When Cunard Line’s newest cruise ship enters service in 2022, it will mark 20 years since it last had four ships in service simultaneously, while also presenting the line with a major problem in choosing a name that will sit comfortably at the cross-roads of brand continuity, public perception and British tradition.
For the oldest passenger shipping company in the world, with a celebrated British heritage, despite the fact that it’s now American-owned, the choice of name for the new ship, its largest ever cruise ship (Queen Mary 2 is larger but she’s an ocean liner), will be extremely important.
There is speculation that she may be named Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2, in honour of the line’s former flagship, which is currently being renovated as a floating hotel in Dubai, but it is unlikely that Cunard would reassign a name which is arguably as famous as Titanic.
With the current British monarch now 91-years-old, and with the new Cunard ship due for completion in 2022, that would make her 96 by the time it is launched.
If she is no longer queen by that time, Cunard would likely name the ship after her successor, either Queen Camilla, or Queen Katherine (if Prince Charles does indeed pass the throne to Prince William).
The Cunard tradition of naming its ships after Britain’s female monarchs is a long one, but the line has only ever had three simultaneously.
Even in the 1930s when the Los Angeles hotel ship RMS Queen Mary was its flagship, the only other ‘queen’ in the fleet was RMS Queen Elizabeth, so it may instead return to its convention of naming its vessels with names that end in ‘ia’ – famous examples were RMS Mauretania, Lusitania, and Aquitania.
The safest and least controversial option would of course be Britannia, the name that it’s first ever passenger ship carried when Cunard Line pioneered the regular trans-Atlantic passenger service.
The fleet would look strange though, with three Queens and one commoner ship, and wouldn’t work well when Cunard holds its magnificent PR stunts with all three ‘Queens’ meeting at sea or in port to celebrate anniversaries or royal Jubilees.
When Cunard got its ‘three Queens’ together to sail up the Mersey into Liverpool to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the line, more than one million people gathered along the route. It’s difficult to see how a cruise ship not named after a Queen would fit into such events, such as in 2025 when Cunard celebrates 185 years of service.
Will it be billed as Cunard’s ‘three Queens and [insert ship name here]”? It all depends rather heavily on what unfolds in the next five years.
Queen Elizabeth II dies before the new ship is launched in 2022 and Prince Charles becomes king, following through on his insistence that the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, be styled as Queen Camilla alongside him.
King Charles and Queen Camilla face considerable public backlash for the move, but nothing placates the British public and reinforces monarchical sentiment like pomp and ceremony, so Cunard Line gets behind the royal PR machine and names the ship Queen Camilla, with a launch and naming ceremony attended by the new queen.
When the QE2 was launched in 1969, the name had been a closely guarded secret, and was only revealed when Her Maj officially named the ship. This would be a great way for Queen Camilla to leave her mark and smooth the troubled waters during her early years on the throne with Charles.
In Scenario 2, the Queen has passed away before the launch of the ship, but Prince Charles has abdicated and passed the throne to Prince William to pre-emptively hold back a possible resurgence in Republican sentiment.
In this scenario, Cunard Line would likely name the ship after Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. The ship would be named Queen Catherine in her honour and would reinforce Cunard’s long-standing and very close relationship with British Royalty. The line has used its British heritage and royal connections to set itself apart from the competition throughout the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century.
Queen Catherine would be extremely popular and that popularity would rub off on the new cruise ship, adding yet more polish to the glittering Cunard legend.
In the third scenario, the Queen is still alive when the ship is launched, or Cunard has decided to eschew getting embroiled in any of the uncertainty surrounding the crown and its succession. The new ship is named using its 20th century ‘ia’ naming tradition (former Cunard ships have included Carpathia, Lusitania, Mauretania and more recently Coronia).
In order to still give the ship a sense of ‘exceptionalism’ in the fleet alongside her ‘royal’ consorts Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, the ship would need to carry a name that evokes the line’s history, its profound sense of ‘Britishness’ and its pedigree as the oldest trans-Atlantic passenger service in the world.
In this case, Britannia, the same name carried by its first ever ship, would fit perfectly. It would need to be Britannia 2, though, because of P&O Cruises’ ‘MV Britannia’. Perhaps that doesn’t work either?