Naming the Eurofighter: The sterling-burning, death-dealing Dove

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Is there a euphemism for a weapon of powerful destruction that works equally well in English, German, Italian and Spanish? The Ministry of Defence is looking for a better name for the Eurofighter, the four- nation jet which comes into service in 2002.

You can see why they don't want to call it the Eurofighter. Anything with a Euro-prefix has become suspect and with the launch of the euro currency a few months away, it would serve to emphasise how expensive the plane is. You might as well call it the Sterlingburner or Pesetapopper. The RAF does not want to draw attention to the fact that its pounds 42bn budget for these things is exempt from the defence review.

Then there's the "fighter" part. It is a bit direct, isn't it? The military prefer names which emphasise defence, security and generally not lashing out unless one is attacked first. "Flying fortress" was a classic example, coined for the entirely offensive B-17 long-range bomber when it was ordered by the isolationist US Air Force in 1936.

So it cannot be an honest name in the Spitfire tradition, or a video- arcade-game-made-murderous-name like Deathblaster or Aerial Killer.

The new name, says Group Captain Terry Hanlon, should "capture in some way the essence of the aircraft" while not forgetting that much of its work will be "peacekeeping". This would seem to rule out variations on the extreme weather theme: Hurricane, Tornado, Lightning. Unfortunately the German for lightning, Blitz, entered all European languages with a brutally appropriate meaning. Names, says the group captain, should avoid historical difficulties between nations. Back to the euphemisms then.

Peacekeeper has already been used: it was a gun much used for killing people in the lawless American West. Pacifier would be no good, conjuring images of a flying baby's dummy. Perhaps Curfew would fit in with the British government's emphasis on domestic law and order. Or Curlew, as we must assume that the bird-of-prey theme is also out of bounds. We are not looking to continue the line of Harriers and Hawks, while Dove might be a euphemism too far.

The rest of the animal kingdom has proved a rich source of military analogy in the past. American attempts to abandon names altogether for the dispassionate precision of code numbers and letters were undermined when the F-14 was simply nicknamed the Tomcat. Older, gentler names, the Sopwith Camel and the Tiger Moth, are too sleepy for the jet age.

So it is back to Greco-Roman gods, then, although they have tended in the past to be recruited to the heavier end of the market, the Hercules and the Vulcan. And it is the goddesses we need to concentrate on, because this name has to be politically correct, and the boys have been naming their toys for far too long.

Masculine irony reached its peak with "Little Boy", the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and "Fat Man", the bigger one which flattened Nagasaki.

But the outcry over the idea of renaming Heathrow Airport after the Princess of Wales has ruled out the most obvious candidate from Roman mythology, while the Greek Artemis doesn't have quite the right ring to it.

Perhaps the Procurement Executive would consider onomatopoeic abstractions, like modern motor car names. Or anodyne phrases like "tube alloys", used as a code-word for the British nuclear weapons programme. Suggestions on a postcard to the Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive, Bristol.