One of the most magnificent passenger liners of the 20th century was the RMS Queen Mary. Its name became synonymous with luxury travel.
Its name was also a mistake.
Construction on the ship started in 1930. The Cunard Line wanted it to be the flagship of the industry, establishing the highest standards in all categories. Company executives sought a name for the ship that would instill the image of excellence in the minds of the public. By tradition, Cunard ships bore names ending in “ia” such as Mauretania and Lusitania. With that in mind, they settled on Queen Victoria. Naming the ship after the queen who oversaw Great Britain’s status as an imperial power seemed like a match made in heaven.
If it was to be named after a former sovereign, Cunard needed the permission of the current occupant of the throne. A delegation from the company sought an audience with King George V. His Majesty welcomed the men and asked them to state their business. The spokesman described the ocean liner that was under construction. He then formally asked the king’s permission to name the vessel after Britain’s “greatest queen.”
The king’s countenance immediately showed his approval. The delegation’s mood quickly changed, however, when the king said that his wife, Queen Mary of Teck, would be delighted to lend her name to the luxury liner.
Feeling quite awkward but left with no other option, the representatives returned to the company headquarters and announced that the new ship was to be christened the Queen Mary.
When word got out about the faux pas, Cunard representatives denied the story and continue to do so to this day. They claimed they intended to name the ship after the king’s consort all along.
The account of the awkward meeting with George V appeared in Lives of the Liners, a 1947 book by Frank Braynard. It was confirmed by Washington Post editor Felix Morley, who said he heard it directly from Sir Percy Bates, chairman of the Cunard Line. He said Bates told him the story “on condition you won’t print it during my lifetime.” In 1988, Braynard’s account was further confirmed by Eleanor Sparkes, daughter of Sir Ashley Sparkes, who’d been with Bates during the conversation with George V.
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