The History and Superstition of Naming Boats

There’s no stronger bond than a sailor and their boat. Throughout history, the names of vessels have been harked across the seven seas. But when did this originate? Why are people naming their newly purchased boats, and how does one properly christen it?

Sailboats and yachts sailing past wooden docks.
Sailboats and Yachts | Philippe Clement/Getty Images

Why do people name their boats?

It’s a tradition that dates back thousands of years ago, starting out as a simple means of identification. Most boats, even one’s today, are named after women for a few reasons. For starters, both ships and women have historically been admired for their beauty. And the crews that chartered the sea in the 1700s often consisted of only men. That made a female ship is something the sailors could care for on their long journeys.

Today, boat names can mean many things. Some relate to special people in the owner’s life, often someone they love (which, today, can be a man or woman). Others give their boats a splash of humor, christening their vessel with a pun. According to BoatUS, some of the top names in 2021 were “Social Distancing” and “Knot On Call.” Boat names are often quick and concise, as they’re still used for identification purposes today.

The process of naming a boat is fairly simple: gather your friends, choose a celebratory drink, and lay a green leaf on the bow before proposing a toast. From there, you’re free to set sail. But it’s considered terrible luck to rename your ship without performing the proper ceremonies.

What happens if someone renames their boat?

Sparkling wine runs over the name after the christening of "Bremen"
Christening the “Bremen” | Carmen Jaspersen/Getty Images

It’s one thing to name your boat, brandishing its hull with the name or catchphrase of your liking. It’s another to rename the boat. Unlike naming a boat, there’s a ceremony one must follow. If you don’t, you’ll face the wrath of Posiden, and fall victim to bad luck on the sea. It’s incredibly superstitious, but one shouldn’t tempt fate.

The process starts by removing every record of the boat’s previous name. Everything from decorations to logbooks and maintenance reports. Not a trace of the old vessel. From there, you begin two different rituals: the purging ceremony and the renaming ceremony. Discover Boating details the exact lines you must recite, but these two rituals involve lots of champagne pouring, so make sure you have enough.

Four more requests must be made to the four wind gods, Boreas (north), Zephyrus (west), Eurus (east), and Notus (south). Only then will you be granted peaceful passage on the water. Though, in all honesty, it’s much simpler to get the name right the first time.

What boat name is right for you?

Sailboat on the waters of New York
Sailboat on the waters of New York | Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images

It’s important to note that the name isn’t just a name: the name you select embodies you, your boat, and your ties to it. It reflects how you use the vessel, whether it’s a vacationing vessel or your life’s work. There’s a distinct difference in tone between “Serenity” and “Mojo.”

But most importantly, make sure the name comes from the heart. If you nail naming your boat the first time, you won’t have to worry about pleasing the gods if you decide to rename it, or worry that you didn’t perform the ritual correctly.

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