Harriet Lane must be the most obscure historical figure to be honored by having three ships named in her honor.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane arrived this week at her home port of Portsmouth, Va., after a trip from the Pacific Northwest.

Harriet Lane? If you'd been around town during 1857-61, a bit before even my most senior editor's time, you'd surely have known her -- the niece of President James Buchanan, a bachelor, who presided as hostess in the White House during his administration.

Just why the Coast Guard chose her name to be applied, for the third time, to a cutter, is obscure at best.

For those who think of the Coast Guard as simply those who pluck luckless seamen from the ocean, be informed: the Harriet Lane has the largest complement of on-board computers in the Coast Guard fleet: a system for plotting ship locations and electronic-detection equipment for identifying vessels at long range, a 75-mm gun capable of firing 80 rounds a minute, a computerized fire-control system, a Phalanx missile and aircraft-defense system and a Harpoon missile weapon system.

She cost $40 million, without weaponry, and was built in Tacoma, Wash.