Nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines, built to carry the Polaris strategic deterrent missile, began to go into commission in the early 1960s. These were rightly regarded as ships without precedent. Thus, a name source of their own was deemed appropriate. Our first ballistic missile submarine was named George Washington, and the rest of the "41 for freedom" bore the names of "famous Americans and others who contributed to the growth of democracy." Some of these submarines were later reclassified as conventional attack submarines under the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) agreements. Though they lost their missile capability, they continued to bear such names as Patrick Henry and Ethan Allen. The newest Trident missile submarines of the Ohio class bear state names, one of the name sources originally considered for the first Polaris submarines. One of the class, Henry M. Jackson, honors a legislator who had a strong share in shaping American defense programs.
Into the mid-1970s attack submarines continued to be named for sea creatures, though a few were named for such legislators as Richard B. Russell and L. Mendel Rivers. Ships of the more recent Los Angeles class bear the names of American cities. One exception, Hyman G. Rickover, honors the man who has been called "the father of the nuclear Navy." The new Seawolf class has departed from this scheme, with Seawolf representing a "denizen of the deep" and Connecticut named for the state; the third ship of the class has not yet been named.
After World War II aircraft carriers were given a mix of such traditional carrier names as Ranger, Saratoga, and Coral Sea and names of individuals. The first of these, as we have seen, was Franklin D. Roosevelt, later followed by Forrestal and John F. Kennedy. All the ships of the current Nimitz class bear the names of such national figures as Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and Ronald Reagan.
The names of American battles have been perpetuated by the newest class of guided missile cruisers. The first of these was Ticonderoga; twenty later ships of this class honor actions fought from the Revolution to World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. One ship is named Thomas S. Gates for a statesman who served as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense.
Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers continue the tradition of honoring naval leaders and heroes. There are the typical exceptions; Roosevelt (DDG 80) was named in honor of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, while Winston Churchill honors the great war leader of World War II. Some destroyers bear names of recent heroes, while others carry on the traditions of distinguished former ships of the same name.