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Boat Names

What’s in a name?

Tony Jones discovers fascinating stories behind some interesting boat names and asks for your suggestions

I’m sure it’s not just me who’s interested in boat names. You’ll often see amusing examples that are a play on words, such as the classic Narrow Escape, Me and ’Er or the cleverly literary Moor and Peace. I’ve also seen others, such as Onion Bargee and Darth Wader, but sometimes a boat name catches my eye because there simply must be an interesting story behind it. Often I don’t get to find out the backstory because the owner isn’t on board, but every now and again I get lucky.

A classic pun for a liveaboard boater.
A classic pun for a liveaboard boater.


We’d love to hear from you about interesting boat names you’ve come across on the cut – here are a few of my favourites:


nb The Stolen Child

Keith and Dawn

I spotted this boat moored in Braunston and was instantly intrigued by what appeared to be a rather dark boat name. I was a little wary of asking about it for fear of dredging up a distressing backstory, but the reasoning revealed the name to be a rather fitting one for a narrowboat.

The Stolen Child is a poem by W.B. Yeats and discusses his yearning for the simple, innocent times of his childhood, free from the stresses and miseries of his adult life. Keith told me, “The boat was already named The Stolen Child when we bought it 17 years ago. We did think about changing it because people might not understand it, but we ultimately decided to keep the name because it was so unusual and fitting for our narrowboat life.” 


nb Granny Buttons

Andrew Denny

Andrew Denny’s boat will be familiar to many boaters. As news editor of WW, it appears regularly in this magazine and Andrew was probably the first canal blogger to publish his adventures in his popular Granny Buttons blog, which takes the name of his boat.  

This honours Andrew’s mother who was known as Granny Buttons because every time she came to visit his sister’s children (her grandchildren), she would bring them packets of Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. When his mother died, the family inscribed ‘dearly beloved Granny Buttons’ on her tombstone and, because a legacy from her allowed him to buy his boat, it seemed respectful to name it after her. He couldn’t resist the temptation to add ‘Bournville’ as a home mooring. 

Over 20 years on, the name remains a draw and I’m quietly pleased that my mother is remembered in this way.” 


Tony Jones spotted Fanny Toot in passing and later discovered its name originates from Geordie slang.
Tony Jones spotted Fanny Toot in passing and later discovered its name originates from Geordie slang.

nb Fanny Toot

I didn’t get to meet the owners of Fanny Toot and only managed to get a photo of their boat name on my way past. However, Andrew Denny bumped into them on his travels a couple of years ago. He managed to find out more about this rather eye-catching name and it’s not as rude as you might think – at least, it’s not intended to be. 

The couple owning Fanny Toot hail from Newcastle and they told Andrew that ‘fanny’ in this context is ‘fannying around’, as in wasting time – such as on the canals. Meanwhile they said ‘toot’ is a term bestowed by Geordies on lazy people. So Fanny Toot is ‘lazy people wasting time on the canals’, a perfect description of boating, I’d say.


nb The Watchman

Tony and Vickie Wigley

My boat was originally called SAABIAR and, for a long time, I had no idea what it meant. I assumed it was some Arabic or Latin phrase, and thought little of it really. It wasn’t until much later that a fellow boater explained to me that SAABIAR is an acronym for ‘Snug As A Bug In A Rug’. I decided that I wasn’t really a snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug kinda guy and, with the boat needing a new paint job and signwriting anyway, I set about the name with a sander and decided to rename the boat. 

The Watchman is a song from the late 1980s released by a goth-rock band called Fields of the Nephilim. I was listening to this song when I was thinking of a new name for my boat, and I felt it was good enough. Fields of the Nephilim is still a great band, by the way, and ideal listening for those dark, melancholy windswept winter nights aboard a narrowboat moored in the middle of nowhere.


nb Shouting End

Barry and Annie Cooper

During a late-afternoon midsummer cruise on the Ashby Canal, I pulled up alongside Shouting End to chat with owners Barry and Annie to get the backstory on their boat name. Like my boat, theirs is named after a song by a little-known band from their youth called The Oyster Band (now Oysterband). 

Shouting End of Life advocates a riotous and fun-filled old age, despairing of those who fade away quietly, and it’s a principle I’d enthusiastically vouch for. 


One that got away - I'd love to know what this boat name is all about.
One that got away - I'd love to know what this boat name is all about.


Renaming your boat

While the official process of renaming your boat is relatively simple, there’s a lot of superstition and folklore to be abided by if you don’t want to endure a boatload of bad luck. 

Officially you only need to inform the organisation that licenses your boat, such as the Canal & River Trust or Environment Agency, and you should let your insurer know too. However, the complications involved in avoiding bad luck are dependent on how superstitious you are. 

Many boaters believe that you must rename your boat while it is out of the water. This is easily achieved when you get the boat blacked or when it is otherwise in dry dock. 

Others believe that you must purge Poseidon’s ledger by removing every trace of your boat’s current identity – that means the signwriting, vinyl lettering, documents, keyrings, life rings and any apparel that might bear the name. Be sure not to miss anything and do not bring anything aboard that bears your boat’s old name.

Then you need to transfer the old name onto a new vessel. Most use an origami paper boat with the old name written on the side in marker pen. This boat can then be set sail on the canal to carry the old name away with it. Some boaters like to make absolutely sure by setting fire to it or sinking it by throwing rocks at it.

A popular supplement to the de-naming ceremony is to pour champagne into the water as the boat sails off into the horizon. You’re welcome to drink the rest of the bottle, thankfully. Only then can you begin the renaming ceremony, which starts by pouring yet more champagne into the water while aboard the boat receiving the new name. Some boaters like to honour Poseidon, Neptune, the gods of the winds or any other deity you feel you need to appease, but the presence of champagne seems to be an essential feature. Once your appeasements are complete, only then can you bring aboard any items bearing your boat’s new name and have it sign written. At this point I’d be inclined to drink more champagne, just to be on the safe side.


This is an abridged version of the article that appeared in "On The Cut" in Waterways World March 2024