Skip to main content

What’s in a Name?

Michael Peters

Sightlines - June 2016

What’s in a Name?

It’s not easy to be original.

I have to assume that whoever nominated the winning name for the British government’s newest polar research vessel had a three-year-old child. I can only imagine the crazy giggling that came along with the first suggestion of such an absurd name, but the public got the last laugh on the government when they ganged up on the Internet to win with “Boaty McBoatface.” I’ll bet the crew on this boat will always be drunk.

Boaty McBoatface

Try as hard as you can, it’s not easy to come up with a truly original boat name, although “Boaty McBoatface” may take the prize. I remember wanting to name a beautiful 1965 Rybovich Express I considered buying Island Girl. Around that time, my wife and I took our Bertram out for a short spin and before even getting out of our bayou, we spotted two other boats named Island Girl. The obvious lack of originality put an immediate kibosh on that name, and Chareese ribs me about it constantly. 

I’ve always been proud of the creative name I chose for the first boat I built when I was about 14. Building it was a disaster, because I didn’t know I was supposed to wipe the wax off the camp dinghy before laminating over it, so I ended up having to cut the whole thing apart and glass it back together. I never could get the boat to sail properly, either, and a year later I ran over it with a tractor to put it out of its misery. I named it Miss Take (pronounced: mistake). It’s hard to laugh at yourself when you still have pimples.

Since my sailing career didn’t go well, I decided to move on to powerboats and built a copy of the camp’s 14-foot outboard skiff, the Northeaster. I still have no idea where I got the name Desirée from, but I was 17 and had finally discovered girls, and while everyone else on the island had work skiffs, my boat had varnished mahogany rails and a fancy French name. I’ve often thought the boat deserved a more manly name.

After high school I spent a year as caretaker on Catalina and ran Desirée through some pretty severe winter storms. I became fixated on developing a boat to conquer rough water, and by my third year in college I dropped out to build a 19-foot prototype of my first deep-V stepped hull. The boat was named Maelstrom, which means a whirlpool in the sea. I once ran her up the face of a 20-foot storm wave off the California coast and always thought she more than lived up to her name.

I got the moniker for our 25-foot Bertram out of the book Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. All my boats had been black, so when I read that Attila’s favorite battle horse was a raven-black stallion named Villam, that was good enough for me. A couple of years later, an elderly man came walking down the marina hollering at me in some unknown language, and I came to find out that “villam” means lightning in Hungarian. Lightning is not such a great name for a boat in Florida.

The nickname for our young granddaughter Hallie Kate is Hellcat. When I bought a 1972 20-foot Bertram for restoration a few years ago, I painted it navy blue with white bottom and a silver boot stripe to mimic the World War II Grumman 56F fighter plane. On her transom, in big, white navy-stencil letters, is the name Hellcat, which fits the boat and her little namesake perfectly.

What’s your favorite unique boat name? Let us know in the comments below.

Our 48-foot ULDB Trawler is named Adele, my wife’s middle name. It was pretty hard to justify getting a third boat, so I thought it might be time to do a little sucking up and pay tribute to my wife with such a great honor. She wasn’t easily fooled, but was just glad I didn’t name her Island Girl

Boat names may only make sense to those who bestow them and often reflect the stages of our lives, leaving the rest of us to wonder what they signify. As for “Boaty McBoatface,” it’s pretty clear that the public was having fun playing a prank on the government and made a big joke out of the whole thing, but I’ll bet we start seeing that name pop up a lot. It really was pretty original,­ and just try to say it without smiling :)

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.