The Name Game

If you want to get boat owners talking, ask them how they arrived
at the name they gave their boat.

The ancient Egyptians allegedly began the tradition of naming boats centuries ago on the Nile River, and boat owners have been racking their brains ever since for the perfect boat name. In fact, most will confess that they spent far more time thinking about a perfect name for their boat than their children. That makes sense: children don't go around with their name emblazoned in six-inch letters on their rear ends.

For the past 11 years, BoatUS has conducted a highly unscientific but immensely interesting survey of the most popular boat names. These names come from the BoatUS Graphics department, which each year produces lettering for thousands of boats.

In 2000, tried-and-true Serenity again topped the "most popular" list, beating out second-place Irish Eyes and third-place Island Time. Fourth through tenth most- requested boat names were, in order, Sea Spirit, Obsession, Time Out, Reel Time, Escapade, Southern Comfort and Serendipity.

There is definitely a love affair going on between boaters and the name Serenity. It was also the most popular boat name in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1998, and every year it has ranked among the top five names in the BoatUS survey.

Interestingly, Peace and Tranquility, both synonyms for Serenity, have never scored anywhere near the top ten, although two people ordered graphics for boats named Dot.Calm — get it? — last year.

Actually, unless you're going to document your boat with the federal government, there's no law requiring that you name it. All most states require is that a boat display its registration numbers. Yet when people see an unnamed boat, no matter what its condition, the first word that comes to mind is "orphan." A boat without a name is a dog without its bone. Besides, who wants to go on the radio and say "This is motorboat number oh-seven-two-seven-three-two-five-nine-oh"?

Picking a Name

Choosing a name for a boat can be a lot more agonizing than selecting the boat itself, and some co-owners have been known to raise their voices a notch or two over this issue. Fortunately, there's a lot of help and name suggestions available, including a directory of more than 1,500 names at, and —at the same site — a list of the top ten boating names since BoatUS began its survey in 1991.

Once you've selected a name, see if it passes the following test — compiled by the wonderfully irreverent Latitude 38 magazine in California — before you put it on your transom.

The Explanation Test: How often do you want to explain what the name means? Bizarre Greek gods, in-jokes and Latin phrases (Carpe Diem doesn't count) usually fail this test. The non-cute test. How sappy is the name? Puns, childhood nicknames and in-jokes usually fail.

The Brevity Test: Imagine repeating your boat name three times, especially if calling "mayday." Are you hoarse yet?

The Hubris Test: If you're racing, try not to pick names like Magic Bullet unless, of course, you have that one-in-a-million boat that actually wins every time.

The "Been There, Done That" Test: There are a lot of Obsessions and Odysseys out there already.

The Omen Test: Naming your boat the Money Pit one day may mean you need a new engine the next.

The Radio Test: Lots of words that look good — Slithery, for example — sound pretty funny on channel 16.

The Christening Ceremony

Contrary to popular belief, it's not bad luck to rename your boat if you're the new owner, say boating name experts. But the sea has its superstitions, and it's a lot better to be safe than sorry. For example, you want to make sure that the "old" name is removed from everything on board, including log books and charts. If its name is painted on the hull, gently sand it away and then paint over it. If vinyl, use a hair dryer to make peeling the old name off easier, and then use acetone to get rid of every trace of glue.

Buy a bottle of the best champagne you can afford (you don't want to offend the sea gods with the cheap stuff). Say a few words of supplication to every wind and ocean god you can find on the Internet (and don't forget your own higher power) asking for good will, indulgence and safety for your boat. Pour an enormous libation over the bow of your boat and share the rest with any guests. If you have more than one excellent bottle of champagne, by all means wrap it in a towel and break it over your bow, but it's a lot harder to do than it looks.

To cement the naming ceremony, tradition holds you should then take your newly christened boat out on the water. If it's a sailboat, luff it up into the wind and drift to a complete stop, then allow it to sail backwards — a boat-length is long enough to appease the spirits. If it's a powerboat, some traditionalists suggest running it aground (gently, of course). The moderates claim three times on purpose will make the gods happy, while die-hards say these groundings can't be intentional. It's up to you.

—Becky Squires © BoatUS Magazine