How to Name a Plane?

Aircraft · 4 min read · Sep 01, 2022
how to name a plane

While it was a bit absurd to name planes in the early 90s, KLM airlines changed the conversation by naming its first airplane Dikke Dirk (Fat Dirk) in the early 1920s. Just like motor vehicles have number plates, airplanes have identification numbers called tail numbers that uniquely identify them. However, today, there is more to this. Most air operators and aircraft owners have adopted the naming of planes primarily to create a stronger relationship and connection between the aircraft and themselves.

Normally, there is no standard for naming an aircraft since there is no regulatory requirement to do so. Each air operator or plane owner chooses what they find interesting, which ranges from the type of plane to the location where it was built, the name of the city, favorite celebrity or artist, football team, hobby, loved one, a historical site, event, or figure among others. Whichever name is chosen for the plane, there must be a meaning attached to it.

Even more, depending on their enthusiasm, some people choose to paint the name of the plane on the nose or side of the plane whereas others choose to keep the names a secret. Those that choose to have the name of the plane written on the side or nose of the plane tend to do so through a special kind of artwork, known as aircraft livery.

A brussels airlines plane with a name Maigritte.

Why name planes?

Just like people name pets, a private air operator may name an aircraft to create a stronger connection with the plane especially if it reminds him or her of something or someone significant. The naming thus becomes a source of emotional attachment to the plane.

Equally, one could name an airplane after a historic event to remind us of the struggles. For example, a plane can be named after one of the soldiers who died in the line of duty during World War II as a sign of patriotism.

Further, global airline brands can name their fleet in order to advertise and market their brands to the public and link their brand with a certain culture. For example, Frontier Airlines, an American low-cost carrier has animals painted on the sides of its airplanes to symbolize its efforts in fighting for the preservation of endangered species.

Some of the notable airplane naming criteria

To show gratitude

Following life-changing events, global airlines can name their aircraft after those events to show appreciation for the humanitarian efforts during the situation.

Remember the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001? Passenger planes were hijacked and diverted by terrorists who then flew the airplanes into the twin towers of New York. Following the closure of the American airspace by the FAA, inbound aircraft to the US had to land at alternative airports, with Gander International Airport in Canada providing the much-needed alternative landing point for over 38 aircraft.

Lufthansa, a German Airline, in showing gratitude to the city of Gander, named one of its Airbus 340 airplanes “Gander Halifax.”

Airbus A343 of Lufthansa being towed to gates.

Naming after spices

You’ve probably already taken a wild guess of a global airline that has its plane names associated with spices – SpiceJet. The Indian airline has some of its aircraft called “Pepper, Coriander, Red Chili, and Turmeric.” With India well known for spicy foods, the Indian airline is probably trying to be a brand ambassador of the home country’s native cuisine.

SpiceJet seaplane boarding passengers.

Lady luck

Virgin Atlantic, as its name suggests, is associated with female names, and so are the names of most of the airline’s fleet. Some of these classic names include “Ladybird, Pretty Woman, Indian Princess, and Queen of the Skies.”

Virgin Atlantic airlines airplane stationed at the airport.

Pun or wordplay

Some airlines tend to stick to having their name be an integral part of the names given to their fleet which is a smart way to develop their airline branding. For instance, JetBlue has wordplay in its given aircraft names. Some of these include “A Blue Point of View, A Whole Blue World, Bluetiful Day in the Neighborhood, Blue With a View, Blue Traveller, Blue Warrior, and A Friend Like Blue” among others.

jetBlue Embraer 190 stationed at an airport tarmac.

Aircraft design

Planes can be given nicknames based on their design such as body size. For example, Qantas Airline has its A340 aircraft referred to as the “Flying Kangaroo.” Equally, Boeing’s 747 was given the nickname the “Jumbo Jet” because of its wide body. Similarly, KLM’s “Fat Dirke” was influenced by the airplane’s wide baseline which was thought to be weird.

KLM Boeing 747 ready for take off on the runway.

Naming after cities

The flag carrier of Israel, EL AI, names its fleet after the towns of Israel. This is to show patriotism for the country. Examples of those names include “Sderot, Jerusalem, and Rehovot.”

To commemorate the naming of the airplane, the corresponding city or town is chosen for the unveiling ceremony of the name of the plane as a sign of blessing.

Isreael EL AI airlines airplane taking off.

Connection with the digital audience

Planes are sometimes named after social media followers to connect with the fan base, which is a bold yet a creative choice. This is after certain promotional drives. For example, Ryanair named some of its planes after certain Facebook fans.

Ryanair aircraft stationed on tarmac at an airport.

Important points when naming a plane

It is important to identify the right font type and size when painting the name of a plane on its fuselage. This ensures that the passengers can see the aircraft from afar and read the name of the plane from a distance.

Also, it is important to maintain uniformity of the name with the other commercial planes’ livery to avoid overstuffing of the fuselage. Whenever overcrowding occurs, the aesthetic appeal of the aircraft to the passengers fades, which may weaken the brand appeal.

Moreover, the livery should be as durable as the white plane paint to counter the weather conditions. This ensures that it doesn’t peel off easily during harsh weather conditions, which could potentially raise the cost of redoing the livery.

Overall, the answer on how to name a plane is that it is up to the air operator or aircraft owner to have an aircraft name that serves the desired purpose.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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