The following is the May 24, 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service, Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress.
The names of Navy ships have traditionally been chosen and announced by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President and in accordance with rules prescribed by Congress. The rules for assigning certain types of names to certain types of Navy ships have evolved over time. There have been exceptions to the Naval vessel naming rules, especially for the purpose of naming a vessel for one person when the rule for this type of vessel would have required it to be named for something else. Some observers have perceived a breach or corruption in the naming rules for Navy vessels. Article 370 of NDAA FY2021 (HR 6395 / PL 116-283 of January 1, 2021) establishes a commission regarding the removal and renaming of certain Ministry of Defense assets (including ships) that commemorate states Confederates of America or anyone who has served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.
For the types of ships currently purchased for the Navy or recently purchased for the Navy, the naming rules can be summarized as follows:
- The first and second SSBN-826-class ballistic missile (SSBN) submarines were named Columbia (in honor of the District of Columbia) and Wisconsin. The Navy did not specify the naming rule for this class of ships.
- Until recently, the Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN-774) were generally named for the States, but the four most recently named Virginia-class ships were instead named in honor of the sub -Former attacking navies of the US Navy.
- Of the 15 most recently nominated aircraft carriers by the Navy, 10 were nominated for former U.S. presidents and 2 for members of Congress.
- The destroyers are named after deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, including Secretaries of the Navy.
- The first three FFG-62 class frigates were named Constellation, Congress and Chesapeake, in honor of three of the first six US Navy ships authorized by Congress in 1794. The Navy did not indicate the naming rule for this class of ships.
- Coastal Combatant Ships (LCS) were named for cities and communities of regional significance.
- Amphibious assault ships are named for important battles in which the US Marines played a leading role and for famous earlier US Navy ships that were not named for battles.
- The San Antonio-class amphibious ships (LPD-17) are named after major U.S. cities and communities as well as cities and communities attacked on September 11, 2001.
- The John Lewis Class Oil Tankers (TAO-205) are named after people who fought for civil and human rights.
- Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) is named after small American towns.
- Expeditionary Transport Docks (ESD) and Expeditionary Sea Bases (ESB) are named after famous names or places of historical significance to the United States Marines.
- Navajo-class tow, rescue and rescue vessels (TATS-6) are named after prominent Native Americans or Native American tribes.
Download the document here.