WHAT’S IN A SHIP NAME?

Orient Queen, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Orient Queen, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian has just announced the names of its two new ‘Breakaway-plus’ ships will be Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Escape, as voted for by a poll of around 100,000 readers. That got me thinking about cruise lines in general, and themes that they use to differentiate their ships. The hope is always to come out with something catchy, memorable and distinctive.

Having mentioned Norwegian, let’s consider them first. When Knut Kloster formed his then pioneering Norwegian Caribbean Lines (the name changed only in 1987), he did so with a small, converted car ferry that he named the Sunward. The ‘ward’ suffix was applied to a string of similar sized siblings- Starward, Skyward, Southward and Sunward II, respectively.

The 1979 arrival into the fleet of the gargantuan former SS. France- a ship almost as big as the other four put together- clearly called for something much grander. Names such as Ocean Queen and Queen of Norway were bandied about but, in the end, Kloster decided that simple, elegant Norway worked best as a name. It proved an inspired choice; setting her apart not just from the rest of the fleet, but from anything else afloat. While the smaller ships had pristine, almost glacial white hulls, the Norway was decked out in a stunning royal blue, her name picked out in huge gold letters at bow and stern.

In the late eighties, the company took delivery of the new Seaward, followed at the dawn of the 90’s by twin sisters, Dreamward and Windward. These ships would mark a clear sea change in the company’s naming policy.

New management decided to adapt new ways; the last three ships were restyled as Norwegian Sea, Dream and Wind respectively. It was a policy adopted for every future ship in the fleet, from the 1999 built Norwegian Sky right up to the recent Norwegian Breakaway of 2013.

Interestingly, rivals Royal Caribbean started in 1970 with a trio of ships- Nordic Prince, Song of Norway and Sun Viking- designed to emphasise the line’s Norwegian roots. Not until the 1988 arrival of the Sovereign of The Seas did the familiar ‘OTS’ suffix become the norm for RCCL.  It still is to this day. And it’s been very successful; totally distinctive, and one of the most popular brand names ever in commercial leisure travel of any kind.

The Berengaria, Cunard's flagship in the 1920's and beyond

The Berengaria, Cunard’s flagship in the 1920’s and beyond

From the beginning, MSC was a company that went for musical connotations. it’s first three ships were a mixed bag- Monterey, Symphony and Melody. New builds and acquisitions since, such as Sinfonia, Lirica, Opera, Musica and Orchestra have largely stayed true to this symphonic start up.

Most famous of all, Cunard did not name any of their ships with a ‘Queen’ prefix for the first ninety six years of their history, not until the immortal Queen Mary of 1936 and her later sibling, Queen Elizabeth. But the first Cunarder to be actually named after a queen was the Berengaria in 1921. The ex German Imperator, surrendered as a war prize, was renamed after the wife of Richard the Lionheart, and she preceded the Queen Mary by a full decade and a half.

That famous old company always went for names that ended in ia. And many ocean liner purists would love nothing better than to see a new Cunard ship revive a name as famous as Mauretania, or even Aquitania.

So, there you go. Just a little bit of skinny on how and why some lines name ships as they do. In it’s own way, the genealogy and genesis of ships is every bit as fascinating as that of humankind.

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