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.”
Even the man who originally suggested the name, a former BBC radio presenter, acknowledged that Boaty McBoathouse was “brilliant,” but ended up apologizing for starting the shenanigans and admitted that he had actually voted for the name “RRS David Attenborough.” Traditionally, Royal Research ships have been named after explorers, like Ernest Shackleton and James Cook.
Here’s how the Top 10 final votes tallied up:
- RRS Boaty McBoatface, 124,109 votes
- RRS Poppy-Mai, 39,886 votes
- RRS Henry Worsley, 15,774 votes
- RRS David Attenborough, 11,023 votes
- RRS ITS BLOODY COLD HERE, 10,679 votes
- RRS Usain Boat, 8,710 votes
- RRS Boatimus Prime, 8,365 votes
- RRS Katharine Giles, 7,687 votes
- RRS Catalina de Aragon, 7,055 votes
- RRS I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie, 6,452 votes
Some American television watchers may remember a similar story, when Stephen Colbert, who at the time hosted ‘The Colbert Report’ led a campaign to get the public to cast votes in a NASA-sponsored poll to name a node on the International Space Station. NASA had suggested some names, but allowed the public to write in others. Colbert asked viewers to write in votes for his name, which finished first in the poll by a very large margin.
Colbert wasn’t the only one influencing NASA pod name voters. Environmental groups pushed for the name “Amazonia” as a way to promote efforts to save the Amazon Rainforest. And humorist Dave Barry used his blog to ask readers to name the node the unlikely, but simple name of “Buddy.” In the end, the node was named Tranquility in honor of the Apollo 11 landing on the Sea of Tranquility. Colbert (jokingly) threatened a lawsuit, but appeared thrilled when NASA named a treadmill on the Space Station “C.O.L.B.E.R.T” for "Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill."
Take a little walk down “The Colbert Report” memory lane: