Dear People of the Future: Don't Name Your Spacecraft “the Prometheus”

Slate's Culture Blog
June 5 2012 11:29 AM

What Not To Name Your Spaceship

BB_Prometheus_ship
Prometheus is a terrible name for a spaceship.

Image of the USCSS Prometheus © 20th Century Fox 2012. All rights reserved.

Heavily foreshadowed spoilers ahead.

Dear People of the Future,

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve just received a state-of-the-art spacecraft, and you’re probably about to take it on an extremely dangerous mission. Your journey may even concern the safety and continued survival of the human race.

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

But don’t worry! I’m betting your new ride is pretty sick. It’s probably got a warp drive and maybe a solar sail and lots of other technology I couldn’t even begin to understand.

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At this point, you’re probably wondering: What should I name my spacecraft?

If it’s 2057, and you’re flying to the Sun because the human race needs you to reignite it, and your previous ship, called the Icarus I, has mysteriously disappeared, I plead with you: Do not name your new ship the Icarus II. Try a new name this time! I know Icarus had some pretty nice wings, but they didn’t last, remember?* It’s a pretty good bet your ship won’t either.

In fact, you idiots may want to name a whole bunch of ships “the Icarus.” Maybe you stopped actually reading the Greek myths, and just pore over the cast of characters for spaceship names. But don’t you at least watch movies? Planet of the Apes is a pretty good one—you might even call it a sci-fi classic. But the Icarus from that movie ended up crashing on a hostile planet ruled by apes. Worse, the planet ended up being Earth!

(Speaking of which, if you’re about to breed a race of super-intelligent apes, please don’t name the first one Caesar.)

That said, if you’re a supervillain harnessing the sun’s energy to instigate World War III—and especially if you like flying by plane—by all means, choose the name Icarus. Ignore what I said above.

Otherwise, if you’re taking on a mission of vital or, let’s say, hubristic scale, the names of Greek tragic figures should generally be avoided. Bellerophon, for example. Sure, he was pretty mighty, and a good flyer, but he ended his life “as a blinded crippled hermit.” Narcissus, similarly, is not a very good name for your escape pod. And the Nostromo—don’t you guys still read Conrad? At that point you might as well go ahead and christen your ship the GSS Suicidal Insanity or the Starship Titanic.

Finally, if it’s 2089, and you’re blasting off to investigate what might be the alien origins of mankind, you may be considering the name “the Prometheus.” If so, I strongly advise that you reconsider. I don’t know exactly how your journey will turn out, but I suspect that it will not go well. Remember the eagle who ate Prometheus’s liver every day, with said liver then growing back and getting eaten again the next day? Do you really want to end up with things tearing into your stomach?

If you must use a classical Greek name, take a tip from the mid-20th century, and go for one of the gods who usually won out in the end. Apollo, for instance—that’s a good one. (Just don’t name it 13. Trust me.)

Oh, after you’ve named your ship, if you’re headed anywhere called “Pandora” or you’re pursuing “unobtanium,” it might be best to think twice. Just stay home.

Sincerely,

Cassandra

* This post originally suggested that Icarus built his wings. They were built by his father, Daedalus.

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