Naming a new icebreaker


In this learning sequence, students research the naming conventions for ships and boats, including icebreakers. Using criteria based on their research, students suggest and evaluate names for a new icebreaker.

Setting the scene: why do ships and boats have names?

Ask students to consider the following: ‘Besides people, what things do we give names to?’

Some suggestions include:

  • pets
  • streets
  • towns and cities
  • rivers
  • schools
  • stations
  • shops and brands
  • sports clubs
  • books

Most ships and boats have names. Can you suggest why? Some reasons are:

  • names make it easier to identify watercraft
  • names make communication between vessels easier
  • names give ships and boats a sense of dignity and importance
  • people have been naming watercraft for thousands of years: it’s a tradition

People often wonder what the differences between ships and boats are. While the criteria are not always hard and fast, some general guidelines are:

  • ships are large vessels, while boats are usually small- to medium-sized. A ship can carry a boat but a boat can’t carry a ship
  • ships usually weigh more than 500 tonnes. Boats can weigh a lot less
  • ships travel across oceans. Boats can travel across oceans but it is common to find them in lakes, harbours, rivers and bays
  • ships need professional crews and a captain. Boats don’t necessarily need professional crews. Some boats can be operated by one person

Explore and research: the names of ships and boats

Ask students to think of boats or ships that they know of. Some possibilities include:

  • Sydney ferries, eg MV Queenscliff, MV Freshwater
  • MS Spirit of Tasmania, which travels between Melbourne and Devonport
  • Popeye, which travels along the Torrens River in Adelaide
  • Australia II
  • HMAS Larrakia, a navy patrol boat based in Darwin
  • Orca, which travels between Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Daydream Island in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Steve Irwin, a Sea Shepherd vessel
  • Polly Woodside
  • Batavia, which was shipwrecked near the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia
  • PS Emmylou, a paddle steamer on the Murray River
  • HMY Britannia
  • USS Missouri
  • historical ships, e.g. HMS Endeavour, HMS Supply, HMS Sirius, RMS Titanic, HMS Bounty, HMS Investigator, Australia II

Using the internet or library, students research the name of a vessel. Some questions they can use to direct their inquiry include:

  • is the vessel named after a person, place or animal?
  • does the vessel’s name describe its size or purpose?
  • what is the meaning of the name?

Students can also find out what the initials at the start of some names stand for, For example:

  • HMS stands for His/Her Majesty’s Ship
  • HMV stands for His/Her Majesty’s Vessel
  • HMY stands for His/Her Majesty’s Yacht
  • MS stands for Motor Ship
  • MV stands for Motor Vessel
  • PS stands for Paddle Steamer
  • RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship
  • USS stands for United States Ship

Students present their findings to the class in spoken, written or illustrated texts.

Students can consider whether there are rules or conventions for naming things. For example, in the Australian Capital Territory, most suburbs are named after people who have made significant contributions to Australian society. A very useful resource is the Australian Electoral Commission’s Guidelines for naming federal electoral divisions. This webpage outlines the rules, or criteria, for selecting names for federal electorates. The criteria include:

  • using names of Australians who are no longer alive but who ‘rendered outstanding service to their country’
  • retaining existing names where possible
  • avoiding the use of geographical names where possible
  • using Aboriginal names where appropriate

Why do you think the Australian Electoral Commission has criteria for naming electorates? What benefits do the criteria offer? What might they avoid?

Explain and share: the names of icebreakers

Students visit the History of ANARE shipping page on the Australian Antarctic Division website. ANARE stands for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. Students identify the vessels that visited Antarctica between 1984 and 1989 (excluding the Lauritzen ‘Dan’ ships and the Aurora Australis) and ask the same questions as they did previously about the names of ships and boats, ie:

  • is the vessel named after a person, place or animal?
  • does the vessel’s name describe its size or purpose?
  • what is the meaning of the name?

It is interesting to note that Tangaroa is a Maori name for the god of the sea, and L'Astrolabe refers to an ancient device used to determine the location of the sun, moon, planet and stars, and to assist in navigation. Lady Jane Franklin is remembered for her charitable works in 19th century Tasmania, as well as her dedicated attempts to find out what happened to her husband John Franklin who disappeared while exploring the Arctic.

Students draw on their findings to complete a list of terms. The stem of the list is ‘Antarctic vessels are named after:’ and suggested words might include:

  • a Maori god
  • an ancient navigation device
  • real and imaginary animals
  • a word that describe reliability
  • a notable person from the early days of Tasmanian settlement
  • imagined royalty

Students visit the Aurora Australis and Nuyina pages on the Australian Antarctic Division website. There is a link to aurora australis, which provides information about the phenomenon for which the icebreakers were named. The origin of the word nuyina is described as well.

Elaborate and apply: suggesting names for a new icebreaker

Drawing on their earlier research, students prepare criteria for selecting a name for a new icebreaker. Along with the naming criteria considered previously (i.e. Antarctic vessels are named after, etc.), students can suggest new criteria that will result in a purposeful name. For example, the name could:

  • let people know the icebreaker is Australian
  • highlight an aspect of the Antarctic environment
  • celebrate an Australian who made a significant contribution to Antarctic research or conservation

The class can decide whether to prioritise their criteria or give some greater weighting than others. Students can research Antarctic conservation, exploration, wildlife or geography to help them prepare a list of words that could be used in the name of the icebreaker.

Evaluate: assessing names for a new icebreaker

Drawing on their list of words, students individually or in groups play with different combinations of words to come up with suggested names for an icebreaker.

Using a table or similar device (see worksheet [PDF]), students assess the value of the suggested names against their criteria.

Students can be given an opportunity to review and re-prioritise their criteria before making a shortlist of names that meet all or most of their criteria.

The class determines the fairest way to vote for a name. One option is for the class to have a round of voting. At the end of the round, the least popular option is eliminated. This process is repeated until only one option is left.

Assessment ideas

Things to look out for include:

  • students’ willingness to contribute to class discussions
  • students’ ability to work co-operatively
  • students’ commitment to accurately researching and recording information
  • students’ ability to organise information appropriately
  • students’ ability to prepare and adhere to criteria for naming the icebreaker.