Note: This post only covers combatant vessels.

Aircraft Carriers

Fleet & Light carriers (CV & CVL)

Named after famous old USN ships & famous battles

Example: USS Saratoga (CV-3)

USS Saratoga (CV-3) in foreground with vertical black stripe on her funnel, and USS Lexington (CV-2) in background off of Diamond head, Hawaii in Feb. 1933.

Escort carriers (CVE)

Named after U.S. sounds & bays, WWII naval battles

Example: USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73)

USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73)

Battleships (BB)

Named after States

Example: USS Iowa (BB-61)

A bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) firing its Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns off the starboard side during a fire power demonstration.


Large cruisers (CB)

Named after U.S. Territories & possessions

Example: USS Alaska (CB-1)

USS Alaska (CB-1) in Sept. 1944.

Heavy cruisers (CA)

Named after large American cities & towns

Example: USS Northampton (CA-26)

USS Northampton (CA-26) in Aug. 1935.

Light cruisers (CL)

Named after medium American cities & towns

Example: USS Omaha (CL-4)

Destroyers & Destroyer Escorts (DD & DE)

Named after distinguished USN/USMC officers & men

Example: USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413)

USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) off Boston, Massachusetts in Dec. 1944.

Submarines (SS)

Named after fish & other sea creatures

Example: USS Tang (SS-306)

USS Tang (SS-306) off Mare Island in Dec. 1943.

Submarine Chasers (PC)

No naming convention, given numerical designation

Example: USS PC-815

PC-815 running trials on the Columbia River.


Minelayers (CM & DM)

Named after old monitors of the USN

Example: USS Terror (CM-5)

USS Terror (CM-5)

Auxiliary Minelayers (ACM)

Named after obstructions and fortifications

Example: USS Barbican (ACM-5)

USS Barbican (ACM-5) after transfer and conversion to a Coast Guard buoy tender. Renamed USCGC Ivy (WLB/WAGL-329).

Minesweepers (AM, AMc, & DMS)

Named after birds or abstract qualities

Example: USS Osprey (AM-56)

USS Osprey (AM-56) off Norfolk in April 1941.

Patrol Craft

Gunboats & Frigates (PG & PF)

Named after cities & towns

Example: USS Tacoma (PF-3)

USS Tacoma (PF-3) off San Francisco in Dec. 1943.

River Gunboats (PR)

Named after islands

Example: USS Panay (PR-5)

USS Panay (PR-5) on trials off Woosung, China in Aug. 1928.

Converted Yachts (PY, & PYc)

Named after precious & semiprecious stones, general words

Example: USS Ability (PYc-28)

USS Ability (PYc-28) in 1943.

Motor Torpedo Boats (PT)

Given numerical designations

Example: PT-105



Stubblebine, D. (2009, March). Naming Conventions of US Navy Ships, 1940-1945. Retrieved from