HMS ResoluteIs it a baby or a battleship?

Thanks to Holly for suggesting Resolute as our Baby Name of the Day.

Before you dismiss Resolute, consider this: word names remain a big category for name innovation.  Many parents find choices with virtuous meanings especially appealing.

As a word, resolute comes from the Latin resolvere, which means to loosen, to come apart.  It could also imply one with questionable morals.

It means something almost opposite now.

I can’t pinpoint the exact date of the shift – Maurice de Berkeley was a thirteenth century baron, and part of the rebellion that forced King Henry III to accept a number of reforms limiting his authority.

By the 1500s, the phrase “resolute answer” came into use.  A resolute answer is a definitive, final reply.  You can see it used in this letter from the Earl of Hertford to King Henry VIII.

The related words resolve and resolution underwent a similar transformation.

Nowadays, if you are resolute you are determined.  Absolute.  Unyielding.  Maybe even a little bit stubborn.  It’s the kind of name chosen for military operations and large ships.

The most interesting tale takes us all the way to the Arctic.

Several nineteenth century explorers had ventured to the frozen north.  Sir John Franklin had two successful expeditions under his belt when he set out to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1845.

Franklin failed.  He lost his life, and the lives of his entire crew, after their ship became hopelessly icebound.  But that wasn’t immediately known.  All the British public – and Lady Franklin – knew for sure was that nothing had been heard of the expedition since their departure.

Several attempts were made to determine their fate.  In 1850, the British equipped ships for Arctic travel, including the HMS Resolute.

On her first voyage, the small fleet returned, having found some evidence of Franklin’s camp, but no certain answers.  They set out again in 1852.  This time, the Resolute became locked in ice and was abandoned – though most of the crew made it home on another vessel.

A few years later, an American whaler discovered the Resolute and managed to sail it home to Connecticut.

The ship was eventually returned to England, where it was eventually broken up and its timber used to make desks.  The largest was gifted to US President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria, a token of Britain’s appreciation for the American role in the ship’s return.  Since the Kennedy administration, it has typically been used in the Oval Office.  Barack Obama uses it as his official desk now.

In the 1950s, the US and Canada built an Arctic weather observation station at Resolute Bay, named for the ship.

It’s a fascinating story, but that hasn’t translated to Resolute’s use as a given name.  There have never been even five boys called Resolute in a single year in the US.  I can’t find any Americans with the given name, or the middle name – but it does seem to have had a brief run in Australia.

Overall, Resolute sounds like it should be among those Puritan extreme virtue names, and yet it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t work in 2013.  He’d shorten to Rez or Lou, and he doesn’t really need to shorten at all.  If boys can answer to gutsy word names like Cannon and Gunner, why not ones with great meanings and rich histories, too?

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. It’s definitely interesting, considering I’ve met kids named Wisdom, Kindred, Arbor, Maverick and Valiant… I’m not terribly surprised by word names any more.

  2. An interesting choice. For me, it conjures up images of Nicolas Cage pulling apart the resolute desks looking for treasure maps.