I'm looking for a reasonable, in-universe explanation that works with the Star Trek canon.

It is a well-known fact that Kirk's Enterprise as seen in the original series is of the Constitution class. So why does the dedication plaque on the bridge say that it is of the "Starship Class?"

Note also that the Enterprise in the J.J. Abrams reboot also has a plaque that says it is of the "Starship Class."

  • 2
    Might as well ask why Starfleet magically had a different name in TOS's early continuity, and the Federation didn't seem to exist. The answer? They just hadn't invented these details, yet. "It is a well-known fact [..] is of the Constitution class" may be true now, but it most certainly wasn't in 1966! Feb 13, 2013 at 22:11
  • So to look for a canon explanation you could just come up with anything, and it would hold no inherent weight. Feb 13, 2013 at 22:12

4 Answers 4


This page on Memory Alpha says:

The Constitution-class starships, which were also known as Starship-class or Class I Heavy Cruisers

Class I Heavy Cruisers evidently refers to the type of ship the Enterprise is. As for Starship-class or Constitution-class, there is sort-of an explanation. Originally the Enterprise was referred to as "Starship-class", but in some later TOS episodes, the term "Constitution-class" comes along, although mostly in props and background material. "Constitution-class" was first used to describe the enterprise in dialogue by Picard in TNG.

The "canon" explanation is basically inferred from these details, and basically says that at some point around the time of the events of TOS, Starfleet renamed Starship-class as Constitution-class, which explains the fact that documents and plaques etc on the Enterprise refer to the ship as both; especially in TOS.

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    I wonder why Starfleet would rename a class. Maybe the fleet was more eclectic back in the day, and later evolved into a more organized entity with more formalized classes.
    – RunnerRick
    Jan 26, 2011 at 14:24
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    @RickRoth: Just poor planning on the part of the writers. Nothing more. I'd call Starship-Class becoming Constitution-Class a retcon. JJ Abram's allusion to it would just be a nod to the first plaque.
    – MPelletier
    Jan 26, 2011 at 14:26
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    @MPelletier Agreed. I'm just wondering about plausible, in-universe explanations. For example, say you were writing a story (which I am not), you would want a way to explain it (assuming it was integral to the plot). Another scenario might be, you're playing a Star Trek RPG and you want a good in-game/in-character response. Another example would be you live in a reality distortion field where you think you live in the Star Trek universe and don't want to burst your bubble! ;)
    – RunnerRick
    Jan 26, 2011 at 14:34
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    @RickRoth: I'm well aware of the frustration inherent to these things. There are several other cases in real life where naming conventions have to be changed or are obtuse. Not long ago, someone asked on SU why drive letters start with C:\ and not A:\. The question gained a lot of attention (mostly for making so many people feel suddenly old). In a few decades, that knowledge will be trivial...
    – MPelletier
    Jan 26, 2011 at 14:59
  • @MPelletier Good points.
    – RunnerRick
    Jan 27, 2011 at 4:10

Star-ship Class is like saying Freighter Class or Passenger Class etc. Star-ship Class indicates it is a long duration, long range, high speed, heavily armed exploration vessel. That's why being a Star-ship Captain holds a certain amount of prestige and is different from being a Freighter Captain. I don't recall Non Star-fleet captains ever referring to themselves as Star-ship Captains. When the original designs were put to the 'Star-ship Division' and prior to the Constitution Class being designated, all shipyard drawings and drafts carried the standard Star-ship Classification. During the refit of Enterprise at the time of ST:TMP the upgrade was designated Constitution II Class. There was enough of the old ship underneath that it couldn't be classified as a whole new Class. This is given some credence by the tactical displays on the bridge which actually show the outline and deck plans of the original Constitution Class vessel.

  • This answer would be much better with some pictures or quotes to back it up.
    – Valorum
    Apr 19, 2014 at 8:41
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    This is backed up in the TOS episode "Bread and Circuses" by Captain Merik: "[Kirk] commands not just a spaceship, Proconsul, but a starship. A very special vessel and crew. I tried for such a command." (from the script, I seem to recall the actual episode dialog differing slightly but with the same meaning). Aug 17, 2016 at 17:54
  • (feel free to edit this into your answer if you think it's relevant) Aug 17, 2016 at 18:07

IMHO in a modern navy one might say that all battleships are in the battleship class, or type, or sort, or kind, or set and all aircraft carriers are members of the aircraft carrier class, or type, or sort, or kind, or set, and all destroyers are in the destroyer class, or type, or sort, or kind, or set, and so on.

That is speaking very generally. Almost all battleships of the US Navy have hull numbers in the series from BB 1 (USS Indiana 1895) to BB 64 (USS Wisconsin 1944). US Navy aircraft carries have hull numbers from CV-1 (USS Langley, 1922) to CV-67 (USS John F. Kennedy 1968) or CVN-68 (USS Nimitz 1975) to CVN-77 (USS George H.W. Bush 2009).

But a class of vehicles is usually used in the sense of a set of vehicles built to the same set of plans and specifications with only comparatively minor modifications.

For example there are hundreds of cruise ships operating today, but only three operating ships of the largest class, the Oasis class, and three of the next largest class, the Freedom class.

At the present time all the aircraft carriers in service in the US Navy are Nimitz class, but three of the Ford class are in stages of construction.

During World War II the US Navy had four Iowa class battleships, two North Carolina class battleships, four South Dakota class battleships, three Colorado class battleships, two Tennessee class battleships, three New Mexico class battleships, two Pennsylvania class battleships, and so on.

IMHO in the era of TOS any civilian or Starfleet spaceship that traveled between stars was a starship in the usual sense of the word, but in the eyes of Starfleet members the word starship was reserved for large powerful ships made for exploring and protecting the far frontiers of the Federation. Not just spaceships or starships but STARSHIPS.

If the Constitution class starships were the first starships to be built they might have been listed as Starship class Starfleet vessels until the next class of starships was introducted, and then they might have been renamed Constitution class starships without changing the plaques on the bridges.

Or possibly the plaque on the bridge states that the Enterprise is a member of the Starship class, or type, or sort, or kind, or set, of Starfleet vehicles without giving the further detail that it is a member of the Constitution class subset of the Starship class - even though according to 20th or 21st century practices it would be usual to describe it as a Constitution class instead of a Starship class.


The answer is as follows:

At the time enterprise was created in the 2100's, (nx-01) the class was designated "starship class" to reflect its intent to explore other systems, as opposed to the previous ships that explored our solar system.

By the 2400's; there were more than one class of ship, and the name "Enterprise" was given to a ship of prestige, due to its honor of being the name of the first starship. It was in the class designated "Constitution class", but "Starship class" continued for enterprise, since the name is eternal.

In other words, by naming the ship Pacard commanded, "Enterprise" it continued to be "the same ship" that Archer commanded, thus "starship class", but it was built to spec of the far more advanced ships of the "Constitution class", so that particular vessel was of two separate classes.

That's right. The Enterprise was the classiest ship ever.

The ships Kirk commanded in each timeline were in the same situation.

In fact, technically...

All of them should be Nimitz class as well, but Roddenberry didn't know about this whole thing. It was quietly written in by writers later, once the series was taken more seriously in general.


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    Complete rubbish, sorry. The name of a ship has nothing to do with the class of its design. NX-01 was NX-class (odd name but there we go), anyway, not "Starship class". Feb 6, 2015 at 16:58
  • Not true. The NX was because it was a prototype. It was starship class, and the reason for Enterprise A-J being dual class was as stated.
    – some dude
    Feb 6, 2015 at 22:57
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    Please provide evidence for your claims. I have never heard them before. Feb 7, 2015 at 4:38
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    On the contrary, it is your responsibility to provide evidence for your claims. This site isn't a rumour collection. That I've never heard these claims before is intended only to imply that I doubt you can find such evidence, because I don't believe your claims to be true. Yes, I have requested that you convince me, and that is your job in this scenario. You can't just say "it's accurate" and expect everybody to believe you for the sake of it. Feb 7, 2015 at 16:50
  • 3
    Um, what? Lol. Nobody's "trolling". Feb 7, 2015 at 18:25

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