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How and when the ships were called

It is an extract from a book “The Fleet of the State of Russia. The roots and origin of the Russian Navy” written by V.Dygalo.

Back in those days when we were children, such names, written on the sides of the famous ships, as “Glory”, “Pallada”, “Chesma”, “Diana”, “Varyag” sounded like wonderful and magic music for most of us. The tradition to give names to the ships dates back to time immemorial. A mythical ship “Argo” was one of the first ones to be given a name. According to the ancient legend, it was made by a master Arg with a help of goddess Athena. It was actually the very ship on which Jason went to Colchis to take the Golden Fleece.

Other names of the ancient vessels are also well-known, for example, those of a renowned three-master “Alexandria” build by a Corinthian master Archais by the king Gieron II order and an alexandrine vessel “Izis” used for the transportation of wheat.

Corvette "Varyag"

Ancient shipbuilders used to endow their vessels with all the possible traits and qualities of living creatures; they even painted big eyes on the ship forebodies hoping that they would see the underwater shoals and reefs better. Maybe it was precisely the reason why it did not occur to them to write the ship names on their sides. It was not until the XVII century chronicles that we can find some facts mentioning the names at the ship sterns but it refers only to the Northern-European fleets. As for Russia, this tradition became firmly established only in the end of the reign of Peter the Great; although it had happened before that some ships were granted names. The first named seagoing craft was the ship “Frederik” build in 1636 (during the reign of Mikhail Fedorovich) which was named in honor of Duke of Holstein. We already know that the first Russian warship went under the name of “Orel”. In a decree made by a tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich, the following was stated: “The ship that was build in the village Dedinovo is to be named “Orel”. Two eagles must be placed at the rostrum and stern of the ship, and the standards must be embroidered with eagles, too”. When “Orel” was ready, the wooden-carved gold-colored double eagles were fixed at the rostrum and stern of the ship. These heraldic symbols of imperial power were some kind of confirmation of the name of the ship which later became the traditional decoration of all warships.

The tragic failure of the first Azov campaign in the summer of 1695 forced Peter the Great to speed up the shipbuilding. On 3 April, 1696 three galleys were launched at a shipyard situated in the city of Voronezh. The first of them was named “Principium” that is “basis”, “beginning” which fully corresponded to that historical moment – the beginning of the Russian regular navy formation. During the second Azov campaign it was the great Russian tsar himself under the name of Peter Alekseev who was in command of the galley “Principium”. The other two galleys were called “St. Mark” and “St. Matthew”. The two row-sailing 36-cannon ships were also granted their names in honor of the respected orthodox saints: “Apostle Peter” and “Apostle Paul”. While the Azov fleet was being built, there were neither significant victories, nor brave heroes nor battle traditions, and that was why the choice of names for the ships was at first limited mainly to the names of pillars of Orthodox Church.

Having appeared at the earliest stages of the regular navy formation, these ship names became traditional and were frequently used especially in the XVIII Century. Thus, the squadron of rear-admiral F.F. Ushakov during the battle with the Turkish squadron near the Cape of Kaliakria consisted entirely of the ships named in honor of the respected saints, while two ships were named after the most celebrated Christian holidays: “Christmas” and “Transfiguration”. Beginning from the times of Peter the First, it was, as a rule, the tsar who approved the ship names but in rare instances this honor fell onto the Board of Shipyards (Council of Shipyards since 1827). The tsar-sailor was well aware of the importance of the ship names in terms of the naval traditions and the country’s prestige. An analysis of the ship names enables us to come to the conclusion that even at the initial steps of the regular navy formation Peter the Great wanted to make them more or less categorized, bring them to some kind of a system. Specifically, the names to the ships were granted in accordance with their rank and purpose, that is, the higher the rank the greater the name.

Despite the striking variety of the Azov fleet ship names, one still can say that a large part of them was chosen to highlight the fighting spirit of the seamen as well as the strength and might of the Russian navy. The following ship names can serve as an illustrative example: “Lack of fear”, “Color of War”, “Lion”, “Unicorn”, “Hercules”. Equally formidable and threatening from the military point of view are the names of some bomber ships: “Fortress”, “Scorpion”, “Flag”, etc. The choice of names of the ships being built for the Azov Fleet was, to a certain extent, influenced by the over-sea journey to Holland and England undertaken by Peter I, during which he became highly interested in insignia, symbols, allegory and mottos through which the exact meaning of the ship name was revealed. Here are but some of the borrowed ship names which can be understood with a help of the proper mottos: “The Ball – The harder you hit it the higher it jumps”, “Jet – Force can break any fortress”, “Stone – Reigns over waters”, “Elephant – Dangerous if infuriated”, etc. The bomber ships armed with powerful artillery for fighting against the coastal fortifications had the names as follows: “Thunder”, “Lightning”, “Thunderous arrow” – with the motto “Render unto Jupiter the thunderbolts that are Jupiter’s”, “Bomb” – with the motto “Woe is the one who gets me”. Indeed, it is difficult to find other names that would be more appropriate for these ships. Yet among them there are two ship names that bring discord here and these are “Peacemaker” and “Lamb” i.e. lamb is a symbol of meekness and submission. Why did they choose such names? There can be only one answer: Peter’s inclination to humorous and playful contrasting the peaceful ship name with its military might. One can find other funny names: “Bell” – with the motto “Its chime is aimed at others”, “Three glasses” – with the motto “One must know when to stop”, “Hedgehog” – with the motto “By flattering and stroking” and many others.

However, galleys and fire-ships built by “kumpanstvo” (ship-building companies at the times of Peter the Great) did not have their own names. They were known under the names of their captains or superiors who were in charge of flags and standards, for example: galleys of admiral Lefort, vice-admiral Lim, schautbenacht de Losier; galleys of captains Bruce, Trubetskoy, Ushakov, Repnin, etc; fire-ships of captain-dukes Cherkasskiy, Veliko-Gagin, Lobanov-Rostovskiy…This supports the fact that during the Azov Fleet building Peter the Great had difficulties in selecting names for a big number of ships.

By the spring of the year 1700, “kumpanstvo” had mainly fulfilled their part of works concerning the ship construction, and tsar Peter ordered to continue the shipbuilding at the state expense. The ship names and mottos, for the most part, were borrowed by him from the Northern-European emblematic collections, particularly from a book which was very popular in Holland called “Symbols and Emblems” published in Amsterdam in 1705.

So what names did the state-financed ships get at that time? Here are some of them: “Scorching Iron” – with the motto “One must work while time permits”, “Rapier” – “Show me where the laurel wreaths are”, “Sulitsa” (ancient cold steel, a kind of spear or lance) – with the motto “Die or Win”. Part of the names reflected power and might, patience and generosity which was evident through the mottos used: “Old oak” – “Renews the hope”, “Old eagle”- “Not by words but by deeds”, “Sleeping lion” – “His heart is always on alert”, “Turtle”- “Be patient and you will see your mission completed”. And it is natural that while naming the new ships, St. George the Victorious highly worshiped in Russia and the biblical hero Samson who possessed an extraordinary physical strength were not forgotten. Two-decked 62-cannon ship was named “Voronezh” in commemoration of the first Russian Shipyard and the main shipyard where the ships for the Azov navy were built.

The fire-ships constructed for the enemies’ ships burning highly corresponded to their names: “Volcanoes”, “Phoenix”, “Salamander”. These names, to some extent, had to do with fire and its scorching effect. In the meantime, the ships of the Azov period have one remarkable feature. The majority of the ship-builders and officers/sailors who were invited to Russia from abroad did not understand Russian, and that was the reason why many ships had two and sometimes even more names – often it was a word in Russian and its equivalent in Dutch, English, German and French – in order to be understood by one another. For example, “Drum” – “Trumel”, “Bell” – “Klok”, “Hedgehog” – “Igel”, “Power” – “Starkt”, “Union” – “Unia”, “Fearlessness” – “Suderban”, “Sonderfres” and “Onberfrest”, “Good beginning” – “Gut anfangen”, “Gut begin” and “Dessegelbegin”, “Fortress” – “Castle”, “Stargate” and “Citadel”. However, the sole purpose of Peter’s actions was to promote and advertise the prestige of the newly-born Russian Fleet.

58-cannon ship “Goto Predestinazia” (“God’s Prevision”) 1700

A remarkable and significant event in the Russian shipbuilding history happened 27 April, 1700 (8 May according to Old Style) – in the city of Voronezh the first ship which was build solely by the Russian ship-builders without any help from the foreign experts was launched. It was made on the basis of a draft brought by Peter the Great presumably from England. It was stated in the documents that “His Highest Majesty” was the ship-builder, and when he was absent two young masters F. Sklyaev and P. Vereshagin, who had studied together with him abroad, were responsible for the building process supervision. Two-decked 58-cannon ship, built by them, was named “Goto Predestinazia” which meant “God’s Prevision”. It was as if this loud and promising name which, in addition, carried a deep political meaning was saying that the Russia’s outlet to the sea was something the Lord himself had foreseen.


28-cannon frigate “Standard” 1703

On 1 May, 1703 (12 May according to Old Style) the Russian troops took by storm the Swedish fortress “Nienshanz” which was situated not far from the Neva River mouth. Thus, the way to the Baltic Sea was open. After that the tsar’s standard had undergone changes, namely the double eagle depicted on it was now carrying in its claws and beak four maps, instead of three as it used to be, with outlines of the White Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Azov Sea and the Baltic sea. In honor of this triumphant event, the first 28-cannon frigate, built at the Olonets Shipyard in august 1703, was called “Standard”. Other ships and frigates carried names of the cities and geographical areas where great victories were gained by the Russian Army and Navy (“Ivan-gorod”, “Kronshlot”, “Shlisselburg”, “Saint-Petersburg”, “Narva”, “Pernov’, “Riga’, “Vyborg”, “Poltava”, “Ingermanland”, “Revel”, “Lesnoe”, “Gangut”).

While the Baltic Fleet was being built, they named the ships in honor of the royal family. That way, a tsar yacht “Frigate Royal” got a name of “Princess Anna”, the second yacht “Gilded” was named “Princess Elizaveta” (both in the honor of Peter’s daughters), and the third one was named “Natalia” (in memory of his mother).

When in the city of Arkhangelsk the construction of series of 52-cannon battleships had been finished in June-July 1715, they were called in honor of the respected Archangels: “Gavriil”, “Mikhail”, “Uriil”, “Salaphail”, “Varakhail” and “Yagudiil”.

The ships, which were named in honor of the members of the royal family and orthodox saints, contributed to the development and strengthening of the officers’ and low-ranked servicemen’ faith in the religious firmness and the imperial reign principles.

One of the rules put forward by Peter the Great was the succession principle in terms of ships naming, especially those which had gained this right in fights. It was very common with the Baltic Fleet to give the names which were popular during the Azov shipbuilding period: “Lyzette”, “Munker”, “Degas”, “Falk”, “Elephant”, “Friedemacher”. The names of the ships which had already served their time were given to the new ones: “Narva”, “Vyborg”, “Schlisselburg”. They were spreading the gun-powder air of the former formidable and cruel battles of the Northern War, and it was in the preservation of those names that tsar Peter saw the origin of a new Russian navy tradition. In the course of time, the names succession became a general rule. Some names stayed on the ship-sides for such a long time that they actually formed dynasties. Over the entire Russian Fleet history the following ship names were the most seriated: “Standard” and “Gangut” repeated 5 times; “Ingermanland” – 6 times; “Do not touch me” and “Azov” – 7 times; “Poltava” and “Samson” – 8 times; “Vyborg” – 10 times; “Mercury” – 11 times; “Narva” – 14 times; “Moscow” – 18 times; “Nadezhda” – 22 times. Those names are still “alive” and even nowadays there are many ships in our Navy that carry these historical names on their sides.

During the reign of Catherine II, while giving names to the ships, they continued to show preference for the names of orthodox saints, biblical prophets as well as Russian emperors and empresses, royal family members and religious holidays.

Equally popular and frequently-used were the names of the Old Russian grand dukes. As a rule, such names were destined for the high-ranked ships, mainly battleships and frigates. For instance, there are some names of the battleships and frigates of the Black Sea Navy squadron in 1791: “John the Baptist”, “Maria Magdalena”, “St. Vladimir”, “St. Paul”, “Transfiguration”, “St. Alexander Nevskiy”, “St. George the Victorious”, “St. Andrey Pervozvanny”; frigates: “St. Nestor” and “St. Mark”. Ships of a lower rank such as brigs, sloops and corvettes were usually named after the parts of the world, countries or cities situated along the coastal areas as well as planets, constellations and stars.

A large group of ship names was dedicated to predators and birds of prey.

During the reign of Pavel I, no significant changes were introduced in the ship names system. But he made the first attempt to legalize the procedure and the place of writing ship names. According to the Pavel’ decree, the shipbuilders were made to place the names at the stern. The name of the shipbuilder along with place and time of building were to be stated there as well.

The invention of new classes and types of ships during the steam-ships fleet period resulted in emergence of new name groups which was the reason why the connection with history and traditions was partially broken off. Apart from that, the tragic defeat in the Crimean War was apparently also responsible for the changes involved. For example, steam gunboats of the Baltic Navy were called either after atmospheric and sea phenomena or weapons or fairy tale characters or fish, birds, insects (such as “Thunder”, “Lightning”, “Squall”, “Snowstorm”, “Blizzard”, “Sword”, “Pole – axe”, “Spear”, “Bow”, “Shell”, “Shield”, “Chain armour”, “Armour”, “Mermaid”, “Witch”, “House-spirit”, “Ruff”, “Pike”, “Tailbone’, “Kite”, “Seagull”, “Mosquito”, “Bee”, “Wasp”, “Bumble bee”.

Other classes of steam ships – steam frigates and sailing-screw corvettes – were named in honor of the Russian epic heroes and grand dukes as follows: “Ilia Muromets”, “Oleg”, “Peresvet”, “Osliabya”, “Dmitriy Donskoy”, “Alexander Nevskiy”.

The first Russian test armoured ship which was put into service 22 June, 1861 was a gunboat. It was named “Opyt” (“Experience”). In 1864, an armoured squadron that had been built in England was added to the Russian Navy. It was the first ship of such a class at the Russian Navy arsenal. That is why it was named “Pervenets” (“First-born”). After him there were two more armoured squadrons equipped with even more powerful cannonade weaponry that were built at the Saint-Petersburg Shipyards. As if to highlight their strength and inaccessibility for the enemy, they were named “Do not touch me” and “Citadel”.

By the year 1870, the Baltic Navy had already had in its arsenal, except those 3 armoured squadrons, 13 armoured ships-monitors that were built in accordance with the so-called Monitor Programme 1863. The lead one was named “Battleship” while the rest of them had the names “Unicorn”, “Lava”, “Tornado”, “Archer”, “Hurricane”, “Python”, “Perun”, “Mermaid”, “Enchantress”, etc.

In the early 70th Russia undertook an attempt to start a defensive fleet construction on the Black Sea following the abolition of the restricting articles of the Paris Treaty (1856). For this very purpose two coastal defense armoured ships, so-called round armoured ships, were constructed by Admiral A.A. Popov. One of them was named “Novgorod” and the other one – “Vice-admiral Popov” (in honor of its creator). Informally these armoured ships were called “popovki”.

With the enthronement of Alexander III, there was a transition to a construction of armoured ships of a bigger displacement. In accordance with the new Black Sea Navy programmes, 8 modern armoured ships along with a significant number of other types of ships were to be built within a 20-year period. And once again the tradition to give the high-rank ships the most prestigious and beautiful names was regenerated. The armoured ships that were put into service at the Black Sea Navy were named: “Catherine II”, “Synop”, “Chesma”, “The Twelve Apostles”, “George the Victorious”, “Three Saints” and “Rostislav”. The latter was called after the grand duke of the Velikomoravskaya power who led a bloody battle against the German troops in 846-870. It was Rostislav who invited Cyril and Mephodius from Byzantium in 862.

Mine cruiser “Lieutenant Iliin” 1887

Battleships built in compliance with those programmes on the Baltic Sea were named in honor of the emperors, brilliant victories of the Russian Navy and Army: “Emperor Alexander III”, “Emperor Nikolay I”, “Gangut”, “Navarin”, “Poltava”, “Sebastopol”, “Petropavlovsk”, “Sisoy Velikiy”. While the coastal defense armoured ships had the names of outstanding Russian admirals: “Admiral Spiridonov”, “Admiral Greig”, “Admiral Lazarev”, “Admiral Chichagov”, several mine cruisers were named in memory of the legendary seamen: “Lieutenant Iliin”, “Captain Saken”, “Kazarskiy”.

The first Russian sea-going torpedo boat put into service in 1877 was named “Vzryv” (“Explosion”) and the following torpedo boats and fleet destroyers were called after different geographical areas: “Kotlin”, “Lahta”, “Luga”, “Revel”, “Sveaborg”, “Nargen”, “Gogland”, “Biorke”, “Moonsund” which became some sort of a rule when naming other ships of this class. Due to the further worsening of relationships with Japan, the Russian government had to develop and later approve an additional programme known under the title “For the needs of the Far East”. It included five squadron armoured ships (“Crown prince”, “Retvizan”, “Emperor Alexander III”, “Duke Suvorov”, “Glory”), four first-rank cruisers (“Bayan”, “Boyarin”, “Pearl”, “Emerald”) as well as 20 squadron mine ships. One can hardly say that their names were strictly systematized but the established rule to give the large ships the names of the emperors and famous commanders remained unchanged. Adjectives were used as names for the fleet destroyers (“Forward”, “Shining”, “Merciless”, “Quick”, “Attacking”, “Fearless”, “Stormy”, etc) which stressed some qualities generally attributed to the ships of this class. Similar names were frequently used in the future.

During the bloody Russian-Japanese War, the Navy suffered terrible losses having lost most of its new battleships. Heroism, military valour and courage demonstrated by the seamen while defending the Port Arthur in the battle of Tsusima aroused a tide of patriotism among the Russians together with a strong overwhelming desire to restore powerful navy as it once was. In accordance with the Shipbuilding Programmes of 1908, 1912 – 1916, it was decided to launch a construction of entirely new type of battleships, battle – cruisers, cruisers, fleet destroyers and submarines. A requirement was also put forward according to which all the newly-launched ships were to inherit the names which used to belong to their predecessors. It was done for the purpose of historical succession enhancement and battle traditions preservation. Following these programmes, in 1909 at the shipyards of Saint-Petersburg Baltic and Admiralteysky shipbuilding plants four battleships with the names of “Gangut”, “Poltava”, “Sebastopol” and “Petropavlovsk” were launched. In the city of Nikolaev, the foundations for several battleships, destined for the Black Sea Navy, were laid. They were named in honor of Pavel’s wife, Mariya Fedorovna, and Russian emperors: “Emperess Mariya”, “Emperor Alexander III”, “Empress Catherine II” (“Empress Catherine the Great” since 27 June, 1915) and “Emperor Nikolay I” (its construction was not finished). At the Baltic and Admiralteysky shipbuilding plants the construction of battle-cruisers for the Baltic Sea was initiated; unfortunately, neither “Borodino”, nor “Izmail”, nor “Kinburn”, nor “Navarin” was finished. All the light-weight cruisers that were built in compliance with those programmes were named after the Russian Navy admirals: “Admiral Butakov”, “Admiral Spiridonov” and “Admiral Greig” – for the Baltic Sea Navy, and “Admiral Nakhimov”, “Admiral Lazarev”, “Admiral Kornilov” and “Admiral Istomin” – for the Black Sea Navy. There is only one exception to the rule and that is a cruiser “Svetlana” which inherited the name of a cruiser destroyed during the Russian-Japanese War. The names of the fleet destroyers also deserve attention.

It was quite common that a division (each consisted of nine ships) had the names of sea battles heroes, for example: “Lieutenant Iliin”, “Lieutenant Dubasov”, “Captain Izylmetiev”, etc. The second division was named in honor of the famous battles: “Grengam”, “Gogland”, “Hios”, “Tenedos” “Rymnik”, etc. The third one was proud of having the names of sailing vessels which became famous in various sea battles they participated in: “Thunder”, “Orpheus”, “Bully”, “Winner”, “Samson”, “Azov”, etc. And, finally, the fourth division was named in honor of sailing ships which took part in numerous sea battles and here are: “Vladimir”, “Konstantin”, “Gavriil”, “Thunderer” and many others. In the beginning of the World War I, the Russian Navy was being equipped with modern submarines. It was not accidental that the names for them were chosen among the predator animals: “Leopard”, “Panther”, “Lioness”, “Tiger”, “Jaguar”, “Wild boar”, “Puma”, “Wolf”, “Cheetah”, “Lynx”, “Aurochs”, etc.

Consequently, by the year 1914 a new, if a little bit unstructured and inharmonious, battle ships-naming system which assimilated many traditions dating back to the times of Peter the Great was developed in Russia and subsequently officially approved.

One can hardly say that the February Revolution and the October Coup D’etat had utterly changed the battleships-naming system established in the Russian Empire as it may seem at first glance. No wonder that the names of saint apostles, prophets and righteous men were immediately removed from the battleships and vessels sides; while the names connected with the tsars and grand dukes were substituted with the Bolshevik leaders’ surnames and sets of words or phrases extracted from the revolutionary vocabulary and phraseology. Nevertheless, the essence and main points of the naming system stayed the same. What actually happened was the substitution of the old heroes or cult figures with the new ones. The ship-naming principle of historical succession remained unchanged but there occurred some difficulties in the implementation of it due to the fact that a political life of the “proletarian leaders” of that time was not long. In other words, hardly had their names appeared on the ship sides when they themselves were thrown off the Party pedestal. It was precisely the reason for disappearance of the names of the fleet destroyers like “Novik – Trotskiy” (“Lieutenant Iliin”), “Zinoviev” (“Azard”), “Rykov” (“Captain Kern”), “Petrovsky” (“Gadzhibey”). They started to change the ship names almost on the next day after the February Revolution. And, as you may guess, the names of the fallen Romanov Dynasty were the first to be wiped off the sides of the largest ships. The following battleships which used to belong to the former Russian Imperial Navy had to undergo the very procedure: “Outset of Freedom”, (“Emperor Alexander I”), “Citizen” (“Crown prince”), “Republic” (“Emperor Pavel I”), “Will” (“Emperor Alexander III”), “Free Russia” (“Empress Catherine the Great”), “Democracy” (“Emperor Nikolay I”).

1-class cruiser “Aurora” 1903

After the October Coup D’etat, the rest of the former Imperial Navy ships were renamed except for the cruiser “Aurora” but even its name started bearing an absolutely different meaning –it was now a symbol of communism era.

New ships were named, for the most part, in honor of the Revolution and World proletariat leaders; original words and phrases invented in the Soviet period were also very common to be chosen as ship names. An adjective “red” was constantly added to all the other ship names and it was not typical for a ship-naming system only. Let us enumerate some new signs and names which appeared on the buildings of factories, plants and collective farms such as “Red Putilovets”, “Red triangle”, “Red thread”, “Red ploughman”, etc.

The names of survived battleships-dreadnoughts symbolized the three stages of the World revolutionary movement/struggle – the French Revolution in the name of Marat, the revolution terror initiator; the Commune of Paris and the October Coup D’etat. They got the following names: “Marat” (“Petropavlovsk”), “Commune of Paris” (“Sebastopol”), “October Revolution” (“Gangut”).

Black Sea cruisers were renamed after the Soviet republics adding an adjective “red”: “Red Crimea” (“Svetlana”, later “Profintern”), “Red Ukraine” (“Admiral Nakhimov”) and “Red Caucasus” (“Admiral Lazarev”).

There was also a change in the fleet destroyers names which were considered the largest group of ships. Almost all of them were named in honor of the World proletariat and revolution leaders (“Carl Marx”, “Engels”, “Lenin”, “Stalin”, “Carl Liebknecht”, “Dzerzhinsky”, “Kalinin”, “Sverdlov”, “Frunze”, “Volodarsky”, “Kuybyshev”, “Shaumyan”, “Artem”).

Submarines of “Leopard”- type were renamed in compliance with the spirit of the times. In that way, “Panther”, which excelled in August 1919, got a new name of “Commissar” in the late 1922, while the rest of them were called “Red Fleet”, “Tovarish”, “Communard”, “Bolshevik”, “Red Army man”, etc.

Apart from “Aurora”, there was another popular name which was frequently used both in the Russian Imperial and Soviet Navy and it was the name of our capital – Moscow. For the fist time it was given to a 64-cannon battleship the construction plan of which had been approved in Saint-Petersburg in 1712 and launched three years later. Several ships with the same name were built in Arkhangelsk and were in service since 1759 till 1809. In July 1878, an auxiliary cruiser “Moscow” rebuilt on the basic of a former steamship, which was brought on a voluntary public donation, was put into service. Soon it was handed over to the Volunteer Navy and some years later there were two more ships under the same name.

The first Soviet ship that had had the name of “Moscow” since 1919 was a notational division of Northern Dvina river flotilla and later a leader of the Black Sea Navy torpedo-boat destroyers which was built in 1937. Nowadays the name of our capital belongs to a cruiser “Moscow”. This huge surface ship is armed with modern cutting-edge missile and aircraft equipment.

The first submarines built in the Soviet times were named “Dekabrist”, “Narodovolets”, “Red Army man”, “Revolutionist”, “Spartakovets”, “Jacobean”. The next L-series submarines were called “Leninets”, “Stalinets”, “Frunzovets”, “Garibaldiets”, “Chartist” and “Carbonari”. Some time later other submarines of the same “L-type” were constructed, which conformed to the same word-formation rules: “Voroshilovets”, “Dzerzhinets”, “Kirovets”, “Menzhinets”. No doubt, there was not such a thing as historical succession applicable to those artificial lifeless names. And the “constructors of human souls” themselves could not but understand that fact and this was the reason why quite soon they started to give these submarines simple literal-numerical names as follows: D-1, D-2… and L-1, L-2…

Sometimes submarines of the following types received their own names but, in most cases, they were used for the whole series according to the name of a lead ship – “Pike”, “Maluytka” (“Little one”), etc. Nevertheless, apart from the above-mentioned literal-numerical names, some of “Maluytka” had their own names like “Yaroslavskiy Komsomolets” (M-104), “Chelyabinskiy Komsomolets” (M-105), “Revenge” (M-200), “Rybnik Donbassa” (V-202), etc. However, these names were not placed at the ship sides. The thing is that during the time of the Great Patriotic War, many ships and submarines were built on the money raised by the people, thus, it was the initiators of the money collection process who chosen the ship names. At the moment of solemn ceremony of handing these ships over to the Navy representatives, the ship names were written with a white paint at the conning tower railing. But these names were registered only in the ship documentation and they never appeared on the ship sides.

During the pre-war years, the foundations of the new battleships named “Soviet Union”, “Soviet Russia” and “Soviet Ukraine” were laid. As one can understand, the word “red” surrendered its position to the word “soviet”. However, these names existed only on paper as well. Unfortunately, the War hindered the termination of these ships construction.

New cruisers, put into service on the eve of the War, were named “Kirov”, “Voroshilov”, “Molotov” and “Maksim Gorky”. In compliance with the tradition that had, basically, existed well before the revolution, the largest battleships were named in honor of the high-ranked Party members. Only “Maksim Gorky” stands against the background of other ships. In the history of the Russian and Soviet Navy, a writer’s name was used for the battleships naming for the first time ever. Examples of that kind took place only in Italy where one of the Italian Navy battleships was named “Dante Aligieri”. It is a well-known historical fact that M. Gorky, while visiting Capri, was invited on board of the battleship “Commune of Paris” and cruiser “Profintern” when they were on their way from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea; maybe, it was the reason why the name of the “great proletarian writer”, as he was called during the 1930th, appeared on the new cruiser side.

Several trends can be traces in the post-war ship naming system. First of all, the rebirth of the old tradition of naming ships in honor of the famous commanders and admirals as well as big cities. Secondly, the revival of the Imperial Navy ships names. Thirdly, giving names to the ships in memory of the Great Patriotic War heroes.

At the present time, one can read the revived names at the ship sides: “Varyag”, “Ochakov”, “Stoyky” (“Steady”), “Victory”, “Admiral Lazarev”, “Alexander Suvorov”, “Alexander Nevskiy”, “Dmitriy Pozharsky”, “Admiral Makarov”, “Steregushiy” (“On guard”), “Sebastopol”, “Petropavlovsk”. Unfortunately, many Russian Navy ship names are wrongly neglected. Such wonderful and famous names as “Novik”, “Russia”, “Gromoboy”, “Rurik’, “Askold”, “Oleg”, “Epic hero”, “Bayan”, “Diana”, “Pallada” should be restored to life together with the names given in memory of the Kulikovskaya Battle heroes – Alexander Peresvet and Rodion Oslyabi – which must be written on the sailors’ ribbons as it had been done before.

It is evident that the tradition of giving names of cities to the ships is preserved at the Russian Navy: “Kiev”, “Minsk”, “Moscow”, “Novorossiysk”, “Leningrad”, “Kerch”, “Sebastopol”, “Murmansk”. These ships, as the integral parts of our Navy, are still navigating the World seas and oceans. But the ship named “Stalingrad” is not among them. Of course, such name as Stalin may arouse negative emotions with many people, but, as a famous saying goes, the written words remain; moreover, this ship will be named not in the honor of Stalin but in the memory of the greatest victory under the city of Stalingrad during the Great Patriotic War.

During those tragic years, our people suffered terrible and immeasurable losses. Some names of a numerous number of fallen heroes can be seen now on the battleships and auxiliary ships of the Russian Navy, such as “Evgeniy Nikonov”, “Fedor Vidyaev”. Either sailor or sergeant-major or officer – their names are equally important and valuable to us. The tradition to give the battleships the names of the fallen heroes of the Great Patriotic War can be compared to the Eternal Fire that we burn on the earth in the memory of that heroic deed of our ancestors.

The first aircraft-carrier cruiser 1143.1 “Kiev”

There also appeared ships under the names of Marshal Timoshenko, Shaposhnikov and Vasilevsky. Unfortunately, the name of Marshal G. Zhukov is for the time being absent there, but what they do have is a ship named “Vasiliy Chapaev”. It is especially hard to understand or explain the reasons for this name to have appeared on the ship side. Can it be so that they could not find some regiments, divisions or any other military unit worth of being awarded with the name of this commander?

Anti-submarine aircraft-carrier cruiser 1123 “Moscow”


Over the last decades, as it was already mentioned, they have been trying to follow the rule of giving the ships of certain classes or types the names with a similar meaning. In this way, anti-submarine and aircraft-carrier cruisers were named “Moscow”, “Leningrad”, “Kiev”, “Minsk”… while missile-carrying cruisers were named in honor of Party members and statesmen like “Kirov”, “Frunze”, “Kalinin”, “Jury Andropov” (Under the Russian president’s decree, these cruisers were renamed as follows: “Admiral Ushakov”, “Admiral Lazarev”, “Admiral Nakhimov” and “Peter the Great”). Large anti-submarines of one of the series were also named after the cities of “Nikolaev”, “Ochakov”, “Kerch”, “Azov”, “Petropavlovsk”, “Tashkent”. As for another series of Military-Industrial Complex, in spite of the fact that the lead ship was named “Kronshtadt”, the rest of the ships got the names of the Russian and Soviet-time naval commanders as well as soviet marshals. Here one can hardly find any system or logic. The similar kind of mess is seen in the next series, too. Specifically, a lead ship is called “Udaloy” (“Daring”) while the other ships of this series are called after the soviet admirals, marshals and…the city of Simferopol. And here is another series of missile-carrying cruisers with the following names: “Grozny” (“Formidable”), “Admiral Golovko”, “Admiral Fokin” and “Varyag”, and another one: “Victory”, “Marshal Ustinov”, “Red Ukraine”. It is quite clear that there is no system as well. It is not uncommon that the ships under the names of “Kaganovich”, “Molotov”, “Chernenko”, “Brezhnev”, etc. had to be renamed. This fact only proves that we should pay a lot of attention and act with care while naming the ships.


Heavy nuclear-powered missile-carrying cruiser 1144 “Peter the Great”

One should always remember that each and every ship is a part of our Motherland, and its name should stir our best feelings making us proud of both our navy and country.

With the purpose of highlighting and emphasizing the individuality and uniqueness of every ship and the fact that it belongs to the Russian Navy, a Military Symbolism Commission with the Russian Heraldic Association is working on elaboration of individual emblems (coat of arms) for the ships. Another important issue of emblems approval for each of the Russian Navy – Northern Navy, Pacific Ocean Navy, Baltic Sea Navy and Black sea Navy – is also being considered. The key element of all the emblems is a double eagle. For example, on the eve of the Navy Day in June 1992, at a General meeting of officers and warrant officers of the Northern Navy cruiser “Admiral Nakhimov” a design of the ship emblem was adopted, which is as follows: a whale, an animal that “protects” and “patronizes” this cruiser, is depicted against a background of the Russian historical symbol. The other sign shows that this is a nuclear-powered ship. These emblems are going to be printed on the official blanks and forms, particularly, on commander’s and chief cabin’ invitation cards.