7 Times the Public Shouldn't Have Chosen a Name
by James Hunt
If you've been on social media in the last few days, you can't have missed the news that UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is currently being forced to choose between naming their new research vessel 'Boaty McBoatface' or facing an online backlash of incredible proportion. Any publicity for scientific research is probably good publicity, but as NERC is learning the public as a whole is more mischievous than most serious topics demands.
Of course, this isn't the first time this has happened. Here are 7 other times the public shouldn't have been allowed to choose a name.
A clear inspiration for the choice leading NERC's poll, the name Hooty McOwlface was dreamt up by Lee Dixon after he adopted a Southern Boobook Owl at Kirkleatham Owl Centre in Middlesbrough, UK. Adopting the bird gave him a chance to choose its new name, and it's fair to say that he made a bold choice. It went viral after another visitor photographed the sign and posted it online. We like to hope that Hooty is carrying himself with the quiet dignity that befits these wise birds - though it's got to be tough with a name like that.
When the UK Met Office and Ireland's Met Eireann decided to jointly name the storms that hit the British Isles, they turned to the public for suggestions leading to results that, in retrospect, were predictable. The most successful suggestions (from the UK's side at least) included several unfashionable names from the mid-20th century with a largely unthreatening character, of which Storm Nigel is perhaps the most notable.
Spazzie McGee the Emu
If you think Hooty McOwlface got a raw deal. this bird did even worse. The children of Havenview Primary School in Tasmania did little to dispell Australia's reputation for political incorrectness by giving an Emu the not-entirely-unproblematic name of 'Spazzie McGee'. In fairness to the kids, the name is taken from the movie School of Rock, in which Jack Black's substitute teacher character nicknames the band's drummer 'Spazzy McGee'. So you can probably blame director Richard Linklater for this one.
Vulcan, the Moon
Although it ended up with the name Kerberos, Pluto's 4th moon was almost called Vulcan after the public was given the chance to vote on the name in a (non-binding) poll. Championing from Star Trek actor William Shatner helped get Vulcan and Romulus to the top of the list, after their equivalent planets in Star Trek, though Romulus was discounted because an asteroid already has that designation. Unfortunately, the International Astronomical Union discounted the suggestion because it didn't fit the naming scheme of using underworld deities for Pluto's moons.
Cthulhu All-Spark McLaughlin
When Stephen McLaughlin set up a website to allow the Internet to vote on a name for his daughter, he probably guessed the results would be fairly original. He probably wasn't expecting to end up with thousands of people voting for him to call his girl "Cthulhu All-Spark McLaughlin". Other first names that narrowly missed the vote include Megatron, Not Zelda and Streetlamp, while rejected middle names include Doge, Of-The-Sea and Titanium. Stephen and his wife eventually went with Amelia Savannah Joy McLaughlin, Amelia being the runner-up in the original poll.
Ampulex dementor, the Wasp
Latin names for species are a rich vein of tributes and references, usually to locations or scientists, so it takes something particularly special to stand out from the crowd as particularly unusual. The public at the Berlin Natural History Museum was given the chance to name the parasitic wasp, choosing from a list of A. mon (referencing an early culture from its Thailand home), A. bicolor (referring to its distinctive black-red coloration), A. plagiator (because it 'plagiarises' the appearance of ants as camoflage) or A. dementor (after the Harry Potter villains which eat a person's soul). Let's face it, with those choices it was never going to go any other way.
The Walkie Talkie Building
From the Gherkin to the Cheese Grater, London's skyscrapers are no stranger to stupid names bestowed on them, ostensibly by the public - though the "Walkie Talkie" is perhaps the most ridiculous of them all, not least because the building itself barely resembles one. Officially named 20 Fenchurch Street, it became infamous in 2014 when the combination of its curved, mirrored shape and a heatwave led to it melting cars on the street below. Attempts to rename it the Death Ray Building were unsuccessful.