Winston Churchill. They weren’t naval heroes, but were unquestionably wartime heroes and leaders in many other respects. The latest Seawolf submarine class is an interesting case in that the three submarines of this class were named for a denizen of the deep, a state – Connecticut – and then a person – Jimmy Carter.

The key takeaway here is that the naming of a ship cannot be taken lightly. Some of our ships will serve our fleet and represent our nation for as much as 50 years. While to the common outsider it may seem like naming a ship is just another mundane administrative task but for the Secretary, it is not. During his tenure, these will be some of the most important and critical decisions he makes.

For a ship is more than just a number. DDG 1001, our newest guided missile destroyer, will join the Fleet in a few years. What’s the big deal? Well, it’s more than just DDG 1001 … this ship is more properly known as USS Michael Monsoor – named in respect for Medal of Honor recipient and Navy Seal Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor, who gave his life in September 2006 protecting the lives of his fellow Navy SEALs. With a name and a legacy like Michael Monsoor, the young men and women who will serve aboard this ship have much to strive for, and the bar of expectations will be set very high for them. But we expect no less of them as they exemplify the highest standards of service to our nation – at home and abroad – at sea and ashore. We know that they can and that they will do the job.

A ship also represents more than just the Navy … it represents the United States of America. The oceans connect the nations of our world, even those countries that are landlocked. The maritime domain supports 90% of the world’s trade and carries the lifeblood of a global system that links every country on earth. Covering three-quarters of the planet, the oceans make neighbors of people around the world. Our ships and sailors form the “Global Force for Good” that enables us to help friends in need and to confront and defeat aggression far from our shores.

Though the Navy conducts many missions, its six core capabilities of forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief comprise the heart of our maritime power. Though there are many integral parts that contribute, none of this is possible without the most integral and basic part of our Navy – the ship. Just as the name of a ship inspires her crew, it also assures and affirms our commitment with our global partners. The name also serves as a warning to potential foes and adversaries of our might and prowess.

So now, I’d like to talk about the role and importance of what you all do for the Navy as a ship’s sponsor.

Just as the naming of the ship is a Secretary of the Navy responsibility, so too is the selection of the ship’s sponsor. During his time in office, the Secretary has many important and hard decisions to make – the naming of ships and the selecting of sponsors are two of them – however, they are the most enjoyable tasks they have as well and is one of the most long-lasting.

By tradition, in the case of ships named for individuals, the closest living female relative is invited to perform this role. For ships with other name sources, it is customary to honor the wives of senior naval officers and public officials or women who themselves are public officials. For ships named after states or cities, governors or mayors may be consulted to provide a nomination for a sponsor of a vessel.

It is well known that you played many roles in the early life of a ship – welding your initials during the keel laying ceremony, officially christening the ship, and “bringing the ship to life” in its commissioning ceremony … but your role is so much more important than just that.

For every ship, there will be a first and a last commanding officer – their names may or may not go down in the annals of history. However, for the entire life of that ship, you will be the one and only person that will continually be a part of her crew and your name lives on with your ship.

Again, we in the Navy, believe a ship is not just a thing. After properly being laid, christened, and commissioned, it becomes a living entity. In your role, you bestow luck and divine protection for the ship, you impart personality to the ship, and you advocate for its continued service and well-being.

I must say, being selected as a ship’s sponsor must be such a great honor. And I know for some, it must be a very bittersweet honor … the mothers of Lance Corporal Jason Dunam, Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, or Lieutenant Michael Murphy probably never imagined that when their sons joined the Marine Corps and Navy that they would one day become ship’s sponsors. They are just three examples … I know there are many similar sponsors here today. The sacrifice made by your sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers made is great. The sacrifices made by you and your families are also great. You can rest assured your nation is very, very grateful.

How will the Navy name its ships and select its sponsors in the future? It seems safe to say that the evolutionary process of the past will continue; as the Fleet itself changes, so will the names given to its ships. It seems equally safe, however, to say that future decisions in this area will continue to demonstrate regard for the rich history and valued traditions of the United States Navy.

Ladies, it is truly an honor and a privilege to be with you today. The Society of Sponsors is a very special part of our Navy and its rich heritage. Thank you again for having me here today. Kevin Hurst and I will now entertain a few questions as time permits. Thank you.