Origin of RN unarmoured wooden screw vessel names
Origin of RN unarmoured wooden screw vessel names

Royal NavyVesselsRoyal Navy unarmoured wooden screw vessels

The table below gives my interpretation of the origins of the names of the unarmoured wooden screw vessels (sloops and larger) of the Royal Navy. Note that in practice, many of these ships will have been named for previous ships of the same name, rather than the actual subjects given here.

Follow the links in the Name column for more details of the ships themselves.

The 200 names are grouped into the following categories:
 Geo Geographical locations; often with a maritime connection or the site of a British victory (39)
 Nat The natural world: animals - often with a maritime connection or of an aggressive nature, gemstones, astronomical objects etc. (32)
 Per Historical personages (26)
 Gr Greek history or mythology (37)
 Rom Roman history or mythology (12)
 Fict Other fictional or mythological personages; some of these are very tenuous (14)
 Mind "States of mind"; generally warlike or admirable (21)
 Misc Miscellaneous (15)
 ??? Unknown (4)
Name Group Interpretation
Aboukir Geo Location (Aboukir Bay) of the battle (also known as the Battle of the Nile) in which Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Admiral Brueys' French fleet on 1 August 1798. This defeat put an end to French designs in the Middle East.
Africa Geo Continent.
Agamemnon Gr Son of Atreus, king of Mycenae. Leader of the Greek army in the Trojan war. Killed by his rival for the throne of Mycene, Aegisthus, and his own wife, Clytemnestra, upon his return from Troy.
Ajax Gr Greek hero of the Trojan war; killed himself when the weapons of Achilles were awarded to Odysseus and not to him.
Albion Geo Poetic name for England.
Alert Mind  
Algiers Geo In 1816 an Anglo-Dutch squadron under Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833) visited Algiers to demand the release of the British Consul and over 1000 Christian slaves, mainly captured seamen. When no satisfactory reply was received the fleet bombarded Algiers on 27 August; the subsequent treaty broke the power of the "Barbary pirates," who had plagued European commerce in the Mediterranean for centuries. Pellew was created Viscount Exmouth for his role.
Amazon Geo South American river.
Amethyst Nat Gemstone.
Amphion Gr His mother, Antiope, was seduced by Zeus and bore him twin sons, Zethus and Amphion. Fleeing to escape the wrath of her father, she abandoned her infants and they were raised by shepherds. Amphion subsequently married Niobe.
Anson Per Admiral George Anson (1697-1762). Sent to attack Spanish possessions in South America, he circumnavigated the world between 1740 and 1744, taking much Spanish treasure, but loosing most of his men to disease. Defeated the French fleet under Admiral La Jonquiére off Cape Finisterre on 14 May 1747. First lord of the admiralty 1757-1762.
Archer Misc  
Arethusa Gr A nymph; daughter of Nereus and Doris. She was favoured by Artemis and loved by the river god Alpheus. When Alpheus tried to abduct her, she fled under the ocean to the isle of Ortygia, where Artemis changed her into a fountain. Alpheus followed her and was himself changed into a river and united with her.
Ariadne Gr Cretan princess. She gave Theseus a thread and a sword allowing him to escape from the Cretan labyrinth. She followed Theseus from Crete, but he abandoned her to Dionysus.
Ariel Fict Prospero's sprite in Shakespeare's "the Tempest".
Arrogant Mind  
Atlas Gr A Titan. As punishment for his part in the uprising of the Titans against the Olympian gods, he was condemned to carry the heavens on his shoulders.
Aurora Rom Roman name for Eos, Greek goddess of the dawn, sister of Helios (sun) and Selene (moon). Also the Northern or Southern Lights (aurora borealis or aurora australis).
Bacchante Rom A devotee of Bacchus, the god of wine.
Barrosa Geo Location of a land battle (near Cadiz) on 5 March 1811. English forces under Sir Thomas Graham attacked French forces under Marshal Victor besieging Cadiz. Despite initial successes, Graham was forced to retreat after his Spanish allies, led by the Count de la Pena, departed the field.
Blanche Misc French frigate, one of a a number of vessels captured by Vengeance (74) and three other 3rd rates on 21 December 1779 in the West Indies.
Blenheim Geo Location (in Bavaria) of a battle of the War of the Spanish Succession on 13 August 1704. A French-Bavarian advance on Vienna was defeated by an international (mainly Austrian, British and Dutch) force. The British, Dutch and some other forces were commanded by the Duke of Marlborough. The French were thrown back across the Rhine. Bavaria was knocked out of the war and occupied, and the French allies of Savoy and Portugal changed sides.
Bombay Geo City (present day Mumbai) on the west coast of India.
Brisk Mind  
Bristol Geo English maritime city.
Briton Geo Inhabitant of Great Britain.
Brunswick Per King George I (ruled 1714-1727) was the first British king from the Hanover line of the House of Brunswick.
Cadmus Gr Founder of the city of Thebes. He killed the sacred dragon that guarded the spring of Ares. Athena told him to sow the dragon's teeth, and from these sprang the Sparti (sown men), ancestors of the noble families of Thebes.
Caesar Rom Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC). Roman military and political leader, conquered Gaul and launched the first Roman invasion of Britain. After a civil war he was the undisputed master of the Roman world and later dictator for life. He heavily centralized the faltering government of the Roman Republic. His assassination led to a second set of civil wars and the replacement of the Republic by the Empire under his grand-nephew and adopted son, Caesar Augustus.
Camelion Nat Reptile (now spelt Chameleon).
Centurion Rom A Roman officer commanding a century or company, the strength of which varied from fifty to one hundred men.
Challenger Mind  
Chanticleer Fict The cock in the medieval stories of "Reynard the Fox".
Charybdis Gr A female sea monster, who sucked in and spewed out huge amounts of water, creating a whirlpool in the Strait of Messina; daughter of Poseidon and sister of Scylla.
Chesapeake Geo On 1 June 1813, during the "War of 1812" the United States frigate Chesapeake (Capt. James Lawrence) left Boston to confront the Royal Navy frigate Shannon (Capt. Philip Bowes Vere Broke). After an engagement of only 15 minutes the Chesapeake was forced to strike her colours, despite the last exhortation of the mortally wounded Laurence: "Don't Give Up The Ship". The Chesapeake had been named for the battle of the Chesapeake on 5 September 1781 between a British fleet led by Rear-Adm. Thomas Graves and a French fleet led by Rear-Adm. the Comte de Grasse, where the French victory ultimately resulted in the surrender of Cornwallis after the Battle of Yorktown, and the later recognition of the independence of the United States by Britain.
Clio Gr The muse of history.
Collingwood Per Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (1750-1810). Captain of Barfleur on the "Glorious 1st of June" (1794) and of Excellent at Cape St Vincent (14 February 1797). Led the lee column at Trafalgar (21 October 1805).
Colossus Mind  
Columbine Nat A flower; common name for the genus Aquilegia. Flowering perennials belonging to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.
Conflict Mind  
Conqueror Mind  
Constance Fict Constance, Duchess of Brittany, widow to Geffrey (John's elder brother) in Shakespeare's "King John".
Cordelia Fict Lear's youngest daughter in Shakespeare's "King Lear".
Cornwallis Per Admiral Sir William Cornwallis (1744-1819), Commander-in chief in the West Indies in 1796. Commander of the Channel fleet in 1801.
Cossack Geo A warlike Russian people.
Cressy Geo Location of the victory of the English (led by King Edward III and his son, the Black Prince) over the French army of Philip VI on 26 August 1346. The first battle on the continent where an English army fought mainly as infantry and used the English long bow against mounted knights.
Cruizer Misc  
Curacoa Geo Island in the south-western Caribbean, 35 miles north of Venezuela. The largest of the Netherlands Antilles, captured from Spain in 1634.
Curlew Nat A seabird.
Danae Gr Mother of Perseus, who accidentally killed her father Acristius with a discus, thus fulfilling a prophesy.
Daphne Gr A nymph. She was loved by Apollo who pursued her. She prayed to Gaea for aid and was changed into a laurel tree.
Dauntless Mind  
Defiance Mind  
Desperate Mind  
Diadem Nat Gemstone.
Diamond Nat Gemstone.
Dido Rom Fled from Tyre when her brother, Pygmalion, killed her husband. Founded Carthage. Killed herself when the shipwrecked Aeneas was ordered by the gods to leave Carthage.
Donegal Geo In north-west Ireland. The previous ship of this name was the renamed French Hoche, carrying the "United Irishman" Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), which was captured by Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren on 12 October 1798 in Lough Swilly.
Doris Gr The wife of Nereus and mother of the fifty Nereids (sea-nymphs).
Druid Misc  
Dryad Gr A general name for wood nymphs.
Duke of Wellington Per Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852). Commander of the British Army in the Peninsular War, forced the French out of Spain in 1812 and reinforced his victory against the French at Toulouse. In 1814 granted the title of Duke of Wellington. Commander of the British forces which, together with the Prussian forces of von Blücher, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815. Tory Prime Minister 1828-1830.
Duncan Per Admiral Adam Duncan (1731-1804) defeated the Dutch fleet under Vice-admiral de Winter off Camperduin (Kamperduin) on 11 October 1797; the Dutch fleet was about to attack the British coast.
Eclipse Nat ...of the sun or moon, a natural phenomenon.
Edgar Fict The son of the Earl of Gloucester who takes rule of the kingdom at the end of Shakespeare's "King Lear".
Edinburgh Geo Capital city of Scotland.
Emerald Nat Gemstone.
Encounter Misc  
Encounter Misc  
Endymion Gr Handsome prince who was loved by Selene, goddess of the moon, who kept him in permanent sleep in a cave where she visited him every night.
Esk Geo River on the English/Scottish border.
Eurotas Gr (God of the) Eurotas (Evrótas) River in the Peloponnesus.
Euryalus Gr One of the Epigonoi (The sons of the seven heroes who unsuccessfully tried to conquer Thebes), and one of Jason's Argonauts.
Exmouth Per Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833). On 27 August 1816 an Anglo-Dutch squadron under his command bombarded Algiers, after the Bey refused to release the British Consul and over 1000 Christian slaves, mainly captured seamen; the subsequent treaty broke the power of the "Barbary pirates," who had plagued European commerce in the Mediterranean for centuries. Pellew was created Viscount Exmouth for his role.
Falcon Nat Bird of pray.
Fawn Nat Young deer.
Forte Misc Name of a French frigate captured on 28 February 1799 by the British frigate Sibylle, Captain Edward Cooke, off the Bengal river.
Forth ???  
Fox Nat Carnivorous mammal.
Frederick William Per Friedrich Wilhelm Nikolaus Karl von Preußen (1831-1888), Emperor of Germany (Frederick III) in the last year of his life. Married Victoria Adelaide Mary, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria in 1858.
Galatea Gr A sea-nymph, loved by Polyphemus, a Cyclops who wooed her with love songs.
Gannet Nat A seabird.
Gibraltar Geo British possession, ceded by Spain in 1713 under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, commanding the western entrance of the Mediterranean Sea.
Glasgow Geo Scottish city.
Goliath Fict Biblical giant, slain by David with a slingshot.
Greyhound Nat A fast running dog.
Hannibal Rom Carthaginian general (247-183 BC) whose marched on Rome from Spain across the Alps during the 2nd Punic War in 218-217 BC, but failed to take the city. In 202 BC, he was recalled to Africa to defend - unsuccessfully - Carthage against a Roman invasion. About to be delivered to the Romans later, he poisoned himself.
Harrier Nat Bird of prey.
Hastings Geo Town on the coast of England, south east of London.
Hawke Per Admiral Sir Edward Hawke (1705-1781). During the Seven Years War he chased the French fleet of Admiral de Conflans into Quiberon Bay (20 November 1759) and thereby ended the threat of a French invasion of Britain, and removed the French navy from the rest of the war.
Hero Gr Lover of Leander, who swam every night over the Hellespont to her, until her lamp - his beacon - was blown out and he drowned, whereupon she killed herself.
Highflyer Mind  
Hogue Geo Location (off La Hougue, Normandy) of the victory of a combined English (Admiral Edward Russell, afterwards earl of Orford) and Dutch (Admiral van Allemonde) fleet over a French fleet in the period 19-23 May 1692, which prevented a Jacobite invasion of England.
Hood Per Admiral Samuel Hood (1724-1816). He was Rodney's second in command at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica on 9 April 1792. In August 1793 he briefly occupied Toulon at the invitation of the French royalists.
Horatio Fict A friend of Hamlet and the only main character left alive at the end of Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
Hornet Nat An aggressive insect.
Howe Per Admiral Richard Howe (1726-1799). On the "Glorious First of June" 1794, at the first major naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, he defeated Rear Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, who had sailed from Brest to meet and escort a grain convoy arriving from the United States.
Icarus Gr When Minos refused to let Daedalus and his son, Icarus, leave Crete, Daedalus built wings of wax and feathers for himself and Icarus. Together they flew away, but Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when the wax melted. Daedalus escaped to Sicily.
Immortalité Mind (French: immortality)
Impérieuse Mind (French: imperial)
Irresistible Mind  
James Watt Per James Watt (1736-1819); a Glasgow instrument maker. His many improvements to the steam engine made its use as a mobile power source practicable.
Jason Gr When Pelias killed his father, the king, Jason was reared by the centaur Chiron. Later Pelias promised Jason his rightful kingdom if he would bring the Golden Fleece to Boeotia. Jason assembled Greece's bravest heroes and together they sailed in the Argo in quest of the fleece.
Juno Rom Goddess of the moon, wife and sister of Jupiter.
Leander Gr Swam every night over the Hellespont to his lover, Hero, until her lamp - his beacon - was blown out and he drowned.
Liffey Geo River in Ireland.
Lion Nat Carnivorous mammal; the king of the jungle.
Liverpool Geo English maritime city.
London Geo Capital city of the United Kingdom.
Lyra Nat Stellar constellation.
Majestic Mind  
Malacca Geo City in Malaysia. Handed over by the Netherlands to Britain in 1795, returned in 1808, but then traded back to Britain in 1826.
Marlborough Per John Churchill (1650-1722), created Duke of Marlborough in 1703 after a series of victories against France in the War of the Spanish Succession. Later in the war he soundly defeated the French at the battles of Blenheim (with Prince Eugene of Saxony) and Ramillies.
Mars Rom God of war (and a planet).
Meeanee Geo A village in Sind, India (now Pakistan), near Hyderabad. The location of the battle in which Sir Charles Napier broke the power of the mirs of Sind on 17 February 1843, resulting in the conquest and annexation of Sind.
Melpomene Gr The muse of (theatrical) tragedy.
Mersey Geo English river.
Miranda Fict The daughter of the sorcerer Prospero, the former Duke of Milan in Shakespeare's "the Tempest".
Modeste Misc Name of a French 64-gun ship captured at Lagos on 18 August 1759.
Mutine Misc Name of a French brig (La Mutine = the Mutineer) captured by the boats of Minerve and Lively near Santa Cruz on 28 May 1797.
Narcissus Gr Handsome young man who was punished by love of his own reflection in a well when he rejected the love of the nymph Echo. He fell into the well and drowned.
Nelson Per Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1815). On 1 August 1798 he defeated a French fleet under Admiral Brueys at the Battle of Aboukir (or the Nile), putting an end to French designs in the Middle East. Following the battle he was based at Naples where his celebrated liaison began with Lady Emma Hamilton, the wife of the British ambassador. He was second in command of the fleet sent against Denmark in 1801 and carried the assault on Copenhagen to a successful conclusion. At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 he inflicted a crushing defeat on the numerically superior Franco-Spanish fleet under Admiral Villeneuve, but was hit by a musket ball from a French sharpshooter and died on his flagship, Victory, in the knowledge that he had achieved another famous victory.
Neptune Rom God of the sea.
Newcastle Geo English maritime city.
Niger Geo West African river (and target of British exploratory and anti-slavery expeditions).
Nile Geo African River. Its mouth the location of the battle (also known as the Battle of Aboukir) in which Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Admiral Brueys' French fleet on 1 August 1798; the defeat put an end to French designs in the Middle East.
Niobe Gr Wife of Amphion. All her children were killed by Apollo and Artemis, when she boasted to their mother, the goddess Leto, that she had more children that Leto.
Nymphe Gr One of the lower gods, personifying various aspects of nature.
Octavia Fict Sister of Caesar in Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra". Anthony marries her but soon returns to his mistress Cleopatra.
Orestes Gr Son of Agamnemnon and Clytemnestra, who avenged his father by killing his murderer, Aegisthus, and his mother, who had been seduced by Aegisthus. He was tried by the Furies (Erinyes), the goddesses of revenge, but freed when Athene cast the deciding vote.
Orion Gr A hunter in love with Merope. He lost the sight of his eyes in an attempt to kidnap Merope when her father demanded that he first perform an heroic deed. His sight was restored, but he was killed by Artemis, who loved him.
Orlando Per Character from the mediaeval "Adventures of Rinaldo and Orlando".
Orpheus Gr The son of Calliope and either Oeagrus or Apollo; a musician and poet whose songs could charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. He was one of the Argonauts, and when the Argo had to pass the island of the Sirens, it was Orpheus' music which prevented the crew from being lured to destruction.
Pantaloon Misc A buffoon in tight trousers in the Italian comedy.
Pearl Nat Gemstone produced by oysters.
Pelican Nat Aquatic bird.
Pelorus Rom Hannibal's pilot, when he returned to Carthage from Italy (and hence also a navigational instrument giving bearings relative to the ship's bow).
Pembroke Per Presumably one of the Earls of Pembroke, but not Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl, who was First Lord of the Admiralty 1690-1692, as the first RN ship called Pembroke was launched in 1655.
Perseus Gr Son of Zeus and Danae. He slew the Medusa, whose visage turned men to stone, and defeated his enemies with the head attached to his shield. He fell in love with the beautiful Andromeda, and returned with her and his mother to Argos, his native land, where he accidentally killed his grandfather, Acrisius, with a discus, thereby fulfilling an ancient prophesy.
Peterel Nat Seabird.
Phaeton Gr Son of Helios, the sun god. Was allowed once to drive the fiery chariot, but was unable to control its wild horses, whereby the sun came too near to the earth and scorched part of north Africa.
Phoebe Gr A Titan. The mother of Leto and Asteria and the grandmother of Artemis.
Phoenix Fict According to legend, the phoenix lived in Arabia; when it reached the end of its life (500 years), it burned itself on a pyre of flames, and from the ashes a new phoenix arose.
Plumper ???  
Prince of Wales Per Edward Albert (1841-1910), the later King Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, was only nineteen when he the first member of the British royal family to visit North America in 1860, the year this ship was launched.
Prince Regent Per George IV (1762-1830) reigned from 1820, but was Prince Regent between 1811 and 1820, during the incapacity of his father, George III.
Princess Royal Per Eldest daughter of the monarch (in this case: Queen Victoria). Victoria Adelaide Mary (1840-1901), married the German Prince Frederick William.
Pylades Gr The son of Strophius, and trusty friend of Orestes.
Queen Misc  
Racer Misc  
Racoon Nat Woodland mammal.
Rapid Mind  
Rattler ???  
Rattler ???  
Rattlesnake Nat Aggressive reptile.
Reindeer Nat Artic deer.
Renown Mind  
Revenge Mind  
Reynard Fict A fox, central figure in the medieval stories about "Reynard the Fox"
Rinaldo Fict Character from the mediaeval "Adventures of Rinaldo and Orlando".
Rodney Per Admiral George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792). He defeated the French fleet of the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica on 9 April 1792.
Rosario Misc Name of a Spanish ship, N.S. del Rosario, taken by Romulus and Mahonesa off Cadiz on 24 May 1797.
Royal Albert Per Prince Albert (Francis Charles Augustus Albert Emmanuel Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; 1819-1861), cousin and husband of Queen Victoria.
Royal George Per George IV (1762-1830); ruled from 1820.
Royal Sovereign Misc  
Royal William Per William IV (1765-1837); ruled from 1830.
Royalist Mind  
Russell Per Admiral Edward Russell (1653-1727) commanded the Anglo-Dutch force that defeated the French at La Hogue in 1692. First Lord of the Admiralty 1694-1699. Created Earl of Orford 1697.
Sans Pareil Mind (French: without equal).
Sapphire Nat Gemstone.
Satellite Nat i.e. the moon.
Scout Misc  
Scylla Gr A six-headed monster in the Strait of Messina, daughter of Poseidon and sister of Charybdis.
Seahorse Nat Tropical fish.
Severn Geo English river.
Shannon Geo Irish river.
Shearwater Nat Seabird.
Sirius Gr The dog of the hunter Orion (also a prominent star).
Spartan Gr A warlike race.
St George Fict Patron saint of England.
St Jean d'Acre Geo City (also known as Acre or Acco) on the Bay of Acre in )now) northern Israel, unsuccessfully besieged by Napoleon between 18 March and 20 May 1799. His siege artillery was lost to a Royal Navy flotilla under Commodore Sir William Sidney Smith.
Sutlej Geo River in India on which decisive battles were fought during the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46).
Swallow Nat A fast flying bird.
Tartar Geo A warlike Russian people.
Tenedos Geo An island - now belonging to Turkey and called Bozcaada - in the Aegean Sea some 12 miles south of the Dardanelles. According to legend, Tenedos was the staging post of the Greek forces under Agamemnon during the Trojan War. It was used by Xerxes as a base during the Persian War and by Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth during operations against Constantinople in 1807.
Termagant Fict An imaginary being supposed by mediaeval Christians to be a Mohammedan deity or false god. Also a scolding, nagging bad-tempered woman.
Thalia Gr The muse of (theatrical) comedy.
Thetis Gr A sea-nymph, daughter of Nereus and Doris, and mother of Achilles.
Topaze Nat Gemstone.
Trafalgar Geo Location (off Cape Trafalgar on the Spanish coast, south of Cadiz) of the battle on 21 October 1805 between the British fleet (under Admiral Horatio Nelson) and a combined Spanish-French fleet (under Admiral Villeneuve); a British victory but Nelson was killed.
Tribune Rom  
Undaunted Mind  
Vestal Rom Pertaining to Vesta, the god of the hearth.
Victor Emanuel Per Victor Emanuel II (1820-1878), last king of Piedmont-Sardinia (1849-1861) and first king of united Italy (1861-1878). In 1859, assured of military support by Napoleon III of France, Piedmont-Sardinia went to war with Austria to liberate Lombardy. This, together with upheavals in the smaller central Italian states, and Garibaldi's successful campaign in southern Italy against the Neapolitan Bourbons, led to the creation of a united Italy.
Victoria Per Queen Victoria.
Wasp Nat Aggressive insect.
Waterloo Geo Location, just south of Brussels, of the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars where British, Prussian, and Dutch forces under the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon on 18 June 1815. Napoleon found Wellington's army isolated from his allies and began a direct offensive, but the British held on until joined by the Prussians under Marshal von Blücher. Four days later Napoleon abdicated for the second and final time.
Windsor Castle Geo Royal residence outside London.
Wolverine Nat Carnivorous mammal.
Zebra Nat African wild horse species.

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