Why Are Ships Called She? Uncovering the Metaphors, Linguistics, and Cultural Significance Behind this Tradition


Ships have been a significant part of humanity’s history for millennia. They have been crucial for exploration, transportation, trade, and war, and have inspired countless tales of adventure and heroism. While ships have been referred to with various pronouns throughout history, there has been a long tradition of calling them “she.” This practice has been around for centuries, but have you ever wondered why? Why are ships called she? In this article, we’ll explore the metaphors, linguistics, and cultural significance behind this traditional practice.

Historical Perspective

The practice of calling ships “she” has roots in humanity’s early seafaring history. Many early cultures believed in goddesses or feminine spirits of the sea who were responsible for protecting and guiding ships through their journeys. These beliefs led sailors to refer to their ships as female, as they believed these divine beings watched over them during their voyages.

As exploration and trade expanded, ships became more significant and complex. They were no longer just objects of transport but machines that required skill and expertise to navigate and maintain. As such, they required careful attention and tender care – much like caring for a woman.

The tradition of calling ships “she” was also popularized through literature. Many famous ships in literature, such as the Pequod in Moby Dick, are referred to in the feminine. This practice made its way into common vernacular and further solidified the female metaphor of ships in the minds of the public.

Metaphorical Analysis

So why are ships so often associated with feminine qualities? The metaphorical reasoning behind this belief is that ships, like women, can provide shelter, protection, and safe passage. They carry life (and sometimes death) within them and are sources of sustenance and support. They are simultaneously powerful and graceful, sturdy yet fragile.

This connection of ships to women reflects societal norms and cultural beliefs about gender roles. Metaphors are not just literary devices but also shape how we think about and understand the world. In this case, ships as she reflect notions of femininity as nurturing and supportive entities.

Linguistic Analysis

The use of “she” as the pronoun for ships is not unique to English. In many other languages, such as French, German, and Spanish, ships are also womanly. This linguistic phenomenon has its roots in the Indo-European language family, where gendered nouns are prevalent. In some languages, such as Russian, there are even different genders for different types of ships.

In English, the use of “she” for ships is likely due to the influence of other European languages but also reflects the underlying feminine metaphors associated with ships that have been present for centuries.

Cultural Analysis

The practice of calling ships “she” has been a longstanding tradition in seafaring cultures. For example, in Polynesia, female sea deities such as Tefnut and Kupala were believed to govern the sea. In Norse mythology, the goddess Ran ruled the sea. Seafaring cultures had a deep respect for the power of the ocean and recognized the feminine qualities necessary to safely navigate the sea.

It is worth noting that women have historically played significant roles in seafaring. For example, women in Polynesian cultures were skilled navigators and often joined sea voyages. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the UK even named a boat after Grace Darling, who was an inspiration for women in search and rescue operations.

The metaphorical connection between ships and women highlights the roles of women as protectors and providers and points to the historical significance of women’s contribution in seafaring cultures.

Practical Analysis

Calling ships “she” is not just a metaphorical or cultural practice but also has practical implications. In nautical tradition, ships are considered property and are often personified to reflect the challenges of navigating and maintaining them. Calling ships “she” allows for a personal connection that aids in the navigation and classification of ships – allowing sailors to recognize a ship’s characteristics and handle it accordingly.

However, calling ships “she” has also been criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes. Some argue that the female metaphor of ships reflects gendered assumptions that women are objects or property, which is not an accurate or respectful representation of women.

Contemporary Relevance

The tradition of calling ships “she” remains prevalent in modern times, but some are challenging its relevance in today’s society. In an age where there is more focus on gender equality and sensitivity, referring to ships with a feminine pronoun can be seen as outdated and problematic. Instead, some have suggested using gender-neutral pronouns or referring to ships by their names.

Changing the language used to describe ships may seem trivial, but it reflects a broader societal shift toward acknowledging and respecting diverse identities and erasing harmful gender stereotypes. As language shapes how we think and act, changing how we talk about ships can help to foster a more inclusive society.


In conclusion, the practice of calling ships “she” has its roots in mythology, literature, and seafaring culture. The metaphorical and linguistic connections between ships and women reflect historical notions of gender roles and provide insight into the roles that women played in seafaring cultures. While the practice has practical implications, it also perpetuates potentially harmful gender stereotypes. As we reconsider our attitudes toward gender and gender roles, it is worth exploring alternative ways of talking about ships that are more inclusive and respectful.

The next time you refer to a ship as “she,” take a moment to appreciate the complex metaphors, cultural beliefs, and practical considerations that have contributed to this tradition. And consider how alternative ways of thinking can help to shape a more equitable society that values diversity and inclusivity.

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