Ship Names and the Definite Article

The other day, I was trying to figure out if it was grammatically correct to use, or not use, the definite article "the" in front of a ship's name. This is something that never occurred to me until I saw Firefly. In one episode, Inara corrects an Alliance officer on the use of the definite article with regards to their ship - "Serenity," not "the Serenity." Grammatically, I found no consensus, but here's what I found out.

The only really useful sites I found were style guides. The US Navy Style Guide says don't use it, ever. But that's a relatively recent decision and is meant primarily for formal use, and fiction is not necessarily formal. According to Wikipedia's naming conventions, "the" is not needed, but neither is it wrong.

Ironically, the most useful discussion I found was in a forum of Wookieepedia* editors. Ironic because it's the least official of the three, but it's the most useful to me because it's the one most closely related to fiction.

Their final decision is not really relevant, but the discussion raised some interesting points. In particular, they could not decide to "always" or "never" use the definite article, for primarily two reasons: the Millenium Falcon and Slave I.** Try to use the definite article with Boba Fett's ship, or remove it from Han Solo's, and you will understand.

So for now, I'm going to make the decision on a case by case basis and keep track of what I decide in (yet another) document to help me stay consistent. Basically, I'm going to pick the one that feels right, or sounds the least stupid, and stick with it.

* Wikipedia for the Star Wars universe.

** Those weren't the only reasons, but they suffice to summarize the point.


Unknown Blogger said...

this was a good read with my cup of coffee this morning. It falls into the "things you wonder about that you never realized you wonder about" category. Thanks for sharing your research and I think the Milleneum Falcon and Slave I examples fit perfectly.

I find it surprising that the Navy says NEVER use it. He served aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. He served aboard U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. Which sounds right to you?


Adam Heine said...

Glad you liked it, Andy. Every once in a while, my research produces some interesting results, and these were interesting enough (to me and, I knew, a couple of others) to post.

The Wannabe Scribe said...

Great post Adam.

I couldn't make up my mind for ages but then I decided that as the ship in my story was named after someone in particular, it made sense not to prefix it with 'the'.

However if a ship is actually named 'The Something' then it should be called 'The Something’.

'The Beatles' spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

The previous poster makes a good point. It seems that ships, like bands, are sometimes named with the article in mind, sometimes not. You don't say "the AC/DC," but nor do you say "I like Clash" or "Knack is awesome." :P The point regarding the Millenium Falcon versus Slave I is another good example.

Adam Heine said...

Oh, man. I didn't realize the same thing applied to band names (even though the Scribe mentioned it months ago :-/ Awesome. Thanks, Anica.

Unknown said...

Really interesting indeed. I was looking through a similar article and decided to search the web. Actually, my good old English Grammar Book says "the" should be used. Actually, I didn't know about Slave I, but that's the perfect example of how,emm..., shady and undocumented could it be.