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Renaming Your Boat

Superstitions and conventions. What we did to make sure we got it right.

We had always heard that renaming a boat was a bad idea. According to legends, renaming was one way to ensure a vessel's premature demise, with many mishaps along the way. When we researched what it would take the first time we wanted to change a boat's name, we became so wary that we elected not to change her name after all. It was a name we could live with after all, and at the time we knew we would only be temporary caretakers of this fine vessel. So we left the name as it was, and for five years we had a wonderful time together, including two lightning strikes and some unpredictable mishaps like total electrical failure, but no severe problems that we could not overcome.

Aleria in her slip in Oxford, MD patiently awaiting her new name.
When it came to our next boat, which will be our home for a long time to come, we knew we had to give it a try. The name she had was meaningful to her caretaker before us, but it had no resonance with us...nor did any of her prior three names. We know she will take us on our world cruise and eventually home to Ireland , and she will be with us forever. We desperately wanted to name her ourselves.  In fact, she had just been repainted and was as yet looking sadly unnamed in her slip. We figured if she'd had three name changes already and sailed around the world most recently on her third name with a family of four aboard, she had to have good karma to begin with. So we decided to take the chance and rename her as our own.

That in itself was quite a weighty decision in that there are many old time superstitions about changing a boat’s name.  Some people feel it is bad luck, period, and there is no redemption.  Others have complex rules for what needs to be done to overcome the bad luck potential. We decided to subscribe to the second camp but wanted to do it right, not taking any unnecessary chances with the gods. As long as we handled the denaming and renaming properly, we’d be preserving that karma for posterity, right?   So we went about learning what it would take.

There are several ways to de-name a boat properly as we learned.  One is to sink her and then raise her with a new name.  Another involves a virgin sacrifice on the foredeck.  These were both a bit too extreme for our taste.  Then we found the answer.  It involved removing the old name from everything onboard, including logbooks, charts, and safety gear, then dedicating a bottle of the best champagne you can afford with an incantation to every god of the seas, oceans, and winds that you can find.  We even found a great guide online in “Vigor’s Interdenominational Boat Denaming Ceremony” by John Vigor, and modified his words to include the Celtic gods as well (  Armed with an official denaming ceremony, the questions now became what do we name her and how?

For some reason, boats are always considered female. It used to be that working vessels had classic names like Kathryn Lee or Molly B, while adventurers might be named Bounty or Victory.  Pleasure yachts received names like Atalanta and Oceania .  More recently, the mega racing and exploration yachts were christened with noble names like Endeavor and Courageous, or Endurance and Seaventure.  Cruising yachts started getting whimsical names like “FantaSea” and “Seabatacle” or astrological names such as “Cygnus”.  I’d always looked at boat names and wondered how people arrived at their selections. It wasn’t until we had to name one ourselves that we realized just how difficult it can be.

The first thing to decide in my mind was gender.  Alex never had a question about that one. Was this lovely 29-year-old Bowman 57 a she?  How would we know? 

Let me explain.  I had long ago started naming my cars to reflect male gender.  You see, they were all sporty, had manual transmissions, and I just didn’t feel I could develop the same relationship with female cars as with male cars.  So my Japanese cars were named “Sammy”, short for Samurai and my German cars were named “Maxie” for Maximillian.  In contrast, my husband’s car is Lillie.  She and I have a special relationship.  We’ve learned to tolerate each other but that’s not the relationship I wanted with my beautiful sailing vessel…the one that would take us on our world I was being cautious (superstitious?).

The first time we went aboard and stayed overnight, without even leaving the dock, we both knew.  We knew she was noble, we knew she had a kind soul but mystical personality, we knew she cared about the people she lived with, and we knew she was absolutely feminine.  I can’t tell you how we knew, aside from the fact that she actually sang to us (the mizzen boom has had hardware removed and when the wind is at a certain angle, she plays native or celtic-like tunes on her boom – it’s hauntingly beautiful).  The message was strong and clear. Not just any name would do. SHE would let us know what was right for her.  SHE would take us home safely.

The long, agonizing search began.  We looked through books, searched online, asked all our friends, and made endless notations.  We looked to the gods and the pirates for inspiration.  We even asked “experts”. Boat US actually has an online boat name directory (over 6000 names) that was helpful, especially in avoiding the most common names, which they provide in a top 10 most popular boat names of the year listing ( 

We made lists and cross checked them.  We researched her provenance and learned really interesting things about her, including that she’d been commissioned by Andre Watts, the world renowned pianist.  So the name had to be lyrical.  Her prior names were “Manic Moment”, “Kestrel”, and “Papagayo.”  This would prove important later when we searched through all the gear trying to eliminate all prior identification.

We’d wake up in the middle of the night and shout out a name, but none made it past each others’ scrutiny.  Our friends and relatives tried in earnest but “Dame of Clew Bay” just wasn’t regal.  We even went back in history and tried to borrow from our ancestors, one of whom is a pirate queen (Grace O’Malley) and the other of whom is a well known writer of the sea (Joseph Conrad).  Even with such impressive inspiration, nothing worked.  Especially when we  

  1. couldn’t say it three times really fast as you have to do on the radio 
  2. had to explain its meaning  
  3. couldn’t make it understood to foreigners  
  4. realized it wouldn’t fit on our very shapely but small transom.

Back to the drawing board!  We even tried mixing our names together – Daria, Alex, Blackwell, Korzeniowski (no wonder great uncle JC changed it to Conrad).  Alexia, Darex, Dalex, Daral, Alia, Aria, Black Swan…Alia is our niece’s nickname so that was too confusing…Aria, now that could work! Lyrical, but a little too close to Daria.   Onyx is our black cruising kitty, so how about Opal?  Nope.

We were just about to give up and settle for a name we were okay with but not thrilled about, when there it was.  It was a short, musical word that evoked the name of a kingdom far away and long ago.  Aleria.  It, too, stemmed from our names but somehow we had missed this exact combination of letters before. Yes, Aleria, a mystical name evoking Celtic images of magic and mysticism.  A place of enchanted dreams and haunting lyrics. A perfect name for the chariot in which to chase our dreams.

Aleria.  The name whispers itself and rolls out like mist, even three times.  AleriaAleria. Aleria.   It’s not really affected by language barriers, and it fits on the transom! (we have since installed a windvane self steering on the transom so her name is now on either side of the stern.)

What’s more, in researching the name, we learned it means eagle in Latin.  How perfect, with all her sails (cutter rigged ketch) she will spread her wings and soar majestically.  We, thought, "Yes absolutely, this is her name.  Aleria will take us safely home."

We named her in an elaborate but private ceremony, first taking care to de-name her properly.  As I mentioned, that had involved complete removal of all evidence of prior names, followed by an incantation to the gods to extend us the same kindness and protection afforded to all her prior incarnations. 

Then we named her, with a dedication to the gods, including Neptune, Aeolus, and Mannannan mac Lir, the mischievous Celtic god protecting the waters of Ireland and beyond and guarding the passage between this world and the next.  We did not break the bottle over the bow.  We shared our bottle of very good champagne with the gods, with Aleria, and with each other. We proclaimed her Aleria under the stars on a beautiful moonlit night on the Chesapeake . 

Naming complete, Aleria sports her new logo design on her shapely stern.

We had laminated a printed nameplate for the trip home and mounted it temporarily on her stern.  When we got home, we’d have a logo created and reproduced for permanent display, but for now it was enough for her to be named so regally. 

The next morning, we dropped our lines and in a three-day offshore passage, brought each other safely home.  The adventure had begun.

When we got home, we designed a custom logo working with an artist to create a digital file. It was first done in blue but we realized that Aleria's colors were going to be sea green and white. So we recast the image in green and sent it off to the folks at Boat US to create a stick on decal for the stern. We thought this would be far simpler than having it painted on. In fact, it couldn't have been easier. We sent them the digital file, the dimensions of the stern, and a photo of the stern so they could confirm optimal placing. In a couple of weeks, we received a sheet of clear plastic with Aleria beautifully imprinted.

To apply the name, we had to choose a calm day and we had to thoroughly clean the stern of any contaminants with rubbing alcohol. Then, the instructions were to spray the stern with a solution of dish soap which would allow us to shift the decal around to get it straight before it dried. We were skeptical, but it really worked! Alex was down in the dinghy below the stern, I was on deck providing access to supplies and prepping the decal. (We understand clearly why it would not have worked on a windy day.) He sprayed the stern as instructed, we pealed the backing off slowly and placed the decal on the stern. It went on crooked at first, naturally, but it was so easy to slide around it took little effort to get it straight. A little squeegeeing to get the bubbles out and, voila, we had a lovely name in a beautiful graphic logo.

Once it was done, Alex took a picture then climbed aboard. I was ready with our second bottle of champagne and we re-confirmed her christening once again, with the obligatory toast to the gods. From then on, it was a great summer with lots of friends and adventures. Yes, Aleria is a happy boat with a happy name. It was worth the effort.

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