United States ship naming conventions for the U.S. Navy were established by congressional action at least as early as 1862. Title 13, section 1531, of the U.S. Code, enacted in that year, reads, in part,

The vessels of the Navy shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy under direction of the President according to the following rule: Sailing-vessels of the first class shall be named after the States of the Union, those of the second class after the rivers, those of the third class after the principal cities and towns and those of the fourth class as the President may direct.

Further clarification was made by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.[1] However, elements had existed since before his time. If a ship is reclassified, for example a destroyer is converted to a mine layer, it retains its original name.

Traditional conventions

Contemporary ship naming conventions and their exceptions

As of March 2023, in a report to congress, the Navy has announced that while the class would continue to be known as the Columbia-class, there was as of yet no particular naming scheme set for the class.[3] But with only two state names available, a change to a different scheme is likely, see the Virginia-class submarine entry for more information.
After the 30th boat and with only two available state names remaining, the Navy began using legacy names of previous attack submarines.[4] Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite stated that he; "...supports naming future submarines after past vessels with historic naval legacies."[5]
The next four boats of the class (SSN-804 to SSN-807) have so far followed this naming scheme, (with all four also being names of fish, another previous naming convention of submarines). A report to Congress on 4 February 2021, advised the Navy had not indicated these exceptions as being a change to the policy for naming ships.[4]
On 8 March 2023, in a report to congress, the Navy stated that while they do not have a set naming scheme for the remainder of the Virginia-class boats (after SSN-808), they were examining the possibility of continuing with state names. Since state named Ohio-class boats are scheduled to be decommissioned on a regular basis beginning in 2026, and the next planned, unnamed Virginia-class boats will not be entering service until 2028, the Navy will see if that gap can be exploited to take state names as they become available from decommissioned Ohio boats and almost immediately attach them to new Virginia boats as they're commissioned into service.[3]

See also


  1. ^ And the possible exception of USS Shangri-La (CV-38), which can be said to have been named after a "battle," the Doolittle Raid
  2. ^ Technically the Essex-class carriers Franklin, Randolph and Hancock were named for the Continental Navy ships which bore the names of those men, not the men themselves.
  3. ^ Long Beach was the last U.S. warship built on a true cruiser hull.


  1. ^ "Ship Naming in the United States Navy". Naval History and Heritage Command. Archived from the original on 6 April 2019. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  2. ^ "About ARCO". cap.navy.mil. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress" (PDF). sgp.fas.org. 8 March 2023. Retrieved 12 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress" (PDF). fas.org.
  5. ^ "SECNAV Names Two Future Virginia-Class Submarines Tang and Wahoo". navy.mil.
  6. ^ "Now Hear This – The Right Destroyer at the Right Time". U.S. Naval Institute. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  7. ^ "Navy History and Heritage Command: Ship Naming". history.navy.mil. Archived from the original on 6 April 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  8. ^ Congressional Research Service (12 June 2013). "Navy Ship Names". United States Naval Institute. Retrieved 7 November 2013.