A New Name for Our Boat

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

How do you decide on a name for a cruising boat? What should you consider?

When we bought Que Tal, we didn’t realize what a big deal a boat name is.  Que Tal sounded okay to us — it’s a greeting in Spanish, and the boat was in Mexico — so we kept it.

Little did we know that we were about to live the “who’s on first?” routine. Every time we’d check in with a harbor master or marina on the radio, we’d have an exchange similar to this:

“Marina, marina, marina, Que Tal.”

“Hola.  Who is calling please?”

“Que Tal.”

“Hola. Boat name please.”

“Que Tal.”

“Si, hola.  Que tal? Please tell me the name of your boat.”

“Que Tal is the name of my boat.”

“Oh.” (sounding very puzzled) “Okay.”

Other cruisers didn’t quite get it either.  Some would hear it on the radio as “Kay Tall” and think my name was Kay and that I was perhaps tall.  Others heard it as quetzal, a Central American bird. And many assumed that since we had a Spanish boat name, we spoke Spanish and would greet us with rapid-fire questions and conversation way beyond my “where is the grocery store?” ability.

So this time around, we gave a little more thought to the name.  We wanted something that:

  • Was easy to say
  • Was easy to understand on the radio
  • People could pronounce correctly when they saw it
  • People would know how to spell
  • Not a lot of other boats with the same name (we could only check names of Coast Guard documented boats but that gave us an idea of how popular a name was)
  • Reflected the way we see the cruising lifestyle: fun, informal and relaxed
  • We liked as our last name (we know that when cruising, you’re known by your first name and boat name; only though Facebook does anyone learn your legal last name)

We weren’t into puns (hard to spell correctly), or cat references (we do have a dog aboard, after all).

And while we thought about mothers’ and sisters’ names, I’d seen what could happen: people assume that the woman on board is who the boat is named after, and start calling you by that name.  Much as I love my mom, I don’t want to be called by her name.

As we drove, looking at boats, we made lists of names but none struck us as “right.” Two pages of possible names. We kept listing them and crossing them off.

Heading to the survey on the aborted purchase, we discussed the name further, really wanting to decide on it before the closing (with a documented boat, it’s easiest and cheapest to change a name when you transfer the ownership, but it can be done later). Our list had lots of good names, but we just didn’t feel like we’d found “the” name. Nothing fit — maybe that was a sign right there?

And then, the evening after we made the offer on the boat we did buy, Dave came up with the name that just struck both of us as right. Barefoot Gal

I could tell you all sorts of reasons for the name, but really, when he said it, we just both knew it. Another sign? So be it:

How do you decide on a name for a cruising boat? What should you consider?

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  1. I trust you are going to have the appropriate renaming ceremony with the appropriate offerings to Neptune? 😉

  2. ‘TBG’! I love it! How perfect a name. – Congratulations Carolyn!

  3. I hear your pain…or perhaps folly over your old boat name. Our boat name is IDUNNO. Need I say more⛵️ but really do have a lot of fun with it and everyone remembers us!

  4. Jorge Bermudez says:

    LOL! Never realized “Que Tal” Spanish implication. Great story!

  5. Whew! Barefoot Gal is a relief, I was worried you were going to call her Stinky Feet.

  6. Great name!

  7. Loved your story. We had a baby connection name our boat. Just seemed right, when Cpt Mike had the wee thing in his arms singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that Rainbow would be the name. Previous names were Biguine, while on Oregon coast, and then Bygone in lakes in Canada. Now Rainbow on the east coast of Canada. Except for one owner who had her on the hard for a year, every time she has had a new owner in a new location, she has been given a new name. Seems fitting.

  8. Please, what is “TBG?” Please

  9. Barefoot Gal – I love it! We had a similar experience when renaming our boat. Tossed around dozens of names, almost settled on a few different ones – inspired by literature, family names, and song lyrics. We’d recently lost our sweet Border Collie who people sometimes said resembled the dog in the Blue Dog paintings by Rodrigue. One afternoon hubs was away running errands and just texted me the words “Blue Dog?” We both knew immediately that was “the one.”

  10. Jennifer Willos says:

    What ceremony do you do to re-name a boat. We want to do it to our boat but our friends are so superstitious about it they have scared us off…they tell us we will sink..and all who sail in her will not be safe..unless we do it the correct way..
    So tell me the correct way PLEASE …


  11. Love the new name! When we bought our new-to-us 1977 Newport 30 last summer in the PNW, we or I should say ME went through dozens of web sites of boat names. I had three pages of possible names. We couldn’t decide. So, the name remains the same. ARABESQUE. Perhaps when we get her on the hard after this summer, with a new paint color a new name will come to us. By the way, I was told that bananas are bad luck on a boat. Is it along the same line as the Renaming ceremony, superstition and all? We will have a renaming ceremony, never can be too sure, right? Lol

  12. How did you de- name the boat? What kind of ceremony did you do?

  13. We’re in the throws of finding another name for our boat as well. We’ve done the denaming, so now she is just the ‘boat with no name’ until we get that epiphany. Glad you got yours! Love the name. It does fit.

  14. DebLewis says:

    Congratulations on a beautiful boat and a great name! We recently purchased a new to us sailboat and renamed her. Your renaming angst made me smile remembering the self imposed criteria for our new name, lists of names and text messages that passed between my husband and I, not to mention all the (brilliant) names that were deemed laughable by the two adult children.

    But “Seamist” has officially become “Trinity” (with appropriate offerings to Neptune) and I think we have managed to fulfill all our self imposed naming criteria. We just didn’t tell the kids until the new name was installed on the transom 😉

  15. Poseidon officiating is the BOMB!

  16. Yay! Congratulations! It’s a great name!

  17. Love the “who’s on first” story.

  18. Neil Ensor says:

    I went with Mum’s name, after all her passing provided the finance. However there was already a “Sylvia” at Fremantle (WA) sailing Club and a “Lady Sylvia”. In the next pen was “Spirit of Meagan ” so “Spirit of Sylvia ” became the new name. It was not until quite a while later somebody pointed out -Don’t EVER abbreviate it to just the initials ! S.O.S. !

  19. I was gonna guess something with tiki yesterday … love the new name! Should have known it was something with the feet! =)

  20. I understand the desire as a new owner to change your boat’s name. She is yours and she is not theirs anymore. Our sloop has the most common of all boat names, “Carpi Diem”. We are the third owners of our well kept vessel of freedom. I had the opportunity to crew and learn this boat before the opportunity to purchase was available to me. I have owned sailing vessels before this one and struggled with the naming question, bad luck, ceremonial pagentry, etal… In my hmo of my years, “messing about” in boats, every lady has her own personality and her own history. In my home port I would be tared and featherd by my sailor friends at the yaht club bar if I changed the name of, “Carpi …” as she is affectionanlly known. This said. Don’t rush to change the name of your previosly owned boat. You may find that her original name sutes her well as learn each other,

  21. We recently had a renaming ceremony and we appealed to the gods of the deep to accept our new name of “BRAVEHEART” for our Rosborough trawler. The Braden River BagPipe Band was there to help celebrate along with 70 of our closest friends. I think we had more fun than anyone … a great event for your boating pals.

  22. Renaming a boat oh err that is a brave step… us Brits are so superstitious about re-naming, it is almost unheard of. Ours simply was extended to make it unique for the UK Pt I Registry. Glad you’ve a new boat, shame it has to wait out a hurricane season before you get to sail her but all good things come to them that wait. Fair winds

  23. Bravo! On the new boat AND name. YES! your criteria hits the target. Herreshoff wrote that you should picture yourself rowing in an anchorage (now days on the radio) hailing your boat name. So many folks have boat names that no one can pronounce. Cheers to flat sailing on Barefoot Gal!

  24. Hi! I’d like to reference this post on my blog. I’ll link back to your post. May I do that? Thank you.

  25. I’ve kept a list of the oddest boat names that we hear over the air waves. The worst was : “May Day” !!!! Imagine calling that name three times to hail that boat!? –I think recently our coast guard wants people to be brief and not hail a boat by her name three times… Some names are so awful, I wanted to scream: Stand on your deck in a quiet anchorage and yell the potential name and see if you and the public think it sounds ok!

  26. When we bought our practice boat I thought of a great name… On A Whim… It fit her perfectly and reflected how we found her. As we’ve been searching for our dream boat we’ve been struggling to find a good name, especially one that was as delightful as the first. It seemed wrong that our big dream boat have a name that didn’t sing as beautifully as the first.
    We’ve gone through several boats we thought we might buy (I called them our “boat of the moment”) but I couldn’t find a good name for any and grieving their loss passed quickly. When we found our newest boat (already did successful sea trial and survey… Just a matter of paperwork now) I just knew it was going to work out when the perfect name for her came to me very quickly. We’re renaming her “On The Bright Side”… Which also reflects the way we found her.

  27. I love the name “Barefoot Gal” – You and Dave did good.

  28. Waterwoman says:

    When we bought our bought 33 years ago, the first club trip we took down the California coast was a series of mishaps and boat problems (new boat). It took us a long time to get to our destination and all the fleet was there waiting for us. We named our boat RAMBLIN’ and haven’t heard it on the radio with the exception of RAMBLING ROSE.

    I love your new boat name and it definitely suits you and the new lifestyle you will encounter!

  29. Ton Nieuwpoort says:

    The funniest boatnames I’ve seen are the next (All phonetic in dutch or (the last one) in French)
    ASPA BANGIS (a smal kajak-canoe, When Dad’s afraid)
    QUISTNIX (I didn’t know one)
    CONAMPER (It hardly could) and
    MJEUKUUNFAM sailed by two retired men: in French Mieux q’une femme: Better than a wife .

    My own sailingboat is called KLUUT (Avocet) because a classic Dutch book on birdwatching said “This bird likes to muddle around in brackish water”.

  30. We just named our new baby: GetAway

  31. We renamed our new-to-us sailboat Escape Pod. Then I retired?

  32. Cheryl Shreeves says:

    My husband and I both love music and when we got our boat, we knew it had to do with music. Driving home after we put an offer on our boat, we were going through our long list of names. The song, “Beginnings” by Chicago came on the radio……perfect!

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