Tag Archives: boats

Renaming a Boat

Informant Information — DD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 68
  • Occupation: Professor
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant grew up in San Pedro, CA, a port town where a large proportion of the town works on/near the water. He has sailed as a hobby and professionally for more than 50 years. He is still active in his town’s boating community and keeps up with sailing magazines, books, news, etc. The informant shared this information with me in an in-person interview.


You mentioned that it’s bad luck to rename a boat. Where and when did you first hear that?


So the first time I bought a sailboat, it was a 30-footer that I wanted to fix up and sail back and forth to Catalina in. The guy that sold it to me said, “Well you better not change the name because it’s really bad luck.” 


Did you take his advice and keep the boat’s original name?


Nope, I changed it anyway. I don’t even remember what the original name was, but I remember that I didn’t really like it. I’ve used the same name for every boat I’ve ever renamed, but I’ve never had bad luck with a boat… not even the ones that I renamed. Once an original name was actually kind of an offensive stereotype, so I think renaming that one actually gave me some good luck. 


I see! Do you think that this is a pretty common superstition?


Not so much anymore, just because it’s so common to sell, buy, and re-sell boats so often now… I actually know a little bit of history about this, though. Back in the old days, when records were less official and harder to keep track of, you would check in to a harbor or port of call with your boat’s name, and anything that happened was associated with that name. Back then, if you were to suddenly change the boat’s name, it would be kind of like erasing its history… suspicious, you know? You wouldn’t do that unless you had gotten into some trouble, so the renaming thing got associated with troublemakers. 


This is a great example of how our changing society has altered our perception of folklore. With new technological developments, records are easily accessible around the world, making it much easier to keep track of vessels, regardless of their names. The informant mentioned that there might be a trick to get rid of bad luck after changing a boat’s name, which would be an example of conversion superstition. However, he couldn’t remember any specific methods or details, so that part of the conversation was not included in the piece. 

Bananas in the boat

Context: This person spent much of his childhood on a boat. Believes this tradition originated with sailboat trade from around the 1600s. 


“But, anyways, I’ve been fishing my whole life and growing up I was told that it’s bad luck to have bananas on the boat. If you had bananas on the boat, you’re going to run into bad weather, you’re not going to catch any fish, and just random bad things. I’ve continued that tradition onward when I go fishing. Can’t be cooked into anything else, or any other forms of bananas. Just no bananas. There are also people though, like this YouTuber I watch who’s a contrarian, who always goes fishing with a banana as a joke”.


This particular piece of folklore highlights the extreme amount of folkloric content existing around the boating world. Consistently and without fail sailors and seamen in general have proven to be an extremely superstitious subsect of society. While maybe just an unexplainable trait for that group of people, could also be explained by the rich history with boating and seamen activities. Additionally, with so much of what happens out on the water being left up to the whims of mother nature, it makes sense that people would try and explain the unexplainable with superstitions. 

The Valge Laev (The White Ship) Of Estonia

Informant’s Background:

The informant, in this case, is my mother, M, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Estonian family in the North-East of Canada. Her family had escaped from occupied Estonia, and had settled in Canada before she was born. She moved with my father to Los Angeles, in the United States, to take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.


I mentioned collecting folklore to my mother, who I regularly call on the phone now that I have moved out of our house, and she told me that she wanted to help. I told her yes, and she emailed me the following.

Performance (Written Over Email):

M: “This myth dates back to 1860 when a peasant preacher declared himself a prophet and called on his followers to leave Estonia to resettle in the Crimea in southern Russia. He went on ahead and promised that a white ship – the “Valge Laev” — would come to take them to this Promised Land. Several hundred families gathered on the beach to wait for the white ship, but it never came. Most Estonians were serfs, living under extremely harsh conditions, basically slavery, until 1811. Even after serfdom was abolished, life for the peasants was very hard, and there were several unsuccessful revolts against the German nobility who still owned most of the land. The White Ship was a symbol of hope, of escape to freedom and a better life.”

Informant’s Thoughts (Written Over Email):

M: “My mother was a young girl in Estonia during World War II, surviving two occupations, the first by the Red Army in 1940, the second by Nazi Germany, from 1941 to 1944. In the late summer of 1944, as Germany was losing the war and German troops were leaving Estonia, the “Soome Poisid” (“Finnish boys” – Estonians who had volunteered to fight with the Finns during the Winter War with the Soviet Union) came back to Estonia, ready to make a last stand for Estonian independence. My mother’s brother Rein was one of them. The situation was hopeless; the Red Army was closing in. But Estonians remembered that the British had come to their aid during the War of Independence (1918-1920). And so the myth of the White Ship returned.”


I think this myth makes total sense given Estonia’s troubled history. The frequent invasions and occupations by foreign forces throughout Estonian history have no doubt led to many myths and tales created with the intention of spreading hope of freedom for the Estonian people. The fact that this myth was able to survive and be retold a century later speaks to Estonia’s dependence on folklore as a means of maintaining its cultural identity, and to the need for hope and resilience during it’s many occupations.

Minnesota Loon Folk Belief


Although Informant AA has lived in Alabama for most of their lifetime, they frequently return to their hometown in Minnesota to visit their family that still lives there. AA’s family live on one of the many lakes in Minnesota and they frequently take their boat out on the water.

When speaking with AA, they told me of a superstition that is shared between many boaters in Minnesota. The Minnesota state bird is the Common Loon. Loons can swim underwater in search of food for up to five minutes.


The belief is that if your boat hits and kills a Loon while it is swimming underwater your boat becomes cursed.

I asked AA how boaters would respond if they were to kill a Loon while boating or if there were any ways to reverse this curse. AA did not have any answers to these questions, but they did say that their family is careful to avoid any Loons while they are boating.


Since the Loon is recognized as the state bird, it serves as a symbol for Minnesota. After hearing this folk belief, I am led to believe that it not only functions to protect the Loons themselves but also the identity of Minnesota. With increased boat activity comes an increased risk of damaging the native Loon population. In accepting the belief that a boat becomes cursed once it kills a Loon, citizens are simultaneously supporting and sustaining a facet of their Minnesota identity.

Boat naming

Main piece:

There’s a whole, elaborate set of standards related to boat naming. And a lot of rules have exceptions and a big part of it all is taste, of course. And I’m sure there are cultural differences too – like, a lot of these rules are probably unique to American boats.

A couple that come to mind though? You can’t name a boat anything to do with a storm or sinking or waves. That’s asking to sink. And you can’t say anything about the wind. We can tell you have a fucking sailboat, y’know? It’s just stupid. And if you’re fast, go fast. Don’t name your boat Glide or Speed or some other shit.

There’s stuff that you want though too – women’s names. Three A’s – that’s good. That’s how you get names like Atlantas. And you want it to be short. More than anything, really. Like, a fast boat has a short name. Three words? That boat’s never leaving the dock. And nothing about alcohol. That’s just… I dunno. Ya just don’t do it, though.


Conventions described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.


Randy’s boat is named “Sarah Abbott”, after his own mother. This is considered to be an extremely tasteful name, as it contains both three A’s, is the name of a woman, and is two words.


Naming conventions reflect taste and cultural norms within the sailing community. Everywhere in the sailing community, simplicity is valued. Luck is valued. And in all fairness, women are generally missed while at sea. (Though this will change as sailing becomes more diversified with regards to gender).