What’s in a Name?

A lot, especially if it’s the name of a U.S. Navy ship. Take the aircraft carrier, for instance, which has been the Navy’s capital ship since World War II. The first aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet was the USS Langley, commissioned in 1922. Including escort carriers, which were smaller than the relatively small carriers of World War II, a total of 154 carriers have been commissioned and put into service in the U.S. Navy. (During World War II, some escort carriers were transferred to the Royal Navy upon commissioning.)

As far as I am able to tell, not one of the the 82 escort carriers was named for a person. Of the 72 “regular” carriers, which includes 10 designated as light aircraft carriers, none was named for a person until CVB-49, the Franklin D. Roosevelt, was commissioned in 1945, several months after the death of its namesake. The next such naming came in 1947, with the commissioning of the Wright, named for Wilbur and Orville Wright, the aviation pioneers. There was a hiatus of 8 years, until the commissioning of the Forrestal in 1955; a ship named for the late James Forrestal, the first secretary of defense.

The dam burst in 1968, with the commissioning of John F. Kennedy. That carrier and the 11 commissioned since have been named for persons, only one of whom, Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz, was a renowned naval person. In addition to Kennedy, the namesakes include former U.S. presidents (Eisenhower, T. Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, Truman, Reagan, Bush 41, and Ford), Carl Vinson (a long-serving chairman of the House Armed Services Committee), and John C. Stennis (a long-serving chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee). Reagan and Bush were honored while still living (though Reagan may have been unaware of the honor because of the advanced state of his Alzheimer’s disease).

All but the Kennedy are on active service. And the Kennedy, which was decommissioned in 2007, is due to be replaced by a namesake next year. But that may be the end of it. Wisdom may have prevailed before the Navy becomes embroiled in nasty, needless controversies over the prospect of naming of a carrier after Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump.

The carrier after Kennedy (II) will be named Enterprise — the third carrier to be thus named. Perhaps future carriers will take the dashing names of those that I remember well from my days as a young defense analyst: Bon Homme Richard (a.k.a, Bonny Dick), Kearsarge, Oriskany, Princeton, Shangri-La, Lake Champlain, Tarawa, Midway, Coral Sea, Valley Forge, Saipan, Saratoga, Ranger, Independence, Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise (II), and America.

And while we’re at it, perhaps the likes of Admiral William McRaven (USN ret.) will do their duty, become apolitical, and shut up.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Good article, the ending noteworthy. I served on the “Bonny Dick” 1955-58 as an electronics technician. After sea training classes in “Dago” (San Diego) we got on board the ship while it was still undergoing major upgrading at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco. It was a challenge to get sleep while the riveters and paint chippers were working during the dark hours. (WIKIPEDIA:) “Bon Homme Richard emerged from the shipyard with an angled and strengthened flight deck, enclosed “hurricane” bow, steam catapults, a new island, wider beam and many other improvements. She completed her conversion period 31 October 1955 and commenced sea trials in the Alameda-San Diego area. She was recommissioned on 6 September 1955 and began the first of a long series of 7th Fleet deployments on 16 August 1956 with CVG-21 (Carrier Flight Group-21) embarked. CVG-5 reported aboard for the 1957 deployment.” I was aboard for these two deployments as shop’s crew. We visited many ports in Japan, and in Okinawa, Subic Bay (the Philippines), and Hong Kong. What great liberties in Hong Kong! Honolulu seemed like a foreign, or at least exotic, port too.


  2. PS: We had the Flag aboard (COMCARDIV-7), so the ship had to be spic and span, always. We once had a visit by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) 5-star admiral Arleigh “31-knot” Burke, a legendary figure.


  3. Thanks for sharing your memories of “Bonny Dick”. As a civilian analyst then working with the Marines, my sea time was limited to a few days in 1965, aboard LPH Iwo Jima in the Caribbean. The civilians were kicked off so the amphibious group could respond to a crisis in the Dominican Republic. I wasn’t aboard long enough to get used to riding a ship — queasiness was my constant companion. The chopper ride back to Roosevelt Roads in an antiquated CH-34 didn’t improve matters.


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