Change: The Only Historic Constant in Rating Names

USS Saint Louis (C-20) ship's Signalmen, with the tools of their trade, 1908.

USS Saint Louis (C-20) ship’s Signalmen, with the tools of their trade, 1908.

 

From Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

When it comes to Navy enlisted ratings the only constant is change. Take a look at the Naval History and Heritage Command’s online Compilation of Enlisted Ratings and Apprenticeships, U.S. Navy, 1775 to 1969 (Prepared by Charles A. Malin in December 1969). It clearly bears out that notion, listing more than 300 different enlisted rating names over the course of the nearly 200 years it covers.

So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Navy leaders are working to modernize a career management system that has faced many challenges in recent years. It should also not be a surprise, given his emphasis on increasing the speed of learning as an element of maintaining maritime superiority, that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson quickly determined that modernization could occur without eliminating enlisted ratings altogether.

Still, it is unlikely Sailors’ ratings are never going to change again. In fact, the announcement of the reinstatement of enlisted ratings says as much. The modernization discussion has been going on for some time. However, it came to prominence about a year ago when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus directed a review of the Navy’s rating names to ensure they were representative of all Sailors and did not discriminate based on gender.

The gender element of the discussion took off on social channels with many bemoaning that even considering the issue was an affront to the Navy’s rich history and proud heritage. However, looking back on Malin’s history of rating names and focusing on the use of the word or phrase “MAN” turns up a couple of interesting facts.

FACT ONE

With the exception of the RANKS Seaman, Airman, Fireman, Dentalman, Hospitalman, Machinist, Midshipman, Officer’s Cook 3c-1c, Painter 3C-C, there are a total of 303 rating names in the above source, of which only 60 contained the word or phrase “MAN” in their title at some point in the 194 year period between 1775 and 1969.

FACT TWO

Of those 60 ratings, the overwhelming majority were modified from a non-gender specific name to one that included “MAN” — Hospital Corpsman, for instance, was changed from Pharmacist’s Mate in 1948 — or were established with “MAN” in the names mostly in the mid- to late-1940s. Though our Navy has a lot to be proud of in the past sixty plus years, that time period has to be taken into consideration with the other 181.

FACT THREE 

Ratings, U.S.N. Old. 1897 Uniform Regs.

Ratings, U.S.N. Old. 1897 Uniform Regs.

If you look at the Naval Act of 1794 approved by the Third U.S. Congress on March 27, 1794, you’ll see a list of enlisted job titles approved for the Navy and the only one among them that contains the letters “MAN” is Yeoman and by 1794, that word had been in wide use in the English language for more than 400 years.  What you find is enlisted Sailor jobs often took the names of the positions of their officer leaders — the enlisted people serving the ship’s Boatswain were known as Boatswain’s Mates, the enlisted people serving the ship’s Gunner were known as Gunner’s Mates, same with Carpenter’s Mates and Sailmaker’s Mates.  Otherwise the titles were simple descriptions of the job: cook, cooper, master-at-arms, etc.

So really anyone who suggests that eliminating the letters “MAN” from rating names is an affront to our history and heritage actually has it backwards — for the most part, the use of the letters “MAN” was a late 20th Century affectation, and from the earliest days of our Navy, rating names were titles that described the officers enlisted people served, or simple descriptions of the jobs performed.

Additional Historic Background on Rating Nomenclature

Today, the Naval Aircrewman and Legalman ratings are both post-1969 ratings so they don’t appear in the above compilation. Otherwise here are the current ratings that use the letters “MAN” and when those rating names were established:

Aviation Ordnanceman – Established 1926

Aviation Maintenance Administrationman – Established 1963

Damage Controlman – Established 1948

Engineman – Established 1917; Disestablished 1931; Re-established 1948

Fire Controlman – Established 1941

Hospital Corpsman – Changed from Pharmacist’s Mate 1948

Mineman – Established 1943; disestablished 1947. Re-established 1948

Machinery Repairman – Established 1948

Aircrew Survival Equipmentman – Title changed from Parachute Rigger to Aviation Survival Equipmentman in 1965 changed again sometime between 1965 and 2015

Ship’s Serviceman – Established 1943

Utilitiesman – Utilities Man – Established 1948 from the rating of Watertender

Yeoman – Established 1835

Interested in learning more about how much enlisted ratings have changed in the past? Check out the Malin resource.  Otherwise below is a list of rating names that, between 1775 and 1969, contained the letters “MAN” the overwhelming majority of which have either changed or been phased out of existence.

A — 37 rating names, 8 contain the modifier “MAN”

Air Controlman – Established 1948

Aviation Electronicsman – Established 1948

Aviation Fire Controlman – Established 1945

Aviation Guided Missileman – Established 1953

Aviation Maintenance Administrationman – Established 1963

Aviation Ordnanceman – Established 1926

Aviation Radioman – Established 1942

Aviation Survival Equipmentman – Title changed from Parachute Rigger December 1965

 

B — 17 rating names, 3 contain the modifier “MAN”

Bayman – Established 1870; changed to Hospital Apprentice and Hospital Apprentice 1c 1898.

Boatswain’s Yeoman – Established 1799; disestablished 1864

Boilerman – Changed from Boilermaker and Watertender 1948

 

C — 42 rating names, 5 contain the modifier “MAN”

Carpenter’s Yeoman – In use in 1798

Chemical Warfareman – Established 1948

Commissaryman – Established 1948

Communications Yeoman – Established 1964 at pay grade E-4 only

Constructionman – Established 1948

 

D — 7 rating names, 2 contain the modifier “MAN”

Damage Controlman – Established 1948

Draftsman – Established 1948

 

E — 12 rating names, 3 contain the modifier “MAN”

Engineer’s Yeoman – Established 1874; disestablished 1893.

Engineman – Established 1917; Disestablished 1931; Re-established 1948

Equipment Yeoman – Established 1884; disestablished 1893

 

F — 4 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Fire Controlman – Established 1941

 

G — 5 rating names, 2 contain the modifier “MAN”

Guided Missileman – Established 1953

Gunner’s Yeoman – Established 1798; disestablished 1838

 

H — 6 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Hospital Corpsman – Changed from Pharmacist’s Mate 1948.

 

I — 3 rating names, 2 contain the modifier “MAN”

Illustrator Draftsman – Changed from Draftsman 1959.

Instrumentman – Established 1948

 

J — 2 rating names, 0 contain the modifier “MAN”

 

K — No Ratings beginning with K

 

L — 5 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Landsman – Established 1838; disestablished 1921.

 

M — 23 rating names, 8 contain the modifier “MAN”

Machinery Repairman – Established 1948

Mailman – Established 1944

Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman – Established 1964

Master Chief Constructionman – Established 1964

Master Chief Equipmentman – Established 1964

Master Chief Precision Instrumentman – Established 1964

Master Chief Steam Propulsionman (SP) – Established 1964

Mineman – Established 1943

 

N — 2 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Nuclear Weapons Man – Established 1957

 

O — 5 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Opticalman – Established 1948

 

P — 17 rating names, 3 contain the modifier “MAN”

Paymaster’s Yeoman – Established 1867

Personnelman – Established 1948

Photographic Intelligenceman – Established 1957

 

Q — 2 rating names, 0 contain the modifier “MAN”

 

R — 3 rating names, 2 contain the modifier “MAN”

Radarman – Established 1943

Radioman – Established 1921

 

S — 92 rating names, 10 contain the modifier “MAN” or “MEN”

Ship’s Serviceman – Established 1943

Ship’s Yeoman – Established 1884

Shore Patrolman – established 1948

Signalman – Established 1921

Sonarman – Established 1943

Soundman – established 1943

Specialists (V) Transport Airmen – Established 1942

Specialists (X) (ED) Engineering Draftsman

Specialists (X) (TD) Topographic Draftsman – Established 1942

Stewardsman – Established 1948

 

T — 8 rating names, 4 contain the modifier “MAN”

Teleman – Established 1948

Torpedoman – Established 1921

Torpedoman’s Mate – Changed from Torpedoman 1942

Tradevman – Established 1948

 

U — 2 rating names, 1 contain the modifier “MAN”

Utilities Man – Established 1948

 

V — No Ratings beginning with V

 

W — 7 rating names, 0 contain the modifier “MAN”

 

X — No Ratings beginning with X

 

Y — 2 rating names, 2 contain the modifier “MAN”

Yeoman – Established 1835; disestablished 1884. Re-established from Ship’s Yeoman 1893; pay grades C, 1c, 2c, 3c established 1896.

Yeoman of the Gunroom – Established 1797; disestablished 1813

 

Z — No Ratings beginning with Z

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