Why are ships referred to as women and called she?

In English, we always refer to things by their gender. The terms ‘he’ or ‘she’ is mainly used when referring to human beings. Nevertheless, the term ‘she’ is also used when referring to vessels such as ships. The term has been used for many years. The main reason why people refer to a ship as ‘she’ is because men love it, and it is also unpredictable.

There are some cruise lines that allude to their ships being female - Princess Cruises for instance, and others such as the German AIDA Cruises that take that notion to a whole other level by literally painting bright red lips and mascara covered eyes on the sides of the ship. While this looks a bit silly today, it is actually part of an ancient maritime tradition of feminizing ships. We see this with everything from names to bowsprits carved in the shape of a beautiful young lady that was supposed to calm the seas.

Why Are Ships Called She?

Let's take a deeper look at this tradition of referring to ships as women and naming ships with female gender names.

When shipping first originated, it was only men who were allowed to be on board the ships. It was considered bad luck for women to be on a ship. As a result, it seemed there is a sexist approach to pretty much everything involving what a ship is called and this is true for military terms as well. For instance, it was believed that only an experienced man could handle a ship accordingly and that women on ships would be bad luck.

Despite this, most men love and greatly admired women for their role as a mother figure and even though a ship is an inanimate object, giving it a feminine name helps fill in the missing pieces.

When you take care of the ship well, it will also take care of you. A global discussion was initiated in the past century, and we can now understand some of these explanations in an in-depth manner. Some of the facts that we cannot overlook include ships being uncontrollable currently.

 Female figure on ship bowsprit

Some Historic And Cultural Reasons Why Sailors May Have Called Ships She In Naval History

In British Royal Navy tradition, the ships name is a huge source of pride for both the admiralty as well as crew and even the country as a whole. As the navy historically has been dominated by men, it is not surprising that ships are referred to as women.

British Royal Navy

However, it is not exclusively so. For instance, medium ships in the British Navy have been historically named after cities - Glasgow, Cardiff, and Belfast for instance. Even though a ship called Glasgow might not be immediately identified as female it is worth noting that in the English language especially, the ship is still called "she".

Officially though, this has begun to change as Lloyd's register is now listing ships as "it".

Goddesses And Religion

There are some traditional ties to the idea of the presence of goddesses and religion. The ship plays the protective role of a mother such that it ensures the whole crew is safe. Many ships currently have feminine names. For instance, the ship that Christopher Columbus used was known as “La Santa Maria,” a name referring to the Virgin Mary.

Personal Relationships With Inanimate Objects

The terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ are mainly used when referring to living things such as animals or human beings. When you have a personal relationship with the subject, you can get to use ‘he’ or ‘she. In this case, we can say that sailors have had a personal relationship with the ships in the industry that is currently male-dominated. Because of the intimate relationship, it is safe to say that the sailors can use the term ‘she’ when referring to a ship.

The Latin Word For Ship Is Navis

Using a linguistic approach, it is safe to say that the word ship was derived from Navis, which is a Latin word for ship and it is feminine. While modern English language does not use gendered language like this, the Latin word for ship, navis, is clearly an influence on why we call ships she.

Mother Figure To Protect The Sailors

Women are more of a mystery to the world in the context of Mother Nature or Mother Earth. The ship's primary purpose is to carry life; however, there is the need for a man to handle the vessel well. 

 


Some Historic And Cultural Reasons Why Sailors May Have Called Ships She Include:


1. There are some traditional ties to the idea of the presence of goddesses and religion. The ship plays the protective role of a mother such that it ensures the whole crew is safe. Many ships currently have feminine names. For instance, the ship that Christopher Columbus used was known as “La Santa Maria,” a name referring to the Virgin Mary.

2. The terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ are mainly used when referring to living things such as animals or human beings. When you have a personal relationship with the subject, you can get to use ‘he’ or ‘she. In this case, we can say that sailors have had a personal relationship with the ships in the industry that is currently male-dominated. Because of the intimate relationship, it is safe to say that the sailors can use the term ‘she’ when referring to a ship.

3. Using a linguistic approach, it is safe to say that the word ship was derived from Navis, which is a Latin word and it is feminine.

Women are more of a mystery to the world in the context of Mother Nature or Mother Earth. The ship's primary purpose is to carry life; however, there is the need for a man to handle the vessel well. 

 why are ships gendered female and referred to as women

Referring To Ships As Women - Modern Trends

Currently, there has been a decline when it comes to referring to ships as ‘she.’ Some of the registries are presently referring to ships as ‘it,’ and the term has been in use for many years. The term ‘it’ is also being used to refer to cars, nations, and even machines. The use of the term ‘she’ is currently considered inappropriate by many individuals. 

When an object is personified such that it is either male or female, there is the element of anachronism since we are taking into consideration there are many social fights that are currently focusing on the elimination of the self-defining tendency when it comes to gender.

Not All Historic Ships Are Gendered Female!

One notable exception to this tradition from a European perspective is the German battleship Bismark. While the convention at the time in World War II Germany would have been to refer to the ship as she, Captain Lindemann chose to refer to his ship in the masculine. According to Baron Von Mullenheim-Rechberg, the captain said that the ship should be referred to in the masculine, as a "he", due to the formidable strength and power ... attributes clearly not considered womanly or feminine.

 

Historical, Funny And Logical Reasons Why A Ship Is Called She

These reasons are clearly sexist but are commonly used by sailors and provide additional insight into why ships are called she. Clearly not all reasons are backed by science and historical record. However, like many things involved in naval culture, history, and tradition ... the reasons why ships are gendered female have many reasons that are more funny than serious. All of these make perfect sense though in a male-dominated society far away from wives and girlfriends.

1) The Ship Behaves Like a Woman

Do you want the ship to take care of you? Then you should take good care of it. If you fail to take care of the ship well, there is the likelihood it will ditch you. There is the need to ensure the ship is accorded enough love. In the past, when men were the only ones allowed to go onboard a ship, the men would treat the ship like it was a beautiful woman.

2) The Ship is Beautiful

When you see a ship at sea, you’ll acknowledge how beautiful it is. It has some colorful flags, and it has been neatly painted. A freshly painted ship is beautiful and the curves on the vessels also make it more appealing. The same can be said for women and feminine beauty as well.

3) Ships Need To Be Clean and Tidy

To ensure the machinery is reliable and the whole crew is healthy, the entire ship is kept tidy and clean. Good housecleaning is essential such that the entire house will be in order.

4) The Preference for Company

While at sea, the ship is always on the lookout for other ships. Like a woman, the ship doesn’t like being lonely. It is always on the lookout for company.

5) Hard Taskmaster

While at sea, there is the need to demand a hardship routine. The crew will be occupied most of the time, same as a woman who wants to ensure a long-lasting bond.

6) Costly to Maintain

A woman is somewhat costly to maintain since she’ll desire some of the best things in life. The ship is also demanding, and you need to spend huge sums of money if you want to maintain it.

 

holland america line maasdam

Final Thoughts On Why Cruise Ships And Other Naval Vessels Are Gendered Female ...

In most cases, you may have heard of people referring to a ship as ‘she,’ and you would wonder why. We have discussed the matter in an in-depth manner, and after reading through, you now have an in-depth understanding of everything.