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Appellation Controlee Page 2

A rose is a rose, it is said, and smells just as sweet by any other name. Would that it were true of boats. In fact, it seems many boats these days have perfectly horrible names. Glancing around at transoms in marinas and mooring fields, I must blush and/or wince at half the names I see.I realize this is a subjective topic and that one mariner’s bon mot is another’s bad


Selecting a New Name

Of course, the trickiest part about re-naming your boat will be selecting a new name. After all, you don’t want to have to go through all this again. Though success can never really be guaranteed, there are some simple rules to follow.

First, never make your boat’s name a pun. This is easily the most common mistake. Remember, your boat needs a name that will dignify it, not humiliate it, and there is no such thing as a dignified pun. It is okay to use an unintentional pun, but you should not change the spelling of the name to emphasize the pun once you discover it.

You should not select a name that is so obscure and esoteric, or blatantly unintelligible, that it’s meaning is known only to you. This disease, admittedly, is most prevalent among sailors, especially those who have attended too many graduate schools or own all 13 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Your boat’s name should also not be scatological. Remember, more than anything else, a boat’s name should be easy to pronounce and easily understood over the radio. More than that, it should be legal to pronounce it over the radio, and foul language is technically impermissible when communicating via VHF.

It is permissible, of course, to name your boat after any random female. Your mom, your sister, your dental hygienist, whoever. This is the most traditional approach and hence the most foolproof way to curry favor with interested deities. It is generally not wise to name your boat after a male, except if the male is a famous historical figure, a dead sailor or soldier, or a financial benefactor, particularly one whose munificence allowed you to purchase the boat in the first place. In these cases you should, of course, still always refer to the boat as a “she.”

In keeping with the financial benefactor theme, it is also permissible to give your boat a name that reflects your own professional calling or status. Again, however, you must resist the temptation to make the name a pun.

Another common ploy is to use a superlative adjective, though one must be careful here. If you select an adjective that is so superlative as to sound bombastic, the deities may think you are bragging and squash you like a bug just to teach you a lesson. (We will recall, for example, what happened to the good ship Titanic.)

Of course, there are any number of other appropriate themes and subjects that can form the basis of a good name, so don’t be afraid to use your imagination. If you are uncertain as to whether a particular name is offensive, there is a simple test you can perform. Write the name on a clean strip of sheepskin, then soak it in the blood of a virgin killed in a Viking christening ceremony. If the sheepskin turns the color of Pepto-Bismol, then the gods don’t like it.

Otherwise you’ll have to take your chances. You may find it takes a few boats to get the hang of naming them correctly. Take, for example, my old boat Crazy Horse. I thought this was perfectly acceptable, falling as it does within the male-historical-figure rule, but it turned out hardly anyone now remembers the once-famous Sioux chief who defeated Custer at Little Big Horn. Most people I met while cruising on the boat thought I had named it after a rock band (very tacky) or a Parisian strip joint (possibly a violation of the scatological rule).

It turned out I didn’t do so well with Lunacy either. I thought I was being clever naming the boat after both my daughter (Lucy) and stepdaughter (Una). Even worse, I thought I was being ingenious when I came up with the color scheme for the graphic I put on the boat’s stern: blue for L, C, and Y; red for N and A; and purple (blue and red mixed together) for U (the one letter both names Lucy and Una have in common.

In fact, however, whenever I check into a marina or port somewhere and say the name out loud, people think I’ve named the boat Luna-Sea. Which is a clear violation of the pun rule and is so clich I absolutely want to shrivel up and die.

Next time around I’m thinking I’ll probably buy some leaky old wooden fixer-upper and name her something like Incontinent. But, then again, maybe that’s just asking for trouble.

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