How did the Mayflower get its name? Today marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage from Plymouth to Massachusetts, which used to be called Cape Cod. The ship transported pilgrims seeking a better life on the other side of the Atlantic.

What is a mayflower?

Mayflower is a plant that is also known as lily of the valley. The plant usually blooms in May and is common throughout northern and central Europe and eastern North America.

Image by Ancient traditions

Ancient Rome

In Roman times, the mayflower was the symbol of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It represented spring and rebirth – a chance for new beginnings.


When Charles IX of France became ruler, he was intrigued by the woody smell of the mayflower. He gave the flowers to ladies in his court on 1 May, 1561.

They were so impressed with the gesture the tradition of men wearing a sprig of mayflowers and women carrying them on May Day became commonplace in France. It was said to bring happiness and health. A sprig containing 13 flowers is rumoured to bring luck.

How do ships get their names?

It seems there are no universal rules for naming ships.

Naval ships

The names of naval ships are typically decided on by the secretary of the Royal Navy. Their decision is based on factors such as geography, names of previous ships, names recommended by individuals and groups, and names of naval leaders, national figures and deceased members of the Royal Navy and Marine Corps.


In 2016, a competition was launched to name a new polar research ship in the UK. Boaty McBoatface was the stand-out winner in a public vote after it was suggested by former BBC Radio Jersey presenter James Hand.

The name received 124,109 votes from eager voters, who even crashed the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) website voting for it. Ultimately, the ship was named RSS Sir David Attenborough because of the television presenter’s pioneering on environmental issues. I guess the world wasn’t ready for Boaty McBoatface.

Photo by Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Name-generating tools

This cool generator, which can be accessed here, allows people to generate their own ship names. With 5,000 possible ship names, it is perfect for those who don’t know where to begin. It uses random words to create a unique name and you can keep using the tool until you find a combination you like.

Some famous ships with cool names

HMS Victory

The name of this ship foreshadowed Lord Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Lord Nelson’s fleet defeated Napoleon’s French and Spanish fleets at the coast of Cape Trafalgar, stopping their advance towards Britain.

The Essex

In 1820 The Essex, captained by George Pollard Jr, was sunk by a sperm whale. The incident was the inspiration behind Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. Moby Dick refers to the sperm whale that attacked the lead character – Captain Ahab. The novel revolves around Captain Ahab’s quest for revenge.


Don’t be fooled by the innocent name, resembling a red fruit. This Japanese ship was deadly. Its 18-inch guns could launch 3,000 pounds of ammunition at its enemy from a distance of 30 miles.

Who knew ships could be so fascinating? Which name floats your boat?

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