Maritime Folklore: What's Real and What's Not

Every profession in the world has its treasure trove of legends, myths and superstitions. A chimney sweeper present at a wedding will bring the young couple good luck. But crossing paths with a priest as you go about your business will bring you bad luck.


However, few professions have a richer folklore than that of sailors. Centuries of exploration, trade, piracy and whaling have created a seemingly endless list of unwritten rules. While some of them seem hilarious, they used to be taken very seriously centuries – and even decades – ago. But how true are they? Let us take a look at some of them:

 1. The Name of a Ship Ending in “A” Brings Bad Luck

This myth originates in the dark years of the Great War, when both Britannia and Lusitania went down under ceaseless fire from German torpedoes. However, the USS Saratoga was extremely successful and lucky during the intense maritime battles of World War II.

 2. Renaming a Ship Is a Bad Omen

For seafaring folk, getting the name of the ship right from the start is very important. Changing the name of the ship is seen as very bad luck. A classic example in this respect is Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Arctic explorer Endurance, which used to bear the name of Aurora. The 1914 expedition ended in disaster, when the ship got trapped in ice and then crushed.

 3. No Women On Board

An old superstition said that women aboard a ship bring bad luck. This myth was certainly fueled by fears that sailors would be distracted from their work by the presence of the fair sex. Also, jealousy could tear apart the unity of the crew. At the present, both men and women serve with professionalism and dignity aboard both civil and military ships.

For beautiful nautical paintings, visit the Maritime History In Art.

How Are Ships Named?


There are many artists and writers who have shared the beauty of nautical artwork through drawings, paintings, and books.

USS Enterprise, USS Nimitz, USS Utah – these are well-known names of famous US battleships that fought with honor and glory in the two world wars. But how exactly did they get their names? Who and how decides on the name of a new ship? 

A Clearly Regulated Process

The US Navy has strict procedures concerning the person in charge and the kind of name a ship can be given. Thus, the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) has the responsibility and honor of naming a ship. The SECNAV acts under the direction of the President of the United States and in observance of rules set by the Congress.  

The rules for naming ships are set according to the class of each vessel. Thus: 

1. Aircraft Carriers Are Named after Past Presidents

The 14 aircraft carriers in the US Navy fleet bead the names of deceased US Presidents and two Members of Congress. 

2. Destroyers Honor Members of the Navy

Names of destroyer ships include members of the Marine Corps, of the Coast Guard and Secretaries of the Navy. 

3. Littoral Combat Ships Bear the Names of US Cities

Some of the best known ships of this class are USS Coronado, USS Forth Worth, USS Omaha and USS Indianapolis. 

4. Amphibious Assault Ships Pay Homage to Epic Battles

The exception to this rule is USS America. But you certainly heard of USS Iwo Jima, USS Tripoli and USS Nassau. 

5. San Antonio Class Amphibious Ships Are Named after Major US Cities

Some of these cities are the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Other names include USS Portland, USS Anchorage and USS San Diego.