Beyond Boaty McBoatface: 9 Public Naming Contests That Ended Badly
By Emily Petsko
Boaty McBoatface is the little vessel that could—and did—change the internet. McBoatface was the people’s choice in a 2016 contest to name a research ship in the U.K., and although it was ultimately named after Sir David Attenborough, Boaty’s impact has been far-reaching. While this event didn't start the trend of trolling public naming contests, it arguably encouraged the practice.
Earlier this year, an Australian boat that had purportedly been named "Ferry McFerryface" by the public got swept up in a political scandal when the transport minister revealed he had ignored the popular vote in choosing McFerryface. He had hoped the name would garner "global attention" and, to some degree, it worked. There have also been reports of an owl named "Hooty McOwlface," and a recent naming contest for a pipe-inspecting robot in Kansas City generated suggestions such as "Botty McBotface," "Probey McProbeface", and "Pipey McPiperson." (Seemingly sick of this shtick, the public opted for “Jeff" instead.)
JSTORDaily even broke down the linguistics of “dishonoric epithets” like Mister Splashy Pants and Boaty McBoatface, explaining that we find them so funny because they’re “a kind of extended cutesy baby talk.” For more on Splashy and other internet naming contests that went horribly and hilariously awry, keep reading.
1. MISTER SPLASHY PANTS
Long before Boaty McBoatface, another public naming contest captured the collective imagination of internet users with too much time on their hands. In 2007, environmental group Greenpeace solicited name suggestions for one of the endangered humpback whales it had tagged. The organization hoped the contest would call attention to the Japanese Fisheries Agency’s plan to hunt 50 whales, but to their dismay, “Mister Splashy Pants” claimed 78 percent of the vote, beating out more serious suggestions like "Aiko," "Aurora," and "Shanti." One participant apparently figured out that they could submit two votes per second by disabling cookies, and they did so for 38 straight minutes, according to The A.V. Club. Users of Reddit and other sites soon discovered the contest and threw their support behind Splashy, and the rest is history.
Greenpeace initially bemoaned the results but eventually ended up embracing the humor in it, calling the whale “The Splashy-Panted One” in an article announcing the winner. Plus, the publicity surrounding the contest convinced the Japanese government to call off its hunt. A win-win for everyone, including the whale with the splashy new name.
2. S.S. SHOULD'VE BEEN A BRIDGE
BC Ferry Services, a transportation company in British Columbia, got a rude awakening when it asked customers to name three of its ferries back in 2015. Some commuters, who were less than pleased with recent fare increases, used the poll to voice their distaste. Among the 7100 entries were “S.S. ShouldveBeenABridge,” “Spirit of the WalletSucker,” “Queen of No Other Choice,” and “The Floating Crapsickle.” Ouch. Fortunately for BC Ferries, the rules stipulated that the winner be chosen by the company and not by popular vote. In a tribute to British Columbia's indigenous Coast Salish population, the vessels were named “Salish Orca,” “Salish Eagle,” and “Salish Raven." The company didn’t write the contest off as a complete catastrophe, though. Mike Corrigan, CEO of BC Ferries, told Business in Vancouver that the sardonic suggestions “really promoted the naming contest" for them.
3. FRED DURST SOCIETY OF THE HUMANITIES AND ARTS
Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst has lent his lyrical talents to timeless nu metal hits such as Nookie and Break Stuff, and he nearly lent his name to a solid waste department in Austin, Texas. In 2011, residents participating in a public naming contest overwhelmingly voted in favor of a suggestion by 24-year-old local Kyle Hentges to rename the department the “Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts.” It received 27,000 more votes than the runner-up, “Department of Neat and Clean.”
“I thought naming the department after Durst would surround the unflattering service with some humor," Hentges told the Austinist at the time. "We’re picking up garbage and he’s been producing it for 20 years. It made sense.” Durst himself reportedly gave the name his blessing, but Austin wasn’t having it. They ultimately went with “Austin Resource Recovery" in a move that would neither offend nor intrigue.
4. STEAGLE COLBEAGLE THE EAGLE
Talk show host Stephen Colbert is the master of hijacking online naming contests. In 2009, NASA held a poll to find a new name for Node 3, one of the modules of the International Space Station. “Colbert” was the uncontested winner, thanks to the comedian’s loyal fan base, but NASA instead opted to name the node Tranquility after the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, the landing site of the Apollo 11 mission. However, NASA did name a treadmill in the space station in his honor, dubbing it the “Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (C.O.L.B.E.R.T.).”
Prior to that, “Colbert” won both a bridge-naming contest in Hungary and a mascot-naming contest in Michigan in 2006. In the former instance, Colbert announced on The Colbert Report that he had beaten out "Chuck Norris" and “17th-century Hungarian hero Miklós Zrínyi,” but the Hungarian government opted for another name because monuments in Hungary can only be named after dead people. In one of the rare instances when the results of a public naming poll were actually honored, the Michigan-based junior ice hockey team Saginaw Spirit christened their mascot “Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle” after the Colbert nation “vote-bombed” their website.
5. SOYLENT GREEN
When your target market happens to be teenage boys, it’s probably best not to let your customers pick out a name for a new product. The makers of Mountain Dew learned this the hard way back in 2012 when it hosted a “Dub the Dew” poll for a green apple-flavored soda. As the suggestions started to roll in, they went from bad to worse. Some, like “Sierra Mist” and “Soylent Green,” were relatively harmless when compared to the names that topped the leaderboard, like “diabeetus” and “Hitler did nothing wrong” (which claimed the top spot). Mountain Dew apologized for the "compromised" promotion and quickly shut it down.
6. A GIRL NAMED CTHULHU
Imagine growing up and learning that you’re named after an ocean-dwelling, tentacled monster from an H.P. Lovecraft story. That could have been the case for one baby girl who was nearly christened “Cthulhu” after her parents called upon the internet to name their newborn in 2014. There were conditions, though. In an addendum to the online poll on the website NameMyDaughter, the father wisely wrote:
“Hi, My name is Stephen and much to the disbelief of my wife, I have decided to let the internet name* my daughter. Yeah that is an asterisk. Unfortunately, internet, I know better than to trust you. We will ultimately be making the final decision. Alas, my daughter shall not be named WackyTaco692.”
As Business Insider reported, they ultimately went with the runner-up, Amelia, which was surprisingly normal compared to some of the other suggestions, including "Megatron" and "Streetlamp."
7. THE HARRY BAALS GOVERNMENT CENTER
When the residents of Fort Wayne, Indiana, voted to name a government building “Harry Baals” after an actual mayor who served the town in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s, local officials weren’t convinced that they did so out of a shared admiration for the late politician. While some voters were genuine fans of Baals (whose descendants changed the pronunciation from "balls" to “bales”), local officials scrapped the suggestion to prevent the town from becoming a laughing stock. “We realize that while Harry Baals was a respected mayor, not everyone outside of Fort Wayne will know that,” Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy told the Associated Press in 2011. It was ultimately named Citizens Square.
8. JOHN CENA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
At John Cena Elementary School, one would imagine that the children are taught The Champ’s signature wrestling moves, from the Five Knuckle Shuffle to the Running One-Handed Bulldog. Indeed, one school in Austin, Texas, nearly shared a name with the WWE champion in 2016 when the district decided that its Confederate-inspired name, Robert. E. Lee Elementary School, should be consigned to history. In a public naming contest launched by the district, "John Cena" was one of several suggestions that trailed behind "Donald J. Trump Elementary," the most popular choice. Other suggestions included “Bruce Lee Elementary,” “The Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance,” and of course, “Schoolie McSchoolface.” The school board, unsurprisingly, rejected those ideas and instead named the school after photographer Russell Lee.
Much like Boaty, Harambe was the viral joke that won't go away. In 2016, three months after a gorilla named Harambe was fatally shot at the Cincinnati Zoo when a boy fell into the animal's enclosure, the internet predictably suggested that a newborn gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo be named after the fallen ape. Before the contest was even officially announced, Twitter users started to proffer some suggestions, including “Harambe McKongface,” “Harambaby,” “Harambae,” and “Harambe’s Revenge." The zoo was quick to clarify that it would pre-select a few names before putting it to a public vote, and the winner ended up being "Amani," meaning "peace" in Swahili.