While the tradition has (thankfully) changed enormously, and oxen and humans are now safe from bloodthirsty deities, the naming ceremony is still an important element in the launching of a ship.
And, though traditional, it’s not always a woman and not always champagne.
Just add water, or…
Originally a religious ceremony, it has always been accompanied by sprinkling some sort of liquid over the vessel. These have included blood, water (holy, river, salt, or spring), whiskey and brandy have all done duty.
During the American Prohibition, even non-alcoholic cider was used. However, today champagne – with its associations of celebration and sophistication – is usually the liquid of choice.
In France in the 20th century, the ceremony more resembled a baptism or marriage. Priests blessed the ships, a man would be the designated ‘godfather’, he would hand flowers to the ‘godmother’ and together they would speak aloud the ship’s name and thus bless it.
Usually however, a woman takes the role of Godmother, officially announces the name and whacks the hull with the bubbly. The bottle should break - mariners believe it is bad omen should it not.
When the Duchess of Cornwall was named godmother to Cunard’s Queen Victoria a couple of years ago, the ceremony went without a hitch except for one thing – the champagne bottle failed to break. When the first cruises the ship took were struck by outbreaks of viral illness, causing a "vomiting bug," it was dubbed "The Curse of Camilla."
While usually female, “godparents” have included men - such as the Prince of Wales in 1610. The entire passenger list of the Seabourn Odyssey’s maiden voyage on June 24, 2009 were named godparents. A magnum of prosecco was used in that instance, and each guest received a commemorative certificate from the event, and their names were affixed to a plaque displayed on board.
Other unusual choices - the fictional character “Tinkerbell” from the story of Peter Pan was named (presumably ‘fairy’) Godmother.
However, it’s a role now overwhelmingly played by women, and famous Godmothers have included Queen Elizabeth II, Sophia Loren, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride and former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Today the celebrity phenomenon has generally taken over and most Godmothers are household names, and the naming ceremonies are replete with bold face names, press, paparazzi, and opportunities for the cruise line to promote their latest vessel.
Here are some more recent godmothers:
Queen Elizabeth II – the most famous godmother of them all, has been a multiple godmother, apparently making a rare error when in 1969 she named the ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 after herself, instead of the older liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, by saying "I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her." QE2. QED.
The Queen also christened Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, on a cold, rainy day in January 2004.
Continuing the royal tradition, she officially named Cunard Line‘s newest ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth, in October last year by pulling a the lever to break a bottle of Veuve Clicquot during a regal ceremony before more than 1,500 guests, celebrities and dignitaries.
Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench took three tries to break the Champagne bottle against the Carnival Legend and she soaked herself on the third attempt, earning the nickname Dame Judi Drench.
Another Oscar winning actor and great Dame, Helen Mirren, was named godmother of P&O’s newest addition to the fleet Ventura in April 2008. Rather than a push of the button smashing the champagne, she triggered a pair of Royal Marine Commandos who abseiled down the hull to do the smashing. Check the video.
American child star twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were a controversial choice as co-godmothers for Holland Americas Zaandam in 2000. When given the honour, they were too young to cruise alone and under the legal drinking age – hence having to leave their champagne unsipped. The choice was seen as an attempt to appeal to the younger people, and introduce cruise to a new generation.
Whoopi Goldberg is a two time godmother to both Royal Caribbean's Viking Serenade in 1991 (it left service in 2002), and Serenade of the Seas in 2003. She won’t fly – but cruising appears to be okey-dokey.
The Original Cast of "The Love Boat" are godparents to the Dawn Princess. Two Princess ships were used in the original series - Pacific Princess, and then Island Princess (both built in 1971, and both currently serving European cruise lines.) Princess brought back the stars of the old show, over twenty years after it ended, to christen the Dawn Princess in 1997. But only the female cast members - Lauren Tewes (Julie the cruise director) and Jill Whelan (Vicki, Captain Steubing's daughter) got to pull the lever to release the Champagne.
Sally Ride, the first US female to go into space was named godmother to the Carnival Glory in 2003. In a fitting touch the ship was homeported in Port Canaveral, familiar territory for a NASA astronaut.
The entire staff of Norwegian Cruise Line are godparents to the Norwegian Sky. In a graceful gesture in 1999, the cruise line's corporate officers decided that their employees deserved the honour of naming the ship. More than 1200 attended the ceremony and the cruise line made a large donation to the Starlight Children's Foundation on their behalf.
Sophia Loren is MSC cruises’ favourite godmother. ‘Her’ ships include the MSC Opera, MSC Musica and the MSC Lirica. Chances are there’ll be more to come. The company tagline says it all. "Beautiful. Passionate. Italian."
Canada has been getting its share of godmothers:
Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, is a diva in the true sense of the word. An opera singer and concert artist she has numerous performances and recordings to her credit both internationally and at home. An electrifying performer, Brueggergosman created a sensation when she sang at the opening of the winter Olympics, and was a classic choice for godmother to the Avalon Felicity in 2010.
Toronto’s Donnalea Madaley, a Canadian travel agent, won Royal Caribbean's contest and was named godmother of Liberty of the Seas in May 2007. She was chosen from a field of more than 2,500 nominated agents who exhibited exemplary community service. Over twenty years ago Madaley and her husband founded a charity in Bolivia called ‘Hands Across the Nation (www.hatncanada.org). It has since grown and is an amazing testament to what individuals can do to make a difference. Madeley christened The Liberty of the Seas with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne at the Port of Miami.
And now our latest Canadian godmother - Vanessa Lee. One of Canada's leading proponents and influencers within the cruise industry and a well known writer and speaker on cruising and travel, Lee is celebrating her 35th year in the travel industry. She is owner and publisher of the upscale Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Magazine; president and CEO of Cruise Strategies Ltd. and a regular columnist for this publication.
Congratulations to Vanessa and to Avalon Waterways for a choice both deserving and brilliant.
Read our original announcement.