American submarines, from the very start, were named after aquatic/marine animals. For instance, David Bushnell’s Turtle of Revolutionary War fame, the curious Alligator, and Intelligent Whale of the Civil War, it could be argued, had such names.
Sure, there were outliers named after their inventors (CSS Hunley, USS Holland) as well as early vessels such as USS Adder, USS Viper, USS Tarantula, and USS Moccasin (which you could actually argue may be a water moccasin, but still). Then submarines lost their names, using numbers from the C-class in the 1900s through the “Sugar” boats of the 1920s.
However, the vast majority of 20th Century submarines remained named after some form of “fish” from 1931 onwards, starting with USS Barracuda (SS-163) and running through USS Cavalla (SSN-684) in 1973.
The Navy upset the apple cart on this naming convention first with the George Washington-class SSBNs and the follow-on “41 for Freedom” Polaris missile subs in the 1960s, then changed gears again with the Los Angeles-class attack boats and Ohio Trident missile subs of the 1970s. Of note, before that time city and state names were reserved for cruisers and battleships, which by the Carter era were all but gone.
The reason for the radical change in naming, as reported in 1985 by the NYT, was voiced as such:
Adm. James D. Watkins, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in an interview that the policy originated while Adm. Hyman G. Rickover was in charge. ”Rickover said, ‘Fish don’t vote,’ ” Admiral Watkins declared.
Well, it would seem that the new SECNAV, who has already announced the next frigate will carry the name of one of the country’s original six frigates, apparently is in touch with his naval history and said this week the next Virginia-class boat will be USS Barb (SSN 804), after the two previous submarines (SS-220 and SSN-596) that carried the name.
“Our future success depends on leveraging the stories of those who sailed into harm’s way, to teach and inspire the service of those who now wear the uniform,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite.
I, for one, am on board with a return to traditional names.