The Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) new polar research ship has lofty ambitions and a hefty price tag. The ship cost the British government £200m, or about $288 million, and is designed to "deliver world-leading capability for UK research in both Antarctica and the Arctic." Last week, the NERC invited the British public to select a name befitting the nobel vessel. And voters have risen to the challenge, choosing a moniker that honors the ship and all it represents. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet: RRS Boaty McBoatFace.
In an interview with the BBC, James Hand, who came up with the name, expressed shock over how strongly people reacted to it. "I read the story about naming the ship on the BBC website on Thursday and some of the entries were really funny—my favourite was Clifford The Big Red Boat," he said, adding, "I thought I would throw one into the ring. By Friday night it was leading by a couple of thousand, and when the site crashed on Sunday it was leading by 8,000. It's been utterly bizarre."
He's since apologized to the NERC for the ruckus:
… but he's not really sorry, which is fair, because Boaty McBoatface is a solid name for a boat:
According to the NERC, overwhelming interest in selecting a name for the ship has crashed the voting website. "Due to overwhelming interest," the NERC said in a note, "the Name Our Ship site is currently experiencing technical issues. We hope to have these resolved soon. Thank you for your continued support."
It's clear that the NERC didn't really have Boaty McBoatface in mind when it asked people to choose a name for the boat. In a statement released before the McBoatface fiasco, Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson asked "Can you imagine one of the world's biggest research labs travelling to the Antarctic with your suggested name proudly emblazoned on the side?" He added, "With the eyes of the world on this ship, this campaign will give everyone across the UK the opportunity to feel part of this exciting project and the untold discoveries it will unearth."
NERC chief Duncan Wingham added at the time, "we are launching our campaign to bring our ship to the UK people, asking for their help to find her a name that encapsulates her role at the forefront of UK science. We are excited to hear what the public have to suggest and we really are open to ideas." We bet Wingham doesn't feel that way any more.
According to The Telegraph, the names trailing Boaty McBoatface are more respectable:
In second place, more than 13,000 votes behind, is the RRS Henry Worsley—named after the explorer who died while attempting to trek the Antarctic in January.
Others—like RRS Ice Ice Baby and RRS Notthetitanic—are not.
Even if Boaty McBoatface wins the popular vote, it could still be vetoed from on high—the names are just a suggestion.
Still, Boaty McBoatface is a gift that keeps on giving:
Thank you Mr. Hand, and thank you internet democracy.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.