What’s in a name? 108 years of the ‘Royal Australian Navy’

Published on LEUT Andrew Herring (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History, Sea Power Centre - Australia

Commonwealth Naval Orders 77 and 78 of 1911 - Designation of the Naval Forces of the Commonwealth; and Flags to be worn on H.M.A. Ships. (photo: )
Commonwealth Naval Orders 77 and 78 of 1911 - Designation of the Naval Forces of the Commonwealth; and Flags to be worn on H.M.A. Ships.

It has often been asked, “What’s in a name?” When it comes to the ‘Royal Australian Navy’, a great deal indeed…

On this day 108 years ago, 10 July 1911, a Royal proclamation by King George V granted the Commonwealth Naval Forces of Australia the title ‘Royal Australian Navy’.

Far from a mere name change or ‘re-brand’, this proclamation marked an important milestone for Australia and its navy, which was established on 1 March 1901.

For a fledgling nation taking its place in the world, and for a navy preparing to receive its own fleet of newly-built ships ordered following the 1909 Imperial Conference, the title ‘Royal Australian Navy’ signalled an expanded role for Australia’s naval forces.

The Royal Australian Navy would reach beyond coastal defence of the Australian continent to contribute to regional, imperial and global security, alongside the Royal Navy.

The Commonwealth Naval Orders of 1911 gazetted the proclamation:

His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the Permanent Naval Forces of the Commonwealth being designated the Royal Australian Navy and of the ships of that Navy being designated as His Majesty’s Australian Ships.

The Citizen Naval Forces of Australia will receive the Official title of Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

The abbreviations “R.A.N.”, H.M.A.S., R.A.N.R. will be used.

The orders also directed all Royal Australian Navy ships and vessels to fly the White Ensign at the stern and the ‘distinctive flag of the Australian Commonwealth’ at the ‘Jack Staff’, which is the flag pole located at a ship’s bow.

Equally importantly, the orders instructed Royal Australian Navy officers to wear the same uniform as that prescribed for Royal Navy officers - except for the gold buttons. RAN officers were to replace their buttons with a distinctive new Royal Australian Navy design. Royal Navy officers lent for temporary service with the Royal Australian Navy were allowed to retain their RN gold buttons.

Commonwealth Naval Order 79 of 1911 - Uniform of Officers of the Royal Australian Navy.

Commonwealth Naval Order 79 of 1911 - Uniform of Officers of the Royal Australian Navy.

RAN Sea Power Centre - Australia’s Director Strategic and Historical Studies, Mr John Perryman, summed up the significance of the proclamation. 

“The granting of the Royal prefix to the existing naval forces was seen by many as an affirmation of Australia maturing as a nation with the ability to provide for its own maritime security.

“Since 1911 the Royal Australian Navy has earned an enviable world-wide reputation in war and peace as a force for good and to many serving, the traditional title continues to hold great meaning,” Mr Perryman said.