Renaming Superstitions

Published in the March 2012 Issue Published online: Mar 15, 2012 Feature
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For some couples, it seems like deciding on a name for their houseboat is actually harder than coming up with a name for their children. I'm not sure why this is, but it does seem to be a spirited challenge for some.

One of my favorite hobbies is to walk the docks at different marinas throughout the country and look at the different boat names. Some are so witty that I have to nearly sit down with a pad of paper and pen to figure them out, but most are just a spin on a family name with a twist or some hint of a story that I couldn't possibly understand unless I heard the tale.

We've started a section in our magazine called "How We Got Our Name," where readers can email us their boat name stories. It's been fun to get a little background information on where some of these boat names truly come from. As this new feature continues to catch on, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Naming a brand new boat is one thing, but what about changing the name on a used boat once you've purchased it?

For some superstitious boaters, changing a boat name for any reason is considered bad luck.

But before you debate whether to just live with Barbie's Dreamboat or whatever name it is that you're not fond of, let's dive into christening and rechristening rituals first to see what your options are.

Today it seems the most common ritual for houseboaters is to spill some champagne, beer or their favorite hooch on a new boat's bow before affirming the vessel's name. This tradition dates back to at least 700 A.D. when Vikings thought it was entertaining to sacrifice something-people, animals, whatever was handy-and drizzle the blood on their boats and planks.

But what about rechristening? Thanks to better-built boats, this is actually a new problem since most vessels back then didn't survive more than a decade and rarely became candidates for rechristening. So it's probably safe to say that most rechristening ceremonies have few deeply rooted, historical ties.

However, nautical superstitions can be found everywhere. For example, have you heard of the Friday phobia? By long-standing tradition, starting a voyage on a Friday had been a well-known no-no for centuries. In the 19th century, however, the British Navy tried to explode this belief by building a warship whose keel was laid on a Friday, launched on a Friday, was christened H.M.S. Friday, and set sail on its maiden voyage on a Friday. Neither the ship nor its crew was ever heard from again. (Note: Wikipedia says this is entirely a myth.)

In researching renaming rituals, I only came across more and more superstitions. For example, have you ever had fresh flowers onboard? This is supposed to cause a death aboard, but I've never heard of anyone dying over roses (just from not buying flowers when they were supposed to). Likewise, I'm sure I've had ripe bananas aboard before, but I don't recall any unpleasant storms or groundings as a result. And I'm almost positive that I've stepped aboard several vessels using my left foot first, but have survived to tell the tale.

Still, renaming procedures that I came across in books and online were confusing, convoluted, or both. And to be honest, most sounded just plain made up. So for those buying a used boat this year, get out the heat gun and peel off those vinyl letters with no fear. After all, believing is what makes superstitions real or imagined.

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