How should the Navy name its aircraft carriers?

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits the Atlantic Ocean, Dec. 12, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)

The Navy plans on naming its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after World War II hero Doris 'Dorie' Miller, an African-American sailor recognized for his heroism during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — and not everybody is happy about it.


In adopting Miller's name for its next carrier, the Navy is breaking from the modern tradition of naming aircraft carriers after commanders-in-chief; as Military.com points out, the christening of the future USS Doris Miller aircraft carrier will be a first for both an African-American war hero and an enlisted sailor.

Naturally, the news prompted a lively discussion among regular Task & Purpose readers regarding the Navy's standard for naming vessels. Some, like T&P regular Eric Stratton, see the new naming convention as a welcome change:

This is great and I wish that it was the standard for naming ships. A ship should be named for either a Cross winner or higher and/or famous battles, but stop the political silliness of naming ships for people who were barely affiliated with the Navy or Presidents, Senators or Representatives. Subs should be named for fish or marine animals might be the only other exception I could see, but the politics are killing me with ship naming. This is who ships should be named for, glad to see guys like this living on and on so people do not forget their actions.

Others, like Xenophon, aren't convinced of the logic of the decision:

To be honest, I question this choice.

Yes, Doris Miller is a great American. KIA and Navy Cross. But he has already had one ship named after him, and there must be other sailors who gave the last full measure and received the Navy Cross. A quick check turns up plenty — for example, LCDR Radcliffe Denniston, awarded the Navy Cross posthumously after he was shot down off the Philippines in 1944. He has not yet had a ship named after him.

In addition, I have to ask, what does it mean that the Navy is naming a Ford-class carrier after Miller? Is this unique or does it mark a change in naming criteria? I suspect the former in which case we have to ask why this one exception?

Capital ships (carriers) should have very memorable names--original Navy ship names (Enterprise, Constitution, etc), battles (preferably naval battles but also reusing the great land-battle names from WW II--Yorktown, etc), and occasionally maybe a commander-in-chief like Washington or Lincoln. The LHAs should be named for Marine battles/amphib ops, as is currently the case.

Here's Stratton's thoughtful response:

Disagree. The tradition is a modern one in naming Carriers after Presidents as is naming Subs after cities or states. Why aren't subs named after fish or other aquatic animals anymore? "Fish don't vote." There is not a consistent tradition of naming ships after hero's or battles, look at a lot of the naming that happened under Obama, Bush Jr. and Clinton.

Is the ship that was named after him still commissioned? No. So, while I agree that other folks who have received the Cross or higher should have ships named after them I am all for naming carriers after Cross or MoH awardees. I agree that there are a lot of other folks who have been awarded the Cross or MoH that should have ships named after them, but until we stop naming ships for Presidents, Senators, Representatives, Cities, States, etc.....it looks like they will have to wait unfortunately. I will take this one as a win for common sense and perhaps an end to naming ships after people who have little to nothing to actually do with the Navy or Marines. I don't know what pushed this to happen or why it happened, but I am glad it happened because it is nice to see a Carrier named for an actual war hero instead of a politician.

I do think that original names like the Enterprise, Constitution, etc...are a good thing and so I will have to rethink my limits a bit, but I am still convinced this is a good move forward and a better model to name ships after.

What do you think of the Navy's choice? What standards would you want to see the Navy adopt for naming vessels? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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