Who Thinks Up Aircraft Names? #JesseyKnows

What do the “Borobudur”, “Museum Square” and “Blue Kestrel” have in common? They all crisscross the globe proudly displayed on KLM aircraft. But why do KLM aircraft have names? And who thinks them up?

To answer the question Martijn asked on Twitter, I made an appointment with Vincent Knoops, delegate to the KLM executive board and an expert on KLM aircraft names.

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Fat Dirk

KLM is one of the few airlines that gives its aircraft names. And I have to admit that I was unable to find out why. What I do know is that our very first aircraft, a Koolhoven FK-33 acquired in 1925, was known as the “Dikke Dirk” (Fat Dirk). The aircraft did have an unusually broad waistline, but the name had more to do with the last letters of its registration: DD.

City of Paramaribo

Since those early days, KLM has kept up the tradition of naming its planes. Our Airbus 330-200s are named after city squares, our Boeing 737-800s have bird names, and our Boeing 747-400s are named after world capitals. “We didn’t call it ‘City of Paramaribo’ because it always flies to the Surinamese capital,” Vincent Knoops explains. “It got that name because it is a Boeing 747-400, which can fly on any number of long-haul routes.”

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Not just out of the blue

Aircraft names don’t just come out of the blue. Apart from a set theme, the name should also be relatively easy to pronounce, it should preferably have some connection with a KLM destination, and it shouldn’t be longer than 31 characters. “De Hoge Veluwe National Park– (a Dutch nature reserve) only just made the cut. Another fun fact is that the name is given in English on the port side of the aircraft, and in Dutch on the starboard side. “We need to send our chosen name to the manufacturer eight months before delivery,” Vincent Knoops explains. “So that the aircraft can be delivered with a full paint job.”The Boeing 777s have all been named after World Heritage Sites, which was later trimmed down to “International Parks”.

The unveiling

If the names are still a secret, how and when will they be unveiled? In special instances, there is a naming ceremony. For example, if a new aircraft type joins the fleet or if there is a special reason for giving it a specific name. The name “Museum Square” was, for instance, chosen as the name of our 12th Airbus 330-200 in honor of the Dutch capital, which celebrated a special festive year in 2013. Our Boeing 787-9 and -10 Dreamliners will all be named after flowers! This theme really appeals to me because my parents are florists. And who wouldn’t want to see a glorious red tulip flying around? Or Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers?

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But are aircraft christened the same way as ships, by breaking a bottle of champagne on the bow? “Of course not!” Vincent Knoops exclaims. “We don’t want to damage it! An aircraft is christened – all shiny and new – by slowly pouring champagne over its name after it has been unveiled.”

If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll probably like How to Put a Sticker On a Plane? as well. 

What are KLM’s aircraft named after?

Airbus A330s: City Squares Worldwide
Boeing 737s: Birds
Boeing 777s: World Heritage Sites
Boeing 747s: World Cities
Boeing 747 Freighters: Ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC)
Boeing 787-9 and -10 Dreamliners: Flowers

*KLM Cityhopper’s aircraft (Embraers) do not have names.

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Posted by:   Jessey de Graaf  | 
Join the conversation Show comments


Interestingly enough, streets in the village of Badhoevedorp have been named after (early) airplanes of the KLM. Hence Uiverstraat, Gaaistraat, etc.


Thanks for sharing this information with us, Philip! I didn’t know this, it’s really interesting!

Johannes Uhl

Dear KLM team,

As a frequent flyer with KLM and aviation afficionado I have read this post with great interest. I have noticed a small mistake that I am happy to point out as a resident of Berlin. The correct spelling of the square is “Potsdamer Platz” (only one m and space between the two word).

Kind regards,

Johannes Uhl


Welcome to my blog, Johannes. Thank you for informing me about the misspelling of Potsdamer Platz, I will correct it right away! It’s good to hear that you’ve read my blog with interest :).

Hajara agbonikhena

Travelling to nigeria from winnipeg Canada on February 18 2015, West jet to Toronto, Klm to amsterdam and Klm to lagos nigeria ticket no. 0066769976258/59. Am allowed 23kg x 2. As a silver card holder can a have an additional 23kg, was told in lagos I am allowed to

Bob Howie

I have a suggestion for a name. A famous actor Alan Cumming, from Aberfeldy, where I live, then the aircraft would be Alan Cumming to an airport near you….lol


That’s a funny suggestion, Bob! ;-)

Mieke Broekhans

I have also flown in a Albert Plesman, only, it was a DC8!!

Frank van der Voet

The 747 passenger fleet also takes advantage of the last letter of the airplane’s registration when it comes to selecting a city name. For example PH-BFC is the City of Calgary. Also, as a Calgarian, I am flattered to be considered as a World Capital!


You are totally right, Frank!

Olav Geleyns

The Boeing 777 aircraft are named after World Heritage Sites with one exception. PH-BQA is named after Albert Plesman.

@jessey: may I challenge you to to dig a bit further into the special names of the KLM flight simulators at Schiphol? A true fun story;-)


Thanks for your sharp eye, Olav! I will change this part in my story. Thanks a lot for your suggestion about the flight simulators at Schiphol. Who knows, I will be writing a blog about these names in the future! ;-)


may I challenge you

Lolita M. Balboa

Very interesting names of KLM aircraft – very educational!

Very interesting names of KLM aircraft. Very educational.


Thank you for your kind words, Lolita!

Paul Noordpool

De reden waarom een vliegtuig niet de naam Paramaribo kreeg slaat als een tang op een varken.


Interesting blog actually. Keep them coming :D


Noem er eentje Terschelling

Joe Gelo

Hi Jessey! Very interesting blog! A pleasure reading behind the scenes of such an airline. I share your passion for aircraft and I keep it up with Klm feeds as I’m a big fan of its standards, including media, indeed ;)
I’d like to point a tiny detail I’ve noticed as I read your article saying that the names given to aircrafts are written in English on the port side and in Dutch on the starboard, whereas in the article written by Ben about planes inquiries (which brought me to you) says it’s the other way round (Dutch on port, English on starboard, which at first sight I believe is correct based on the photos posted on fb). So, it appears either both versions are correct, or one is not.
But, on the other hand, to make sure of it I’ve gone through these photos in order to corroborate names and sides, and saw that majorly English appears on starboard , but some times also on the board side, which made me confused.
Anyway, I so enjoyed the reading and apologise for the extension of this! And I want to highlight it is only a comment as I saw it by and thought you’d like to check it out for a better comprehension. Congratulations once more for your columns and for the airline itself which is to me among the best worldwide delivering high quality customer service and reaching every corner in social media with these first class details! Thank u tons.
Ps. Glad to know u named a plane after the Iguazu falls national park , as I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Doug Barry

During my time as a controller (now retired) in CYVR I used to see the MD-11 PH-KCE with the name Audrey Hepburn. Lovely lady, it was nice of you to honour her.


Too bad the Cityhoppers don’t have names. As with their size, maybe they should be given the names of c
apitals of Dutch provices (Haarlem, Utrecht, Den Bosch) or the streets on the Dutch monopoly board. Or typical Dutch dishes like zoute haring, zuurkool, boerenkool, stroopwafel, drop, rookworst or poffertjes.

David Burton

I recall some time ago KLM 747 fleet carried names of famous explorers
when did this cease and why.

rick carpenter

How about
Niagara Falls CANADA

rick carpenter

Niagara Fall Canada


Thankfully it’s all about TLC (tender love & care), not size In many ways you’ve had the best of both worlds sharing good times with siblings AND the exveusicenlss of being the only and wonderful child of a devoted mother <3.

David Robertson

My wife and I collect not only the Delft Houses but also the 787 flowers.

So far, Dahlia and Mimosa. Two more in September; two more in April.

The 787-9 is a wonderful plane. Far less jet lag — SFO to AMS.

Felix Maltchinski

After what the KLM a 350s will be nammed? Can’t wait to see that.

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