It seems whenever we hear mention of a runabout assigned to DS9 it's named after a river on Earth—the Rio Grande, the Ganges, the Yangtzee Kiang—is there a particular reason for this naming convention?

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    Out of universe: most classes of ships are named on a theme: the US Iowa-class,the British County-class, Town-class and River-class. The runabouts are Danube-class,so it seems the Federation decided to theme on Earth (and possibly non-Earth that we don't hear about) river names
    – HorusKol
    Aug 17 at 5:47
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    During WWII British bombers were named after towns (Lancaster, Stirling, Wellington, Halifax etc.) while with the exception of the Spitfire fighters were named for weather conditions (Typhoon, Tempest and of course the Hurricane). The runabouts are just a continuation of that tradition - names follow a theme.
    – GordonD
    Aug 17 at 8:32
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    Let’s just decide that a non-commissioned officer called Melody Pond settled on the naming convention before mysteriously disappearing from Starfleet, and leave it at that. Aug 17 at 10:32
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    KIRA: Chief O'Brien wants to know when you can stop by and inspect the new runabout. SISKO: I will be available at fourteen hundred hours. Tell him I want to name it the Rubicon. KIRA: The Rubicon it is. You know, the rate we go through runabouts, it's a good thing the Earth has so many rivers.
    – Valorum
    Aug 17 at 16:58
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    While Star Trek's producers generally preferred not to use exclusively Earth-centric names and references (generally following the rule that if there are three proper names, two can be from Earth but one must be alien), each of these ships was named for a river found on Earth. - According to DS9 co-creator Michael Piller, the writers had hoped to name runabouts after alien rivers too, but found it difficult to incorporate these names into scripts without unnecessary tangents to explain where they came from. Apparently referencing the Star Trek Sticker Book (p.13)
    – Valorum
    Aug 17 at 18:41

2 Answers 2


It is common in the US navy to name all the sister ships of the same construction class, or even all the ships with similar functions -battlesips, cruisers, aircraft carriers, oilers, torpedo boats, with theme names.

United States ship naming conventions for the U.S. Navy were established by congressional action at least as early as 1862. Title 13, section 1531, of the U.S. Code, enacted in that year, reads, in part,

The vessels of the Navy shall be named by the Secretary of the Navy under direction of the President according to the following rule: Sailing-vessels of the first class shall be named after the States of the Union, those of the second class after the rivers, those of the third class after the principal cities and towns and those of the fourth class as the President may direct.


And some of those rules may have been followed earlier. The last class of ships of the line of the US navy, the seven Delaware class ships started in 1820, were all named after states of the Union.


USS Merrimack, also improperly Merrimac, was a steam frigate, best known as the hull upon which the ironclad warship CSS Virginia was constructed during the American Civil War. The CSS Virginia then took part in the Battle of Hampton Roads (also known as "the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack") in the first engagement between ironclad warships.

Merrimack was the first of six screw frigates (steam frigates powered by screw propellers) begun in 1854. Like others of her class (Wabash, Roanoke, Niagara, Minnesota and Colorado), she was named after a river. The Merrimack originates in New Hampshire and flows through the town of Merrimac, Massachusetts, often considered an older spelling which has sometimes caused confusion of the name.1


So that is a precedent for a class of ships named after rivers.

Battleships (hull code BB), by law, were named for states, except for USS Kearsarge (BB-5), which was named after a mountain in Merrimack County and an American Civil War sloop-of-war.

Cruisers, both light and heavy (CL and CA), were named for cities in the United States and its territories, with the exception of USS Canberra (CA-70), which is named after HMAS Canberra (D33) and Canberra, the capital of Australia, making USS Canberra the only U.S. warship named for a foreign warship and foreign capital city.

Aircraft carriers, both with conventional and nuclear propulsion, (CV and CVN), have a history of various legacy names, mostly battles, until 1968, with the commissioning of USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). Since then, carriers have been named for U.S. presidents, with the exception of;

ships named Enterprise; there is a continuing exception for this name, first used in 1775, eight ships have carried the name, three of them aircraft carriers (CV-6, CVN-65 and CVN-80).

USS Nimitz (CVN-68), lead ship of her class, named for Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of all U.S. and Allied naval forces in the Pacific theatre during World War II,

USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), named for a former Congressman, Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee, Chairman of the successor United States House Committee on Armed Services, a strong supporter of the Navy through the Naval Act of 1938 (also called the "Vinson Acts") who became known as "The Father of the Two-Ocean Navy",


And every type of ship or construction class within a type seems to have a naming convention.

USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), named for a former United States Senator, President pro tempore of the Senate, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, and a strong supporter of the navy, who became known as "Father of America's modern navy".

  • Naming ships after states meant that you'd never be able to get more ships of the first class than you had states (or you'd get duplicates).Was this ever a restriction? I guess there are enough rivers and towns to never run out of those. Aug 17 at 23:01
  • @PaŭloEbermann Historically, the US Navy named battleships after states. Battleships are very expensive to build, so the US Navy never had more active battleships in commission than states. I think the most battleships the US Navy ever had at one time was 23 in 1945 (there were 48 states at the time). Today, there are no commissioned battleships in the US Navy, but 13 of the 14 Ohio class ballistic missile submarines are named for states.
    – Alex S
    Aug 18 at 1:31
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    The biggest problem is the Virginia class attack submarines of which there will eventually be 66 if the Navy gets their way. Obviously, not all can be named for states. So far only 28 of 34 are named for states, the rest are named for people or are named after famous submarines from WWII like the USS Wahoo. I guess the takeaway is that ship naming conventions are not strict. Exceptions can be made.
    – Alex S
    Aug 18 at 1:33
  • "Minnesota" and "Colorado" are obviously problematic after the full naming scheme got going... Aug 18 at 13:15

Star Trek appears to use current and historic naval traditions of theming a class of ships

The NX-Class ships were all named after space shuttles.

Since the USS John F Kennedy, US aircraft carriers have been named for people - presidents or admirals/generals. Before that, there have also been themes of naming them for battles but that was not consistent. Battleships and cruisers were named for US states and cities respectively.

From the 20th century, the Royal Navy named capital ships after famous ships of the past, which, to be fair, they’ve had a lot of. Other classes were named alliteratively: Basilisk, Beagle, Blanche, Boadicea, Brazen, Bulldog; Danae, Dauntless, Dragon, Durban, Diomede etc,

The Royal Australian Navy has a tradition of naming (and renaming) ships for towns and cities: there have been 4 Sydneys, 3 Melbournes, 3 Perths, and 4 Parramattas. The RAN has also reused names of merchant vessels that were pressed into service such as HMAS Kanimbla named for the merchant ship commandeered in WWII.

So, the tradition among anglophone navies at least is to a) recycle names and b) come up with a theme (however lame) and stick to it, and c) throw all that out the window and do what you want.

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    You say that battleships and cruisers were named after US cities? Don't you "remember the Maine"? It seems to me that Battleshipshave been named after US states since the wooden ships of the line like the USS Pennsylvania. Aug 17 at 13:31
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    American battleships were named after states. The battlecruisers (Alaska) named after territories. Cruisers were named after cities. Aug 17 at 15:54
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    Outies are named for states and innies for cities.
    – Futoque
    Aug 17 at 17:55
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    Oddly enough, in universe NX-01 Enteprise is named after the IRL Space Shuttle Enterprise which is IRL named after the NCC-1701 Enteprise which in-universe is presumably named after the NX-01 Enterprise. NCC-1701 is its own grandpa. Aug 17 at 22:07
  • On second thought, I guess it is great grandpa. I am required to be as pedantic as possible since we are on SFF.se. It was sort of grandpa before ST:Enterprise came out, before which the explicit connection from OV-101 to NCC-1701 could only be imagined in fan head canon. That quite a leap considering NCC-1701 was named (IRL) before OV-101 existed. But ST:Enterprise made the connection from OV-101 to NX-01 pretty explicit so that makes the whole loop canon. We only need to assume that NCC-1701 is named after NX-01 (in-universe) which is not much of a leap to make. Aug 19 at 16:31

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