On Naming Ships and Representing them in ShipIndex

At present, ShipIndex.org has one point of access: the vessel name. You’d think that would be fairly easy, at least in the case of extant vessels: just look at the stern or the bow, and see what’s written there. Alas, it’s not that simple. There are many reasons for this, and a lot of them are completely understandable. Others can lead to surprisingly interesting stories.

While working through the index to the first 50 years of Steamboat Bill, and its successor, PowerShips, I came across many, many mentions of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Most of these are listed under the very common, abbreviated name, “QE2”. In the ShipIndex database, however, one also finds many entries for a different version of the name, “Queen Elizabeth II”. I read a bit about the ship on its Wikipedia page, and learned some interesting stories about how the name came about. According to the contributors, the name of the ship was not announced before the launching. Cunard intended to name the ship “Queen Elizabeth”, but the Queen, when she launched the ship, stated “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second.”

The next day, newspapers announced the name as “Queen Elizabeth II”, though when the ship was delivered its name read “Queen Elizabeth 2”. According to Wikipedia, “From at least 2002 the official Cunard website stated that ‘The new ship is not named after the Queen but is simply the second ship to bear the name – hence the use of the Arabic 2 in her name, rather than the Roman II used by the Queen’, however, in a change in 2007 this information had been removed.”

In addition, there’s confusion about who the ship is named after. Multiple sources provide multiple suggestions. Some feel the ship is named after the current Queen, and that, in fact, she made that change when she announced its name. Others state that it is named after her mother, the wife of King George VI. Others state it’s named after the previous Cunard ship named Queen Elizabeth.

We need to make it possible for people to find ship names however they might be represented, and so we’ve created functionality that allows one to link between variant names for specific ships. So, for example, when you search for “QE2”, you find entries that cite “QE2”, but you also find a link at the top taking you to entries for other variant names for this ship, specifically “Queen Elizabeth 2” and “Queen Elizabeth II”.

We also have the ability to ‘normalize’ ship names, and in that case, one goes directly from a misspelling of a ship name to the correctly spelled entry. So, by rights, we should ‘normalize’ “QE2” and “Queen Elizabeth II” to “Queen Elizabeth 2”. But I think that, in this case, for this very famous ship, it’s worth maintaining the separate entries and linking them together via the “alternate spelling” links. Maybe I’m wrong; should I just normalize them all together? What do you think?

We also show links for previous and subsequent names of ships. So, if you search for “Euterpe”, you’ll see a “subsequent name” link to “Star of India.” It is important to remember that if there are multiple ships with the name “Euterpe,” the link appears, but doesn’t apply to all of them. Creating a system that separates out all these ships is a big project, but one that we will tackle.

One great thing about the Steamboat Bill files is that they include many previous and subsequent vessel names. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly indicate the order in which vessel names appeared; you’ll see both “Liberte; a) Brasil; b) Volendam; c) Monarch Sun; d) Volendam; e) Island Sun; g) Canada Star h) Queen of Bermuda” and “Queen of Bermuda; a) Brasil; b) Volendam; c) Monarch Sun; d) Volendam; e) Island Sun; f) Liberte; g) Canada Star”, as well as “Island Sun; a) Volendam”. So, some research is needed to figure out the order in which the ship names appeared. Then, I still have a question about whether or not I should include all of the previous and subsequent names in each entry or not. In the above example, if I determine that the actual path of ship name changes was Queen of Bermuda, then Brasil, then Volendam, then Monarch Sun, then Volendam (again), then Island Sun, then Liberte and finally Canada Star”, do I include ‘subsequent name’ links from Brasil to Volendam, Monarch Sun, Island Sun, Liberte, and Canada Star? That creates a lot of links. Or do I just have a link from Queen of Bermuda to Brasil, and on Brasil a link to Volendam?

And if I list all previous or subsequent names for a ship that had the same name twice, then in this case the entry for Brasil (and Queen of Bermuda, and others) will have multiple ‘subsequent name’ links to Volendam. The page for Volendam could conceivably have a link back to itself!

What do you think? What’s the best way to represent this important data?

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