Coming up with creative new names — for brands, babies, and even ships — can be quite challenging these days. The growth of the Internet and social media has made participation in naming contests extremely easy, which means anyone can wage a campaign to take names into . . . uncharted waters.
And that’s what happened in the UK recently. The Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) asked for help in finding a name for a Royal Research ship via its website and Twitter account. The plea resulted in 7,000 names floated, with more than 124,000 votes cast for the smile-inducing name of “Boaty McBoatface.”
Despite an overwhelming victory in online votes, it turns out the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson thinks that “Boaty McBoatface” is “not suitable.” Johnson says that the poll is only one factor that will be used in choosing a name. The Guardian reports that Johnson said, “. . . we want a name that lasts longer than a social media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the science it will be doing.” It turns out that Johnson isn’t “the decider.” That honor falls to NERC Chief Executive Duncan Wingham, who, at a minimum, should be excited about all of the free publicity his organization has gotten recently.
This story has gotten a boatload of media attention, although disappointingly, the headlines didn’t get any more creative than this one from NPR: “UK Science Minister Torpedoes 'Boaty McBoatface' As Ship Name.” The Times came out in support of letting the majority rule for the Boaty name, reminding readers: “This is the age of stolen elections . . .” In the US, the Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial about the kerfuffle, pointing out that the British government had asked for the people’s opinion and by ignoring the public’s choice, it chose to “belittle its supporters.” The newspaper declared: “Science doesn’t need to be so serious.”