Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Name Game

What's in a name?

The question cropped up when I was reading an obituary of the late actor Marlon Brando some time ago. He had made his name in a Hollywood version of the famous Tenessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire and it occurred to me that some ships have been named a lot worse.

Here's a hilarious example: Titan Uranus (pronounced: "Tighten your anus"?)

Q: What is the first thing you do after you pee?
A: Titan Uranus ...

Some years ago there was a ship, a regular caller at Port Klang, named Lembu. It was a small, old and unobtrusive coastal vessel, not even a cattle or livestock carrier but the Indonesian master was sporting enough not to take offence when my pilot office staff had a field day calling him,"Captain Lembu, Captain Lembu, Captain Lembu" on the VHF radio!

(Perhaps also because the Indonesians usually prefer to use the word sapi for 'cow' instead of lembu).

While going through a website on names of British battleships in WW2, I was impressed by the quality of the names that the British have given their warships, besides those named after English counties, there were HMS Relentless, HMS Repulse, HMS Resolution; fine names, names to gladden the heart of every true Brit and dismay any foreigners with a grasp of English. Names redolent of courage and firm-jawed determination - HMS Sceptre, HMS Scimitar, HMS Seadog, HMS Spanker - HMS Spanker? It had to be a misprint. I soon discovered that HMS Spanker, a minesweeper, was not the only warship to bear a silly name. A quick check unearthed the destroyers HMS Fairy and HMS Frolic, the light cruiser, HMS Sappho and the corvette, HMS Pansy!

Now I bet if you are the captain of a battleship taking some punishment from superior enemy firepower, you will not be too thrilled on learning that help and reinforcements are on the way with ships named Fairy and Pansy.

Merchant ships belonging to national shipping lines usually have nationalistic names, a good example is MISC's vessels with the Bunga prefix and named after flowers in Bahasa Malaysia. There was also a time when all Japanese ships had the Maru suffix, leaving one in no doubt of the nationality and flag-state of the ships. India's national Shipping Corporation of India Ltd (SCI), where I served my apprenticeship, had named their vessels after Indian states and I remember on one occasion, for M.V. State of Uttar Pradesh, one exasperated and tongue twisted Thames River pilot spluttered out "State of Utter Rubbish" instead.

But to really take the cake, I remember reading in the local newspapers a few years ago that a wayward younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei had once owned a luxury yacht named Tits ...!


  1. Hi Kapitan - I just came across your blog, nice - I wish more mariners blog - You may have come across a ship called "Never on a sunday" - and it always call into Singapore on a sunday much to the chagrin of the agent.

  2. Thanks for visiting and also the for the special mention in yr blog.

    No, have never heard of the ship "Never on a Sunday" but am not surprised either.

  3. dear capt.

    not to forget."kapal pondan"..US navy ships..


Dear Reader,

This blog promotes freedom of speech and I invite fair comment. This is not a chat room and I would appreciate if you could identify yourself. However, if you prefer to remain anonymous please note that remarks that are deemed grossly inappropriate, maliciously defamatory, extremely vulgar or ad hominem attacks (against my person) will be deleted.

Thank you for visiting and commenting.

The Ancient Mariner