Christening of Ships – From Titanic to Today…

Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck

In her reported last solo public appearance before she gives birth, the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton, christened a new cruise ship on June 13, 2013 in Southampton, England – where Titanic departed for her doomed maiden voyage 101 years ago.

The appearance included a ribbon cutting ceremony ending with the breaking of a four gallon bottle of Moët and Chandon champagne against the ship’s hull. Catherine was also named the official godmother of the new ship, Royal Princess, a tradition dating back to an earlier nautical era.

Although christening was relatively popular at the time Titanic set sail, the White Star Line traditionally did not conduct such a ceremony. Adhering to this tradition was at the discretion of the owners, and although there was a gathering of dignitaries and a luncheon banquet afterwards, there was no particular ceremony. Titanic’slaunch took just over a minute and was admired by a crowd of 100,000.

In Titanic's era, the christening invariably was a lady called a Sponsor or Patroness. In 1912, "Godmother" was term used for the woman that pledges to oversee the religious education of a child at baptism, and who will take care of the child if he/she is orphaned. It wasn’t until later that the term was used for a ship’s christening. Typically, the sponsor is the wife or daughter of the Line's CEO, the Builder's CEO, or a local dignitary.

The breaking of champagne bottles changed over the years… In the Edwardian era, it tended to be a bottle on the end of a rope which could be dangerous – workmen had been injured or killed from falling glass. This was resolved by encasing the bottle in a silk mesh bag. Many sponsors really didn't have the strength to swing the bottle hard enough to hit the ship, and to miss was the sign of bad luck to come.

The most famous near miss was at the launch of the German Liner Bismarck in 1914 (she would have beenTitanic's main rival had she not sunk). The ship was named for the famous Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck and was launched by Bismarck's granddaughter Hannah, who swung and missed. With the liner receding down the ways, the Kaiser took the bottle and threw it against the hull, which was all the more amazing since he was paralyzed in his left arm.

Interesting to note that years later, Hannah took her life into her own hands when Hitler invited her to christen the battleship Bismarck. She replied that she had already had the honor of naming a ship at the request of His Majesty the Kaiser, and saw no reason to repeat herself.