Cunard Line's old Caronia

Cunard Line’s RMS Caronia

Cruise lines break with tradition in their zeal to find names that will make ships more marketable.

Last year Disney Cruise Line announced they were going to build two new ships for delivery in 2021/23. When they choose names for these ships, let’s hope they don’t do what they did five years ago when they launched the Fantasy and Dream. Nice names, but they already belonged to ships owned by Carnival Cruises and still do.

Does it matter? Not really, although it does demonstrate a lack of imagination from the people who coined the term “imagineering.”

White Star Line's RMS Olympic

White Star Line’s RMS Olympic

It’s as though the people at Disney who dream up the names of ships left their creativity in dry dock. Or maybe they just took a cue from a gag on the old Bob Newhart Show – the one when three guys walk into the Inn and one says, “Hi, I’m Larry. And this is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl.” (Maybe Carnival should have retaliated by naming its next two ships the “Duck” and the “Mouse”.)

Whatever the motivation, it seems that for the most part, the names given to cruise ships today have become repetitive, meaningless and commonplace. For example, we’ve got multiple ships bearing the names Splendor,  Pride, Spirit, Europa, Princess, Rhapsody, Voyager, Explorer, Sky, Sapphire, Diamond, and Majesty – and that’s just a small sample.

The Italian Line's Cristoforo Colombo

The Italian Line’s Cristoforo Colombo

That’s a far cry from the pre-1970s era of ocean travel when most ships had names that meant something. In those days, many ships were given names that were part of a theme such as ending with “ic” at White Star Line (as in Olympic, Oceanic and Titanic) and ending with “ia” at Cunard Line (as in Caronia and Carpathia). Some names evoked images of their country of registration – like the Constitution and Independence of the American Export Line, the Ile de France and Normandie of the French Line, and the Sagafjord and Vistafjord of Norwegian America Line.

Other ships were named in recognition of monarchs like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, or for ancient Roman provinces like the Lusitania and the Mauretania.  Some were named for cities like the Rotterdam. And many were named for famous citizens like the Michelangelo, Cristoforo Colombo, and Raffaello of the Italian Line, or Greek gods like the Orpheus and Artemis of Royal Olympic and Swan Hellenic cruises lines.

But whatever the ship’s moniker, it meant something; it was part of a naming tradition, and it was rarely used by more than one ship at a time. Compare that system to today’s mishmash where the marketing departments dream up names that signify nothing and can be used by just about any ship in the world.

Holland America Line's Rotterdam V

Holland America Line’s Rotterdam V

Now if coming across two or more ships with the same name sounds confusing to you, the cruise lines can explain why it shouldn’t be. Apparently, we’re supposed to put the name of the cruise line in front of the ship’s name as in “Disney Fantasy” or “Carnival Fantasy.”

Royal Caribbean has gone a step further: they add an extra “of the Seas” after the name of every ship as in “Oasis of the Seas” and “Voyager of the Seas”. I guess that would make it okay for them to christen their next ship “Queen Mary 2 of the Seas.” Or if Royal Caribbean enters the river cruising market, how about naming their first ship the “Cirrhosis of the River”?

At least Royal Caribbean appreciates the humour behind the ship-naming conundrum.  Last year it invited James Hand, the man who entered a contest in the UK to name a ship “Boaty McBoatface”, to help the line name its next cruise ship. However, the announcement was posted to the line’s website on April Fool’s Day!

Boaty McBoatface of the Seas

Boaty McBoatface of the Seas

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the old system of naming ships when only one vessel carried a name, and you instantly knew which cruise line it belonged to. That’s why I have to give a lot of credit to the folks at Holland America Line. All their ships end with the suffix “dam” as in Westerdam, Rotterdam, Veendam, etc., which has made it “dam” hard for anyone else to copy them.

At the end of the day, I suppose it no longer matters that lots of ships have the same meaningless names. After all, a ship by any other name would float as well, even if it lacks creativity.

Feature image - old travel poster for American Export Line

Feature image – old travel poster for American Export Line


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