During the AD&D games I ran at the last Marmalade Dog I needed a good ship name, and didn’t have a good one, so I asked the players, and got a great one, the Storm Witch.
I then decided that I could make a table to come up with other usable names.
The most basic such table is a list of adjectives and a list of nouns and roll a die for each column.
Of course, with adjectives you have colors and other descriptors. Powerful action oriented descriptors are cool, like the Flying Dutchman, or the Red Witch (Wake of the Red Witch). Ships have the idea of motion and speed. A name that foreshadows a very fast ship is only fitting if the ship is fast. A slow merchant would tend to have a name evoking reliability or stability, or perhaps a humorous name. A pirate ship would most likely be renamed to something more suiting. a naval ship would have something indicating power, like Dreadnought, Dauntless, Intrepid, etc.
Certain colors tend to give an image of ferocity, danger, dread, etc.
Use the name to draw forth a description for the figurehead. For example, when the player suggested the Storm Witch, I immediately had an image in my head and could describe the figurehead to the others. A woman with hair blown about by the winds of storms.
Some ships might have a single name, like the Dragon, and others could have longer names. Come up with naming conventions by different nations or races. Elves might name their ships after stars or trees. Different human nations might emphasize something different with their ship names.
Below are some tables to mix and match and give ideas for naming ships. This could apply to naming water borne ships or spaceships.
Sea Related Words
Ship Related Words
Crew Related Words
Type of Ship
List of Royal Navy Ships – With links to ships that start with each letter of the alphabet.