The Scout’s Guide to Naming Your Patrol

Pic1While working on an article that will be published this weekend on GreenBar Life, I found some really cool quotes from John Thruman, William Hillcourt, and others talking about the importance of the Patrol Name. This is a topic which I didn’t think much about when I first joined Scouting. To me, a Patrol name just needed to be something cool, but I learned that there is so much more to it!

I wanted to take some time to further expand upon what I’ve learned from others on the subject by going into more detail in this article.

The Patrol name should be a whole lot more than just something with a cool sound. It is a key part of building Patrol spirit and working the Patrol system.

In short, good Patrol naming needs to be rediscovered!


Why the Patrol Name is Important

From BLEstablishing a unique Patrol identity is vital in the proper execution of the Patrol Method. “The Patrol Method” (1936) put it really well:

“The Patrol sign or totem (animal, bird or reptile) is one of the means by which Patrol Spirit is stimulated. Instead of being merely a boy, the new Scout now becomes a Buffalo, or an Eagle. He begins by learning his Patrol call. … After learning the call of his Patrol the new Scout will learn the habits of his Patrol animal or Patrol bird. He will also learn how to sign his name, which necessitates his being able to draw a picture of his Patrol totem. This is only an elementary way of realizing the Patrol Spirit, but in Scouting tiny things should never be ignored.”

It’s tempting to think these days that making a big deal of the Patrol name and it’s accompanying signs is kind of silly. But that’s because the big picture of building the Patrol spirit and having fun with Scouting has been lost. John Thurman mentions this when talking about Patrol calls and signs in his “Patrol Leaders’ Handbook”:

“I hope as Patrol Leader you will set an example and learn your Patrol Call and use it whenever you are Scouting out of doors … and that you really will, when you send notes to members of your Patrol, sign yourself as Patrol Leader and draw the Patrol sign, and encourage your Scouts to do the same. Such a pity to lose all these things which are part of the fun of Scouting. We don’t want to get stupid and sophisticated (the two words mean the same thing really!)”


How Not to Name It

I then read about what they said is the wrong way to name a Patrol. Looking back on my own experience, I realized that this is exactly what I did when I became PL of a new Patrol. Take a look at how William Hillcourt describes it in his “Handbook for Patrol Leaders”:

media (271)“Let’s say that a new Patrol has just been formed under a new Patrol Leader. What generally happens next? At the very first meeting, the fellow get out the Handbook for Boys to look over the list of Patrol names for the purpose of picking one for themselves. And what do they pick? Usually one that ‘seems’ all right and ‘sounds’ OK. …


Now, think about it! What does a name picked like that mean to a Patrol? You’re right: nothing much! Be sure that your gang goes about getting your name in a more sensible way. A name is an important thing. It should be picked with care.”

This just goes to show things haven’t changed all that much in 64 years. Back then, plenty of Scouts didn’t understand how to get the most out of their Patrol name. We need more men like Green Bar Bill taking the time to teach it and spread the word!

Contrary to common practice, the first thing to do in a new Patrol is not to pick a name! Instead, the Patrol members need to –


Give it Time

William Hillcourt goes on in his handbook to say:

“If you are starting out in a new Patrol, take plenty of time and give plenty of thought to a name, so that you’ll be positive that you get one with real meaning to every Scout in the Patrol.”


“Good advice on getting a suitable name is this: Take it easy! Take your time before you make your decision. If you do that, the name is certain to come to you, and when you get it, it will be exactly what you want.”

This is the key here – the name must have a real meaning to every Scout. A good name is more than just something to call the Patrol: it stands for something real. In this case, that’s the identity of the Patrol as a group. It’s worth taking some time to discover the best solution embody that group. They need to be able to ‘own’ the name and make it theirs.

So how does one start in going about finding such a name?


Choosing the Name

pic5Once the Scouts in a Patrol have started to get to know each other and what their strengths and weaknesses are, it’s time to pick a name! William Hillcourt gave this advice:

“Let’s imagine that your gang consists of fellows who like swimming and are perfectly at home in the water. What will be an appropriate name for you? ‘Otters’ or ‘Seals’ of course, or something else along that line. In the same way, you’d expect the fellow of the ‘Panther Patrol’ to be expert stalkers, the ‘Beavers’ to be wizards at pioneering, and the ‘Buffaloes,’ Scouts who eternally roam and explore the countryside. …


Most Patrols pick the name of an animal or a bird. Such a name has the tang of the out-of-doors. It has the further advantage that, usually, a distinctive call goes with it. Before you pick that kind of name, consider it from these angles: What animal or bird best represents the place where you live? What animal or bird best represents the things you want to do and be in your Patrol? …


When you have chosen your name, give it a touch that is peculiarly your own. Instead of being just the ‘Eagle Patrol’ or ‘Owl Patrol’ … make it the ‘Soaring Eagle’ or the ‘Hooting Owl’… .”

The last part is especially important. It’s tacky Scouting to name your Patrol just another one of the thousands of ‘Eagles’ or ‘Foxes’ or ‘Panthers’. What kind of uniqueness does that give? Instead, add a little adjective to the beginning and you start to get something you can actually picture in your mind – something that really means something.

Because, really, the Patrol name is supposed to be lived by the Patrol. That’s the whole point!


Living the Name

media (44)This is where the real deeper meaning of the Patrol name comes in. It’s not just tied to memories; it’s an identity to live! William Hillcourt probably described it best when he said:

“It is your job to find out as much as you can about the bird or animal you have chosen for your Totem. … I think it is true to say that every one of the birds and animals suggested in Scouting for Boys is rather like us, in that he has many good qualities and quite a number of bad ones. I think this is an excellent thing, because it ought to mean that as a Patrol we try to emulate the good habits of our chosen bird or animal and regard his bad habits as a dreadful warning of the things we ought to avoid.


Suppose we have a look at the Otter? Well, good habits – it is clean, it is quite courageous, it is a wonderful swimmer, and it is self-reliant. Bad habits – it is very greedy, it is very thoughtless for the needs of other creatures, it is selfish, and it is rather sly. Well now, if I substituted ‘Scout’ for the word ‘Otter’, I am quite sure I could find plenty of Scouts who would fulfill the good points and the bad. …


… You look up your own, and I want to suggest to you that you … list of all the good qualities and try to get your Patrol to measure up to them; and alongside it have a list of the bird or animal’s bad qualities and put these up as a strong warning of what you might become if you don’t look out.


All this means making the Patrol Totem into a real Totem, bringing it to life and making it work for the Patrol.”


Inheriting a Name

Of course, all this applies just as well to Patrols who already have established names:

“On the other hand, if you are taking over an old Patrol with an established name, make that name mean something” …

Let’s say that you are the new Patrol Leader of an old ‘Otter’ of ‘Beaver’ Patrol. In that case you’ll try to live up to the traditions that have been built up.”

The same principles are needed: make the name mean something and live it out as a group. If the name has been neglected in the past, let your generation of that Patrol be the time when all of that changes!



It isn’t a stretch to say that a good Patrol name is one of the most important aspects of working the Patrol method.

1. A good Patrol name builds the unique identity of the Patrol and makes it something that can really be taken on.

2. A good Patrol name should be specific and form a key part of the Scouts’ vision for their Patrol.

3. The Patrol named should be both lived as a group and taken on by the individual.

I hope you found this topic as interesting as I do. Do you have any stories to share about Patrol names from your own experience? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment in the little box below.

If you found this article useful and think the topic is worth rediscovering in Scouting, please pass it along to Scouts and Scouters you know. You can share it via social media using the little buttons below. Don’t forget to sign up with the email box in the sidebar to get updates on new posts here on ScoutingRediscovered!

Scout On!

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