Some spaceship names

I feel like in science fiction lately, there’s been an occasional tendency (though with many exceptions) for authors to adopt the style of Iain M. Banks in naming their fictional spaceships.

Before Banks came along, I feel like fictional spaceship names tended to be one or two words (of course, many of these names were based on, or in the style of, the names of real-life sea ships): Skylark; Polaris; Yamato; Enterprise; Discovery; Millennium Falcon; etc.

But then, starting in the late 1980s, Banks brought us ships with names like So Much For Subtlety, Of Course I Still Love You, and Very Little Gravitas Indeed. Some of the Culture ships did have one- or two-word names, but even those were names like Eschatologist or Gunboat Diplomat. And I feel like in recent years, a fair number of authors have followed Banks’s lead, with ship names like Hierarchy of Feasts (that page includes minor spoilers for Raven Stratagem)—though that’s not a perfect example, given that the Machineries of Empire ship names aren’t quite in the same vein as the Banksian names.

(I feel like I see Banksian ship names a lot these days, but I could be wrong about how common they are; and again, there are plenty of recent works that use brief ship names, like Rocinante and Wayfarer.)

So I was surprised but pleased just now to discover a set of spaceship names that predates Banks but that doesn’t follow the usual older-sf naming model. (Nor, of course, does it follow the Banks model.) This is from Suzy McKee Charnas’s 1980 short story “Scorched Supper on New Niger.” Helen Nwanyeruwa, the head of an interplanetary trading company that runs a fleet of ships, explains to the protagonist:

Helen smiled and nodded. “Now I remember. At the time I suggested taking slogans for [your aunt’s] ships as we do here. You know my ships’ names: In God Starry Hand; No Rich Without Tears; Pearl of the Ocean Sky. […]”


“[…] I named the ships in old style pidgin talk from Africa, in honor of my beginnings—in my ancestors’ lorry lines. All the lorries bore such fine slogans.

“My personal ship is Let Them Say. It means, I care nothing how people gossip on me, only how they work for me—”

I can’t recommend the story overall; some of its handling of race and gender issues made me wince, though it also has some lovely moments. But I liked the ship names.

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