HMS Belfast off Scapa Flow IWM (A 18642)

The Royal Navy has always gloried in its traditions, none more so than the tradition of naming ships. A ship’s name, motto and badge serve as a great source of pride for its crew and a historic pride in the tradition of ships’ forebears. Names such as Ark Royal, Queen Elizabeth, or Invincible have often been repeated in British naval vessels since the days of the age of sail.

Today ships of the Royal Navy are usually named either in terms of royalty such as Prince of Wales, or Royal Sovereign or with martial terms such as Astute, Daring or Defiant. Medium ships such as cruisers have also been traditionally named after British cities such as Glasgow, Cardiff or Belfast. British tradition differs somewhat from other major navies, such as the US, French or Russian which often name major warships after named historic figures.

Another tradition is to consider ships as female, referring to them as ‘she’. Although it may sound strange referring to an inanimate object as ‘she’, this tradition relates to the idea of a female figure such as a mother or goddess guiding and protecting a ship and crew. Another idea is that in many languages, objects are referred to using feminine or masculine nouns. This is less common in English which tends to use gender-neutral nouns, however referring to ships as ‘she’ may refer to far more ancient traditions.

Interestingly, Captain Ernst Lindemann of the German battleship Bismarck referred to his ship as ‘he’, in view of its awesome power. In popular parlance, the tradition of naming ships ‘she’ has now become less common. It's worth noting that the shipping industry newspaper, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, now calls ships ‘it’.

HMS Belfast

Veterans of HMS Belfast pose for photos on board, March 16 2018
HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast veterans remember their ship

HMS Belfast veterans John Harrison, Ron Yardley and Mike Matthews remember their beloved ship by telling stories of their experiences on board.

HMS Belfast arrives at the pool of London
© The rightsholder (IWM CT 381)
HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast at 80

Explore the history of this famous warship and discover new stories from some of her veterans as we mark 80 years of HMS Belfast.

Kevin - Chief Yeoman on HMS Belfast
Kevin - Chief Yeoman on HMS Belfast
Behind the scenes

What Does It Take To Be Chief Yeoman On HMS Belfast?

We caught up with Kevin Price – Chief Yeoman on HMS Belfast to find out how he got his unusual job and what it's like to have a warship for an office.