Hakai Magazine

The very-unlikely-to-be-named RRS Boaty McBoatface will join the British Antarctic Survey’s two other research vessels, RRS Ernest Shackleton and RRS James Clark Ross. Artist’s rendering by NERC. 

No, Britain Isn’t Naming a Ship RRS Boaty McBoatface

Never let the Internet name things.

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by Brian Owens

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The British people have spoken, and they really want to name their new, US $290-million polar research ship the RRS Boaty McBoatface.

In what probably seemed like a nice piece of public outreach, the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) invited the public to suggest names for its new vessel, which is scheduled to sail in 2019. The funding council asked for names that were “inspirational and about environmental and polar science,” suggesting things like Endeavour, Shackleton, and Falcon.

But you can’t trust the Internet. The online poll opened on March 17, and the joke name, suggested by James Hand, a communications manager for a prep school association, promptly shot to the top of the list. The voting website was overwhelmed and crashed for much of the weekend, but by this morning, March 21, RRS Boaty McBoatface had almost 30,000 votes, almost 10 times as many as the second most popular choice, RRS Henry Worsley, in honor of a British explorer who died attempting a solo trek across Antarctica.

Luckily, NERC was wise to the Internet’s ways. The scientific organization seems to be enjoying the attention, but there is almost no chance that any of the joke submissions will become the ship’s official name when voting closes on April 16.

“We are pleased that people are embracing the idea in a spirit of fun,” said Alison Robinson, NERC’s director of corporate affairs, in a statement. (After all, the kerfuffle is pretty much their own fault. All of the suggested names were vetted by staff before being added to the voting list.)

But the final decision is up to NERC’s chief executive, and you can hardly expect him to agree to a situation that will see some hapless royal standing on a quay in 2019 with a champagne bottle in hand announcing “I christen thee RRS Boaty McBoatface!”

Robinson’s statement highlights that many of the names submitted do actually “reflect the importance of the ship’s scientific role by celebrating great British explorers and scientists.” Maybe the chief executive will pick one of those.

Hand, for his part, has since apologized for his joke suggestion, and said on Twitter that “it has all got a bit out of hand.” Besides, he voted for RRS David Attenborough.