Sorry, Brits. Boaty McBoatface will probably not be the name of a new, multi-million dollar polar research vessel.
When British science minister Jo Johnson rallied the public to help name the new boat, he tried his best to make the contest sound inspiring.
“Can you imagine one of the world’s biggest research labs travelling to the Antarctic with your suggested name proudly emblazoned on the side?”
While some people took the contest seriously and offered “proud names” honoring naturalist David Attenborough and explorer Henry Worsley, others scoffed the seriousness. One of them was former BBC radio host James Hand, who offered the winning name: Boaty McBoatface, CBS News reported.
But the council wanted a name that reflected the ship’s mission and celebrated British naval history.
Hand has now apologized “profusely” to the agency that started the competition, the Natural Environment Research Council, for suggesting Boaty McBoatface, which was just a joke. (He voted for David Attenborough). He explained why he offered the humorous suggestion in the first place to the Independent.
“I read the list of entries and there were about 3,000 at the time. “Some of them were really, really funny. Clifford the Big Red Boat was my favourite. So I thought I’d throw one into the ring to see what happens. It got a few likes and I thought nothing of it.”
Days later, 30,000 people voted Boaty McBoatface their favorite. The other examples of British humor: RSS Usain Boat, RRS Ice Ice Baby, RRS Notthetitanic, RRS Boatimus Prime, It’s Bloody Cold Here, I Like Big Boats and I Cannot Lie, and What Iceberg?
The contest ended Saturday, with Boaty McBoatface on top with 120,000 votes — three times the No. 2 name. Despite his apology, Hand still says Boaty McBoatface is “brilliant.”
But the boat’s name will ultimately be decided by science minister Johnson, using all of the suggestions — the silly and the serious both — as inspiration. And if his comments to the Telegraph are to be believed, he likely won’t endorse Boaty McBoatface.
“You won’t be surprised to know that we want something that fits the mission and captures the spirit of scientific endeavour. I am grateful to everyone who has participated in the competition. The public has come up with some fantastic and very imaginative suggestions. We are reviewing all of them. We will come to a decision in due course.”
Sir David Attenborough!@journalupdate pic.twitter.com/Oqz4NYwCqe— The Salisbury Museum (@SalisburyMuseum) April 14, 2016
The ship does have a pretty serious mission, and a name like Boaty McBoatface isn’t exactly in line with that mission. The vessel will be 15,000 tons and 128 yards long, and cost $284 million to build at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Merseyside. With a team of 90 scientists and support staff, it’ll set sail for Antarctica and the Arctic in 2019 to study marine and climate change science.
The point of including the public in the naming contest was to “give everyone across the UK the opportunity to feel part of this exciting project and the untold discoveries it will unearth.” And since the British have spoken and decided that they want Boaty McBoatface to emblazon a vessel that will have “the eyes of the world on it,” they may feel a bit cheated if NERC doesn’t follow through.
According to an editorial in the Independent, if Johnson doesn’t have the vessel proudly painted with the name Boaty McBoatface, it’ll only serve as proof that British ministers are “humorless.”
Writer Christopher Hooton noted that the contest inspired interest in something that would otherwise bore people — polar oceanic research — and the potential of Boaty McBoatface to further stimulate that interest is clear.
“Imagine if a major scientific discovery had been made by a Boaty McBoatface,” he wrote.
But, alas, the vessel will likely get a dull-sounding, but respectable name like “Explorer” or “Pathfinder” or “some nonsense.”
“I’d argue that the simple absurdity of ‘Boaty McBoatface’ actually much better captures the spirit of scientific endeavour — the idea that we are simply creatures bumbling their way around the mass of rock we have found ourselves on, trying to better understand it … There’s still time, Mr. Johnson. Please don’t exile Boaty to prosaically-named, science quarterly magazine obscurity.”
[Photo via Getty Images]