Traditional naming patterns used by American naval ships
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 PresidentTheodore Roosevelt in 1907. 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.
Battlecruisers (CC) under the 1916 program were to receive names of battles or famous U.S Navy ships with significant overlap since several famous U.S. Navy ships were named after Revolutionary War battles.
Escort Carriers (CVE) were initially named after bays and sounds though many received battle names while under construction. Escort carriers that appear to be named for cities or islands like USS Casablanca(CVE-55) or USS Guadalcanal(CVE-60) were actually named for battles fought at those locations.
Large cruisers (CB) under the 1940 program were named for United States territories.
Cruisers, both light and heavy (CL and CA), were named for cities in the United States and its territories, with the exception of USS Canberra(CA-70), which is named after HMAS Canberra(D33) and Canberra, the capital of Australia, making USS Canberra the only U.S. warship named for a foreign warship and foreign capital city.
Nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), (the first forty-one boats), also called "boomers", were named after historical statesmen considered "Great Americans."
Landing ship, tank (LST) built for the United States Navy during and immediately after World War II were only given an LST-number hull designation, but on 1 July 1955, county or Louisiana-parish names were assigned to those ships which remained in service. More recent LSTs were named on launching.
Contemporary ship naming conventions and their exceptions
Arleigh Burke, a class of a planned 77 ships (which may be extended to as many as 118), was originally to retain the traditional naming convention for destroyers: that of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps leaders and heroes. Some of these leaders are men who fought in the Revolutionary War as a part of the original Continental Navy, while others took part in the early days of the U.S. Navy fighting in the Quasi and Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish–American War. In these early conflicts through to World War II, and up to the War on Terror, many Sailors and Marines, from cooks to SEALs to Marine Commandants and Fleet Admirals, distinguished themselves in battle, earning the Medal of Honor or Navy Cross, as well as other medals (posthumously in some cases). In the 21st century, the Navy has broadened the term "leaders and heroes" to include politicians (such as U.S. Senators and Navy Secretaries) who have made significant contributions to the Navy away from the battlefield, and men and women of the Navy Department who have become pioneers in the fields of technology and strategy, as well as for civil rights, breaking through barriers for women and minorities. Along with all those named for the above listed criteria are the following exceptions;
3rd boat; USS Jimmy Carter(SSN-23), named for a former U.S. president, and Naval officer, who, though he was trained in nuclear propulsion, was only able to serve aboard diesel electric submarines before leaving the Navy.
Virginia class, a class of a planned 66 boats, were initially named for U.S. states, with two early exceptions;
USS John Warner(SSN-785), named for a former Secretary of the Navy, U.S. Senator from Virginia, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services,
After the 30th boat and with only two available state names remaining, the Navy began using legacy names of previous attack submarines. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite stated that he;
"...supports naming future submarines after past vessels with historic naval legacies."
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, a 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.
Frigates (FFG) are named for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps heroes and leaders, up to an including the last class in active service, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class (1977-2015). The Navy announced the new Constellation-class of frigates in 2020 with the first three ships of the class so far named in honor of three of the original six frigates of the U.S. Navy. The first ship is expected to be delivered by 2026. A report to Congress on 4 February 2021, advised the Navy had not stated this naming scheme was a change in the rules for naming ships.
Littoral combat ships (LCS) are named for regionally-important U.S. cities and communities. Exceptions are the lead ships of the first two classes for this type;
Replenishment oilers (T-AO) were conventionally named for rivers. An exception is the current, 18-ship Henry J. Kaiser-class, the first half of which were named for shipbuilders, industrialists, marine and aeronautical engineers. The remaining half of the class, returned to the previous convention of river names. While river names is the de jure convention, for the next class of oilers, the John Lewis-class, the Navy announced that they will be named after prominent civil rights activists and leaders. There are 20 ships planned for this class, with the first six ordered and named by the end of 2018.