a students' magazine

Boaty McBoatface – Really?

Hi again everyone! Have you ever heard of the NERC? Thought not. Well it’s Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council and they are having a £200 million polar research vessel built for launch in 2019 and “she will be one of the most sophisticated floating research laboratories operating in the polar regions” as the website says.

Now such an important ship should have an all important name, so the NERC decided to give the decision over to the Internet. BIG mistake!

There were sensible entries like Endeavour, Henry Worsely, David Attenborough and Alan Turing, but the overwhelming majority of the public’s votes went to Boaty McBoatface. The name was posted by former BBC presenter James Hand, who said he was so amused by many of the crazy names being suggested on the NERC website that he thought he might just “throw one into the ring” himself.

This was on Thursday 17th March. By Friday the name was leading by a couple of thousand, on Sunday the site crashed. It now has 124,109 votes. Mr. Hand apologised profusely; he had not expected anything to come of it.

When I first read the story, I couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous this extremely popular name was. After all, the vessel was being built for  very  important scientific purposes, it was going to cost a few hundred million,  so why shouldn’t it have a more scientifically appropriate name? Why was everyone being so childish? Surely the other names entered were more “important”, I thought. So I went and had a look at them…

Here are just a few of the witty suggestions:

Usein Boat

Boat Marley and the Whalers


Big Metal Floaty Thingy-Thing

Titanic 2: The Revenge

Dora the Polar Explorer….and the list goes on!

The fact is that only a handful of the names were not silly.

In the end the chief executive of  NERC, Duncan Wingham announced the “Name Our Ship” campaign had been extremely successful, however, they did have the final say and consequently the name chosen by the research team was RRS Sir David Attenborough. And no one can argue with that. It was fourth choice and you simply cannot refuse David Attenborough, not on his 90th birthday either.

Boaty McBoatface proved so popular that it will be included in the research mission, in the shape of a yellow robotic submarine that  the Sir David Attenborough will launch into the deepest waters of the Arctic and Antarctic to monitor the effects of climate change.

Moral of the story: if you surrender something to the Internet, be prepared to lose control of it.

The whole thing escalated and gave rise to other similar stories: the racehorse named Horsey McHorseface in Australia or the train on the South West Trains service from Portsmouth to Waterloo: ‘Trainy McTrainface’.

However, NERC’s Julia Maddock announced that more than half a million people had visited the naming-contest website, that the #BoatyMcBoatface hashtag had reached 214 million Twitter users, and that 60,000 people had viewed videos about the research vessel’s mission. So the eyes of the world turned on the ship,

British people started to feel a part of the whole science project and surely it is a good thing if the general public becomes interested in science? As Oscar Wilde intelligently put it: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”.

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