There is a certain art to naming. And I don't have it. But, like any art-form, there are technical aspects which, if followed correctly, can help improve one's overall outcome.

Industrial Space Vehicles are spaceships or similar, which are being used for industrial purposes. Imagine typical future Science-Fiction spaceships which are possibly being used to mine from asteroids, build constructions, transfer goods - all those things which an industry would require a specific heavy-equipment-type vehicle for.

Is there a process or concrete steps that can be followed to help me select a realistic name for a line of industrial space vehicles? (A mass produced model of vehicle)

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    $\begingroup$ Follow a theme. Let's say Voyager, look up it's synonyms, you get Explorer, Pioneer, Venturer (Venture), Entrepreneur (Enterprise), Wanderer, Fortune. Now look up any of those names' synonyms, chances are you'll find more $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Oct 21 '15 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with Nostromo? $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Oct 21 '15 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Ghanima Don't even go there. $\endgroup$ – Howard Miller Oct 21 '15 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ You might also be interested in my question Coming up with names for species in fiction? on Writing. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 22 '15 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ What constitutes "realistic" depends largely on your world; after all, as the author, you get to say what's real, so dictating what's realistic is trivial compared to that. There's a book (a whole series, actually where GCU Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall is considered a perfectly standard name for a ship. If it fits in with your world and your characters react like it's normal, then it's normal. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Oct 22 '15 at 13:41

11 Answers 11


Capital ships get names.

Extend that to all important ships, ones that have done something of notoriety in the past and prototype/field-test ships.

Earthly-navies are small enough that most ships represent a significant investment of money and man-power to warrant uniquely naming everything. However, there's lots more space than there is water, so a potential space-navy may have too many ships to give names to.

Production-line ships get serial numbers.

The little shuttle that ferries crew on/off a giant capital ship probably doesn't deserve a name. But it does still need a unique identifier - that's where your serial number comes in.

Think of it like registration plates for your car. If your world has lots of private and commercial space-traffic and has regulatory authority over space-traffic then licence numbers are the most logical option.

If your world is the wild, lawless, frontier then you probably would forego all forms of labelling.

Generating registration plates/designations.

Think of how many ships you want to exist in the world. In total, even if they are irrelevant to your story. Times that by ten, or even a hundred. Your licence numbering scheme has to be able to account for that many ships.

Any scheme will do, but you might want to devote a few letters/numbers to indicate where the ship was registered, or what planet it's from.

By virtue of where I work, I happen to be exposed to how a military labels all their aircraft and boats. Aircraft designators are primarily by role, not by model.

I see a lot of aircraft following this pattern;


Or, letter, letter, dash, number, number, number.

The first letters is for role. F for fighter, B for bomber, C for cargo, etc. The next letter is for type, the area of the military that owns it, or in some cases both at the same time. The letter S hints that this aircraft is a helicopter operated by the navy.

The numbers are completely arbitrary, but are picked by a person. People love patterns and rules - it makes organising things easier. Similar models, that are all stationed at the same location would be typically grouped by the hundreds, then counted incrementally.





  • I'm not sure if I'm allowed to use real designations here. I know that they're Google-able, but I kludged together my own rules by substituting extra letters and numbers.

Generating serial numbers.

I'm also employed as an engineer. Past employment dealt with serial numbers for parts. Not whole objects, but I'll go out on a limb and assume the logic transfers neatly.

Serial numbers are to track the part back to the precise place and time it was manufactured. Tracking where the part has been installed previously is also a common thing.

The rules for these are similar to registration plates on cars. You need to gauge the total number of parts, and round up. Round up massively. Part serial numbers need to identify decommissioned/lost/destroyed parts as well as parts currently in circulation.

Serial numbers should have the following information squashed down into it:

  • Place of manufacture: uniquely name the planet+shipyard this thing came from.
  • Production Line: factories never build one thing at a time. If someone suspects a manufacturing fault, being able to trace it to a production line is a great way to filter out irrelevant ships.

  • Batch Number: things are often built is batches. This might be irrelevant for ships as they are large objects.

  • Time of Manufacture: The point in time the ship rolls(read:floats) off the production line.
  • Sequence Number: the position of the object within the batch.
  • [EDIT] Part Type: Identify what type of object this is (silly me forgot the most important part).

The place of manufacture is probably coded into two/three letters and numbers. Three letters gives you 17,576 unique combinations. Sounds like overkill, but it's future proof, which is a strong deciding factor for accountability.

If you want an example of serial numbers, go into the kitchen, collect all your canned and bottled food. Look for printed or stamped numbers on the bottom of the cans. Fast-Moving Consumer-Goods follow these principals as well.


Keep in mind there may be a disconnect between who designs and manufactures a ship, who uses it, and any authoritative body that's responsible for registration. Each group will likely have their own rules for labelling.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for some good information about real world numbering schemes. It's also worth noting that if your spaceships are sufficiently modular (replaceable fuel tanks, replaceable engines, replaceable habitat modules, etc...), you may end up with a Theseus' Ship paradox, also known as the "Grandfather's Axe" paradox. There's an extensive discussion of the issue on Project Rho (search for "Theseus"). One solution involves having a sort of tamper-proof "black box" registration transponder. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Hines Nov 3 '15 at 3:28

Based on the comments on your question, I take it you're looking more for model names than individual ship names. With that in mind, here is my answer:

To start off with, you must figure out what your mining company (or, for the purposes of sci-fi-ness, your mining corporation) wants to be known for. Look at Volkswagen: most of their models are named after trade winds, but in German. Thus, they make people think of sailing, the feeling of wind on your face, and German craftsmanship, which roughly translates to "we make good cars that go fast and are fun to drive". If your corporation came up with names instead of serial numbers, then they must have a marketing department and the desire to sell their product; thus, you need to figure out what kinds of things they want their potential clients to think about when reviewing their ships.

At the end of the day, you usually have a few options:

  1. Make it a foreign word - ooh, you're foreign
  2. Name it after an animal - good all-around option
  3. Name it after someone famous - probably scientific/nerdy or government
  4. Name it after places - nationalistic, probably government-related
  5. Name it after mythology - either it's really cool or it's narrative foreshadowing for tragedy

Just pick one of these (or any that I've forgotten) and find a name that makes you think good things related to the ship you're naming. To do this well, you're either going to have to know a lot about the ship, or be willing to change some aspects of it to make the name work (which wouldn't happen in real life, but hindsight can make up for your lack of a marketing team).

  • $\begingroup$ I really like this last line :-) $\endgroup$ – Burki Oct 22 '15 at 7:21

If you look at current cargo ship names, you'll see a few trends:

  1. Women names
  2. Places
  3. Nautical terms (star, surf, sea, etc)
  4. Company name + something else, like location, or person's name (Exon-Valdez)

I think you can follow the same basic pattern - some designation + some of those four category (maybe use astronomical instead of nautical terms for #3). If your world is heavily influenced by corporations, you can put emphasis on #4. If it's more of a "freelancer" kind of place, you can name them after women. Tie it up with the rest of the story.

As far as the designations go, the trends are to

  1. Describe the propulsion type (SS - steamship, MV - motor vessel, NS -nuclear ship)
  2. Describe the purpose (STS -sailing training ship, LB - life boat, FV - fishing vessel)
  3. Describe origin (USS - United States ship, HMS - Her Majesty's ship)

This basic pattern is used in a lot of fiction works, Star Trek & Firefly come to mind, but others as well.

  • $\begingroup$ These are names created by the person who owns the ship - I was unclear at first so you may have missed it but I am looking for how the naming works in regards to the model of the ship. While many ships are made ship-by-ship (and so, tend to get specific names), an example of mass-produced ships being named might be the American Liberty ships. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 21 '15 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Also names of people important to the company but not necessarily to wider society. The Edmund Fitzgerald was named after a long time manager in the operation that ran her, for instance. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Oct 22 '15 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ By model, do you mean class? If a series of similarly designed ships is built, the class of a merchant ship is named for the first ship built (similar to naval vessels) - for example, the RMS Titanic was the second ship of the Olympic class ocean liners. However, many merchant ships are individually ordered and built with unique features, and so don't have a class - like the RMS Carpathia, which was simply designated a "transatlantic steamship". $\endgroup$ – user2051 Oct 22 '15 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ STS is the Space Transportation System. Obviously. It just took a bit longer than intended for that program to be completed as envisioned. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 22 '15 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ Valdez is also the name of a number of places, including a seaport city in Alaska. So the name Exxon-Valdez is actually a company name followed by the name of a place. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 22 '15 at 9:55

The other answers have it covered, except if the ships are sentient. In that case, my favorite naming systems for starships comes from Iain Banks' Culture series: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_in_the_Culture_series

Class                     Acronym   Description
General Systems Vehicle   GSV       Mobile habitats and / or factory ships, largest Culture ship type. May be home to billions of people.
Medium Systems Vehicle    MSV       Smaller versions of the above. Sometimes former GSVs downgraded as larger GSV classes were developed.
Limited Systems Vehicle   LSV       Smaller versions of the above. Sometimes former GSVs or MSVs downgraded as larger GSV classes were developed.
General Contact Vehicle   GCV       Larger, more capable Contact craft between the size of a GCU and Systems Vehicle; plays similar role to GCUs (see below)
General Contact Unit      GCU       Ambassadors, scouts and light transports; also main warship in peacetime
Limited Contact Unit      LCU       Smaller versions of the above.
General Offensive Unit    GOU       Dedicated main warships
Rapid Offensive Unit      ROU       Dedicated fast warships
Limited Offensive Unit    LOU       Dedicated warships, smaller than GOUs
Demilitarized ROU         (d)ROU    Civilianised ROUs used as courier ships, all or most weaponry removed
Very Fast Picket          VFP       A euphemism for (d)ROU, used in the same role.
Picket Ship               PS        A general euphemism for warships, offensive units or ex-offensive units.
Heavy Lifter              HL        Dedicated materials mover, smaller than GCUs.
Superlifter               SL        Transport craft or tug, a relatively small craft but powerful for its size, described as taking primary military role in early days of Idiran-Culture War before activation of Culture warship manufacture.

The names of the ships themselves were always quirky:
MSV Passing By And Thought I'd Drop In
GSV No More Mr Nice Guy
GSV So Much For Subtlety -- a particularly large ship
GSV Just the Washing Instruction Chip in Life's Rich Tapestry

and my favorite, Mistake Not... short for Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath

  • $\begingroup$ Wanted to suggest this myself, creating a useful acronym for the first 'section' of the name will give your world some additional depth. $\endgroup$ – SBoss Oct 22 '15 at 7:46

Determine the focus of the vehicle - what its purpose is

For a mining ship, it might just be the general concept of "Mining" - but there could also be more specialized vehicles. Think Heavy Equipment for construction - You've got Excavators which are used to remove dirt/rock from an area - and move it somewhere else. You've got Bulldozers, which also just move dirt/rocks - but by pushing it. You've got Loaders - which are similar to Bulldozers but are also capable of scooping up that dirt and putting it in a Dump Truck - which moves the dirt farther distances and is capable of dumping it.

Determine the market conditions

In the example above, Heavy Equipment tends to be for specialized use - and certain top companies have the vast majority of creation for all of this equipment.

The top 3 in the U.S.

  • Caterpillar (CAT)
  • Komatsu
  • John Deere

Since all the focus is on your couple of top-brands, and each maker is making basically the same functionality - the brand is what is going to be advertised. "John Deere Tractors" - instantly forms an image of a green farming tractor. Which tractor do we have here though? Since focus is mostly on the Maker, further specification tends to be named for specific model-numbers which designate which are similar: Such as the 9RX John Deere tractor - largest and most fancy compared to the 9RT and 9R Tractors - (guess which is smallest)

However, lets say there's a bunch of very competitive brands, attempting to sell their affordable vehicles to the general public. Different brands have different features, and there is competition down to the aesthetics of the vehicles. This is more similar to the car market - where vehicles are separated into different categories for size and general purpose: (Truck, Sedan, Coupe, SUV, Van, Mini Van, Cross Over, etc.)

After determining a type of vehicle, the brands compete through their different model names. This is because there are so many types of vehicles and moving targets for "best vehicle" - some makers have much better trucks than they do cars and vice versa. Thus, that model of truck/car earns its reputation and develops a good name, rather than the maker directly. Since the model is developing a good reputation, it develops a good name in recognition of that and to help push itself marketing-wise - while not-so-good models might not have as great a reputation.. but that's just that model, which doesn't impact the overall maker reputation as much, since the model name can be dropped and replaced by something newer and better.

Apply conditions to the vehicle, while considering vehicle role

@DaaaahWhoosh's answer is a good example of this step for cars and model names where it's the models that compete - but can also be used for the competing company names.

@user6511's answer is another great example for generating serial numbers and identifying vehicles by numbers and type.

Many of the other answers cover the case where each ship is basically a one-off construction, and the name the owner gives it tends to become its name.


My advice is to not just think about a good sounding name, but also a serial number with the potential for nicknames.

For certain mass produced products, the engineers that develop, build and maintain the product have a habit of making up nicknames for certain models with lots of variations, which each have their own serial designation.

Often, even the regular crew will pick up on these, and police forces and criminals alike develop a jargon for these as well. Having people refer to ships with names beyond the one the ship manufacturers and/or owners made makes your world feel more alive and real.


The Space-Word Bold-Word

She's a mighty ship, The Space-Word Bold-Word.

This will be similar to today's sailing vessels. They'll be named by salty space sailors or corporate marketing departments. If you review very many large ship names you see they have a few common themes they're named for. Such as: Name-of-Leader-of-Origin (Lord Clyde), Sea-Term Vessel-Type (Star Clipper), Country-of-Origin (Danmark), etc. The common theme is that the name is lofty, only a few syllables, and is supposed to make you think of greatness, vastness, or strength. Follow the formula for one and use synonyms to avoid repetition.

For space mining ships, a believable name might be something like "The Double Double" or "Sol Skipper". Personally I (and a million other people) would name my ship "Ad Astra".

The name of the line of ship can follow a similar naming scheme, but it's less likely to be used due to the conventions of sailing ships. It seems most likely that people would be significantly modifying their ships or building them for that single purpose, so space-Mustangs probably won't be a thing for industrial ships, but only personal transports. Those would probably follow a space-themed name of the same style, like a "Mercury" (a fast space thing) or a "Photon".

So what about duplicate individual names?


They'd like use something like the internet addressing mixed with some Bluetooth protocol. That is, each will be assigned a individually unique computer-readable name for legal purposes (like a license plate, but with enough numbers for a galaxy of ships).

Then, from the bluetooth protocol the concept of a "friendly-name" would be adopted (this is kind of also present as DNS for the internet, but that doesn't allow duplicate names). A friendly name is also known as a human-readable name. It's the thing you see when your computer asks if you want to allow "Bob's iPhone" to connect.

  • $\begingroup$ It's my fault for not being clear enough.. I'm looking for a way to come up with a name for a "line" of space vehicles created from a manufacturer, rather than naming my specific spaceship. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 21 '15 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble I've added a bit about that. For industrial vehicles it's not very likely they'd have a line. Most large ships are built one-off for a purpose. If you think it'll be different in space, the line name would be similar to the personal names, but probably more descriptive though not accurate, like "Star Hauler" or "Moon Mover". $\endgroup$ – Samuel Oct 21 '15 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ The american "Liberty" ships might be an example - they were mass produced with the same spec's compared to how most ships tend to be fairly unique. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 21 '15 at 22:46

Unless things change a lot, whoever owns the ship, gets to choose the name. If you get that person's character developed you'll probably be able to decide what sort of names he'd give his main assets.

At present the owners are mostly governments, which accounts for the uninspired "Voyager" "Intrepid" "Enterprise" etc.

On the other hand, Elon Musk (SpaceX) is paying hommage to the late Iain M Banks and naming his spaceship recovery drones after Culture ships: "Just Read the Instructions" and "Of Course I Still Love You". More, please!

And for every Behemoth of a mother ship there will be a thousand small service vehicles. I expect these will be too insignificant to be named by the corporation (other than as Asset #192458-2781 "external access vehicle") which will acquire names from those who operate them or work inside them. Visit any port for ideas.

My suggestion: assume any popular theme will be pushed to its limits, and then some. If there are spaceships called "Lion" and "Cheetah" then sooner or later there will be a "Warthog", a "Duck-Billed Platypus", and (eventually) a "Lesser Horned Toad".


In most cases, ships owned by major corporations have a two part name that includes the company name. This allows the owner a greater choice of hull names, because coupled with the company name he only has to pick a name he hasn't assigned to any other hull.

The Alcoa Cadet, sunk by a mine in 1942, was one of the Aluminum Company of America's company-owned transport ships. Carnival Cruise Lines puts the "Carnival" name before the ship name, such as "Magic", "Ecstasy", "Elation", "Valor", "Splendor", etc. The Maersk Line has ship names like "Rapier", "Piper", "Alabama", etc, while Exxon's "Valdez" is infamous.

Royal Caribbean bucks the trend, naming all their ships with the suffix "Of The Seas", with unique monikers including "Oasis", "Liberty", "Navigator", "Splendor" etc.

For an industrial concern, this might be a good pattern to follow; company name and hull name together in one moniker. Your first task then is to come up with a plausible "shorthand" for company names; you can use the name directly, or shorten it (such as with "ALCOA").

As far as hull names, good sources of historical large ship names have included:

  • Animals, especially water-dwelling or beasts of burden (Dolphin, Lion, Rhino, Barracuda, Marlin, Hawk, Eagle, Pelican, Frog, Dromedary)
  • Places (cities, states, provinces, geographic regions; country names are discouraged as they can be confused with registry/flag. Military ships often monopolize these, but "City Of" ship names are very common historically especially in transportation)
  • People (Being a space novel, you might use names of astronomers and space pioneers like Galileo, Copernicus, Von Braun, Grissom, Gagarin, Armstrong, Lovell, etc)
  • Generally desirable adjectives of a seaman or marine soldier (The British Navy follows this theme a lot: Dauntless, Courageous, Steady, Acute, Constant, Defiant)
  • Celestial object terms (Quasar, Pulsar, Nova, Constellation, etc)
  • Mythology (Practically every planet, dwarf planet, and constellation is named for a mythical figure, and oceangoing vessels have used the same; Andromeda, Jupiter, Neptune/Poseidon, etc)
  • Enterprise. People will think you're ripping off Star Trek, but the U.S. Navy hasn't gone longer than 60 years without a ship of the line by that name, and the moniker was borrowed from the British Navy which has had no fewer than 15 ships by that name in its history including a survey vessel in service today, and the name was also popular in private fleets long before Star Trek used it.
  • Synonyms for travel or effort (Voyager, Endeavor, etc)
  • $\begingroup$ Apparently, NASA ripped off Star Trek when they named their first space shuttle (which, ironically, lacked orbital capability!) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 22 '15 at 17:23

I Know that in Portuguese Air Force where I work, the Aircraft squadrons as a serial number with three numbers... For example 501 Squadron, 5 means Cargo missions, 0 and 1 means that uses Fixed wings Aircraft (not helicopters)... But there is a nickname of animals for all squadrons, for example this squadron's nick is Bisontes (in English Bisons), this is because they use huge aircraft to transport cargo and paratroopers... In other hand, NASA normally uses names of the ancient Greece, Roman Empire or old Scientists great names as example Apollo, it's all about a Tribute for the past history...


We have a habit of forgetting that not every spacecraft is something worthy of a special name. With this in mind, you will have at least four categories of space-faring thingies.

(NOTE: "Thingies" is important to keep in mind. In space everything is space-faring, whether its just a robot, a person's protective suit, a "ship", a probe, whatever. Don't put your brain in a box before you have even considered this by using the term "ship" or "vessel" or "habitat" or whatever.)

1. Definitely uniquely named

Permanent habitats and large "ships" fall into this category. From a technical perspective the difference may primarily be the intended purpose of the structure: To take its inhabitants somewhere, or to be placed in orbit or otherwise remain locally stationary as an improvement on the present-day planet-dwelling arrangement.

2. Uniquely named within a fleet or common group prefix

Unique vessels will nearly always have a unique name, but would probably be a part of a larger effort. We see this in commercial ships today. Not everything is named that is a live-aboard ship, but many are. Nearly every research vessel unique in its class is named, whether inhabited or not. But generally the producing/sponsoring group's prefix is attached to it.

3. Serialized, but not likely "named"

A weaker version of #2; probably having a series name. This will probably include utility devices (manned or unmanned -- I imagine most utility devices will be unmanned in the future, many already are today), whatever the equivalent of a family-sized conveyance in space winds up being, etc. We do this with cars, tugboats, small craft, etc. today already.

4. Unnamed, serials may exist but are probably designated by the owner

By far the most prolific form of craft is the mass-produced craft that has a maker's serial number, but usually it is a cumbersomely large number that the owners don't use. Consider a delivery service or fleet of mining trucks today. They have numbers made up by the owner, ("Get me the keys to 5A, yeah, the big 3038-series one") and the actual details of what model it is are subordinate to what job it performs, because there are other comparable alternatives in its class that do a similar job.

Consider how this plays out and what class/role comes to mind when you read each name:

  • The Titanic
  • "Tug #3"
  • USN Ronald Regan
  • USN PT-338
  • "Cruiser #5, our new AcmeTech Astralon 5000"



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