Abbreviation Nation

5 Aug

If I say “USS Badger” or “HMS Richmond,” you know exactly what those abbreviations mean. I love ship prefixes, I use them extensively in all my scifi stories, but as I’ve learned over the years, most non-English-speaking countries don’t use them. So… naval intelligence puts some prefixes on anyway!

Take the Wufeng Shan, which is a type 072 landing ship run by the (Chinese) People’s Liberation Army Navy. They have no ship prefixes–that’s probably a symbol of imperialist oppresion. So without an official one, you can go with the more prosaic CNS – Chinese Naval Ship – or my favorite, the PLANS – People’s Liberation Army Navy Ship. There is something so wonderfully bizarre about the term “Army Navy.”

This is not just a foreign thing — sometimes the US military takes the abbreviation too far. Take the ship pictured above: USAV SSGT Robert T. Kuroda (LSV-7). First off, this is an Army ship; that’s right, the US Army has its own ships. Unfortunately, the Army decided, we can’t just use the standard prefix. We go with “United States Army Vessel” and then add the frickin’ rank of the man we’re honoring! The hell?

Or you can go with the NOAAS Okeanos Explorer, which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ship. They’re one of the civilian federal uniformed services of the US (didn’t know that, did ya?) along with the National Health Service. The hospital ships, though, are run by the US Navy but are given the civilian designation USNS Mercy – United States Naval Ship.

When you have to translate it into other languages, that’s where prefixes get fun. Take the picture above – Hr.Ms Van Amstel (F831). That’s Harer Majesteits or His Netherlands Majesty’s Ship which works a lot better than the English equivalent: HNLMS. Sometimes even English abbreviations can get cumbersome, such as HMNZS Te Kaha (New Zealand naval ship) or the CCGS Cap Aupaluk (Canadian coast guard ship), which at least dropped “Her Majesty’s” ship from the title.

I find this endlessly fascinating. So much so that I like reusing old ones – my current story project is set in the Terran Confederation, so the ships have a Confederate State Ship, such as the CSS Community of Harmonious States.

Am I the only one? Do you like ship prefixes? What are some of your favorites? What would you name your ships? Tell me in the comments below!

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