Ships as Female – Why Are Ships Called She?

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Ever wonder why are ships called she and why so many ships are given female names? We can help you understand this tradition and why it continues.

Many people automatically refer to a ship as a “she,” but relatively few understand why this common maritime practice exists or why it continues. To help you understand this common practice and why it is relevant to the cruise industry, we will cover everything you need to know.

This means reviewing the history and this custom and explaining why ships were originally given feminine pronouns. We will even cover the recent controversy surrounding what some consider a dated practice.

Why Are Ships Called She?

While it may surprise you, there are many reasons why the maritime industry has a long history of referring to ships as “she” and giving them female names. While some argue about the true origin of the practice, the following are some of the most commonly accepted explanations.

Historical Associations with Female Deities

Many ancient cultures had female deities and goddesses associated with navigating the sea. For example, the ancient Greeks believed in Aphrodite, while the Ancient Romans worshipped Venus. These goddesses were connected to traversing the water, as well as protection, love, and beauty.

Golden figurehead on Sailing Ship
Golden figurehead on Sailing Ship (Photo Credit: Maria Nelasova / Shutterstock)

Historians believe that the fact that many cultures associate the water with a female deity or goddess explains why ships have been labeled with feminine pronouns by so many cultures throughout history.

For deeply religious cultures, connecting a ship and a feminine deity was likely seen as a way to increase the likelihood of a safe voyage.

After thousands of years, the practice has become so well established that it has become a strong tradition, even if modern-day practitioners no longer do so for the original reasons. 

Anthropomorphism and Associations with Protection

Anthropomorphism attributes human characteristics and labels to non-human objects or animals, including ships. By personifying a vessel by referring to it as a “she,” sailors throughout history could foster a stronger bond with their ship.

While there is far less of a disparity today, throughout history, the maritime world has been dominated by male sailors. Shipping vessels, naval ships, and even fishing boats were primarily navigated and traveled by men.

Cunard Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship
Cunard Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: chrisjj / Shutterstock)

It only makes sense that men at sea for long periods would begin associating the vessel responsible for their survival with a motherly protective role.

It is also believed that many sailors throughout history have named ships after lovers, famous women like Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary, or even their own mothers. Naturally, this would explain why ships would be given female pronouns.

Nautical Traditions

If you have ever spent time around sailors, they can be a somewhat superstitious bunch with all of their own terms and traditions.

Using feminine pronouns for ships and giving them female names could be explained as a tradition that has no logical explanation but has never stopped.

Resilient Lady Cruise Ship
Resilient Lady Cruise Ship

In other words, over the centuries, giving a sailing ship a female name has simply become an ingrained part of maritime culture. The custom could have been passed down for generations until it was firmly established as the standard.

Less Likely Explanations for Why Ships Are Called She

The Word Ship Has Latin Origins

The word ship takes its root from the Latin words “navis” and “naves,” which are considered feminine words. Like many of the Romance languages, like French and Portuguese, Latin genders words, including inanimate objects.

The problem with this explanation for the modern-day custom of referring to ships with feminine pronouns is that other objects considered feminine in Latin and other Romance languages, like the word “car,” are not referred to by these pronouns.

Then there is the fact that ships in modern languages with direct roots in Latin, like Spanish, often refer to ships and boats with masculine pronouns. 

While the Latin origins of many nautical terms certainly impact modern-day maritime customs, the truth is it is unlikely that it is why we still refer to a ship as a “she” or a “her.”

Women Are Associated with Grace and Elegance

Many historians and maritime experts also believe that a partial explanation for why a ship is labeled with a feminine pronoun is the traditional belief that a woman is associated with elegance and grace.

Valiant Lady Mermaid
Image Courtesy: Virgin Voyages

The theory is that some sailors and ship owners would believe that referring to their ship as she or giving it a female name would make it appear more beautiful and alluring to others.

While there is no way to disprove these theories, the other explanations have far more proof backing them.

Modern-Day Controversies Surrounding the Practice

In some circles, controversy surrounds the old practice of referring to all ships as “she.” The belief is that the patterns could perpetuate gender stereotypes and reinforce the misguided notions that all women have specific characteristics and personality traits.

There is also the belief that the practice could discourage women from pursuing careers within the maritime industry, as labeling the ship a “she” would make the women on board feel less valued.

AIDA Cruises Ship
Photo Credit: JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

Simply put, evolving perspectives on gender and how gendered pronouns are applied to language realms are beginning to pressure all industries to embrace gender-neutral language and pronouns.

Read Also: How Big Is the Cruise Ship Anchor?

While there certainly is some debate about whether or not the tradition of referring to a ship as she should continue, the practice persists to this day due to tradition and maritime customs.

Whether or not we will stop seeing ships with female names in the future is difficult to predict, but there is no denying that the practice has its critics.

Are Cruise Ships Called She?

In the past, every cruise ship was called “she,” and many were given female-sounding names. Today, the linguistic tradition continues, but more full-sized cruise ships are given more abstract names.

Final Words

Whether or not you choose to practice the maritime tradition and parlance of referring to a sailing ship as a “she” is entirely up to your own preferences. 

The cultural tradition still has its place in the maritime industry, including within the world of cruises. Still, if you prefer, you can always choose gender-neutral alternatives.

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