The taming of the Shrew

The Spitfire is one of the most famous aircraft ever built. Its name is synonymous with the RAF’s victory in the Battle of Britain, but if its chief designer had got his way, the Spitfire moniker would never have taken off.

RJ Mitchell thought the Spitfire name was ‘damned silly’ and according to boardroom minutes taken at Supermarine, the aircraft’s manufacturer, he wanted to call it the Shrew or the Scarab. Other names suggested included Shark, Serpent and Shrike.

Despite Mitchell being a board member of Supermarine, the final decision rested with the parent company Vickers-Armstrongs. The Spitfire name was actually put forward by the company’s Chairman, Sir Robert MacLean, who demanded that the Air Ministry’s new elliptical wing fighter be given a more venomous sounding name.

He suggested it begin with an S to create a hissing sound when paired with Supermarine – and his choice was inspired by the affectionate name ‘little spitfire’ he used for his eldest daughter. In the 1930s, this was a common term for a spirited girl with a fiery personality.

RJ Mitchell hated the idea and initially the Air Ministry had reservations, too. But in the end, MacLean had his way and the aircraft was officially named the Spitfire on 28 July 1936. The rest, as they say, is history.