How the Navy names its ships, subs

How the Navy names its ships, subs

On Monday, the Navy’s new, indigenously designed guided missile destroyer INS Chennai was dedicated to the city whose name it bears. How did the warship come to be called Chennai? On what basis does the Indian Navy give names to its vessels?

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(Source: Indian Navy)

The Indian Navy formally decommissioned its aircraft carrier INS Viraat last month, after 30 years of operational service. The ship had earlier been commissioned with the Royal Navy in 1959, and was known as HMS Hermes. India now has only one aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which was bought from Russia in 2004. In the Russian Navy, it was known as Admiral Gorshkov.

India leases nuclear submarines from Russia and calls them INS Chakra. The first indigenous nuclear submarine being made in India has been named INS Arihant, and the next one, INS Aridhaman. The conventional submarine, which has been made in India, and currently undergoing sea trials, is called INS Kalvari.

On Monday, the indigenously designed guided missile destroyer INS Chennai was formally dedicated to the city by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami. Vikramaditya, Chakra, Arihant, Kalvari, Chennai. How are these names decided? Is there a methodology involved in the christening of the vessels of the Indian Navy?

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(Left to right) Top row: INS Vikramaditya, INS Delhi, INS Rajput; Middle row: INS Kora, INS Kuthar, INS Beas; Bottom row: INS Shivalik, INS Talwar, INS Chakra. (Source: Indian Navy)

The United States Navy names its aircraft carriers after former Presidents. So there is the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS John F Kennedy. But there are exceptions: USS Nimitz, USS Enterprise, USS Carl Vinson, and USS John C Stennis. The US Navy’s ballistic missile submarines are named after American states, although again with a couple of exceptions. The British and the French have their own naming conventions for naval ships. As does the Indian Navy.


The selection of names of ships and submarines of the Indian Navy is done by the Internal Nomenclature Committee (INC) at the Defence Ministry. The INC is headed by the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Policy & Plans), and has representatives from the historical section of the Defence Ministry, Department of Archaeology in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the Ministry of Surface Transport, among others. As per the policy guidelines, the recommendations of this committee are approved by the Navy Chief. Names, crests and mottos of major war vessels require the assent of the President as well.

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To maintain uniformity in the names of vessels of one type, the Internal Nomenclature Committee follows certain broad parameters, which have been enumerated in the policy guidelines. So, a cruiser or a destroyer is named after a state capital, a large city, or a great king or warrior from India’s history — for example, INS Delhi, INS Kolkata, INS Mysore, INS Mumbai, INS Rana and INS Ranjit.

The frigates are named after a mountain range, a river or a weapon, but care is taken to ensure that the names of ships of the same class have the same initial letter. INS Sahaydri, INS Shivalik, INS Satpura, INS Talwar, INS Teg, INS Brahmaputra and INS Ganga fall in this category. The corvettes are named after personal arms, such as the INS Khukri, INS Kirpan and INS Khanjar, while multi-purpose patrol vessels are named after an island.

Thus, we have the INS Car Nicobar, INS Kalpani and INS Karuva. In accordance with their role, the anti-submarine warfare vessels have names with an offensive or destructive connotation, such as INS Kamorta and INS Kadmatt. As submarines operate underwater, they are given either the name of a predatory fish or an abstract name associated with the ocean. The INS Arihant and INS Chakra are nuclear submarines; the conventional ones have had names from INS Sindhughosh and INS Sindhukirti to INS Shalki and INS Shankul. The policy does not differentiate between the naming of the two types of submarine.

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How was INS Vikramaditya named? The Internal Nomenclature Committee received proposals for various names — Vishaant, Vishwavijayi, Vishaal, Vikraal, Vaibhav, Vishwajeet, Viddhwansh, Veerendra and Visrujant. The Shipping Ministry informed the committee that a merchant ship had already been allotted the name Vishwa-Vijay. The committee then deliberated upon the options and unanimously chose Vikramaditya, which means the Sun of Prowess, as a name that befits a large aircraft carrier. The historical division then brought out a short note on the significance of the title Vikramaditya, which had been borne by several Indian sovereigns. The name was approved by the Navy Chief and the President, and the Russian Navy’s Admiral Gorshkov became the INS Vikramaditya.

India is in the process of building its first indigenous aircraft carrier, which has been named INS Vikrant after the first aircraft carrier that the Indian Navy bought from the British in 1957. The name for the second indigenous aircraft carrier has not been decided yet. It will be named following a similar process and policy guidelines.