When the Smithsonian Made Up Fish Names To Accommodate the Navy

The naming of ships in the U.S. Navy has a complex set of guidelines that has evolved over time. In the early years, there were no set rules. Vessels were named after people, places, character traits, and even insects. In 1819, Congress assigned the job to the Secretary of the Navy and defined certain classes of ships to be named after states, rivers, and cities. Submarines became a part of the Navy in 1900 and initially had no naming guidelines. In 1958, they were named after fish, but the use of fish names proved problematic for the Navy since the fish scientists used Latin names. Spelling and pronunciation had to be reasonably simple. If the enlisted men’s wives/girlfriends couldn’t spell the name of the ship, the men might not get their letters, which were crucial to morale. That’s when the Smithsonian came up with the idea to invent new fish names that were easy to pronounce and spell. The naming of Submarines took a full departure from using fish names in the 1960’s with the introduction of the ballistic missile submarine. These submarines were considered such a turning point that they demanded a name source more appropriate for their status. The first 41 of these submarines were named for famous Americans who had contributed to the growth of democracy. Today, the naming of submarines is based on Naval history and suggestions from enlisted personnel and veterans.