The Great British Public have voted and it seems our sense of humour is just as great


The combination of the British public and the internet is a huge threat to anyone who wants to take themselves seriously. Recently, a poll was opened to the public, allowing them to choose the name of a royal research vessel. The name is far from what the researchers expected. They had hoped there would be submissions of names featuring great explorers, after which the ship could be named, but this is not quite what the British public had in mind. So what name is leading the poll? Boaty McBoatface.

The name was suggested by former BBC journalist James Hand. This name has received far more votes than any of the other suggestions. Hand has apologised for suggesting the name over Twitter but a Natural Environment Research Council spokesperson responded by saying that they were enjoying watching the vote. Lord West stated that he felt ‘proud’ that silly names had been suggested but also expressed hopes that one of these names would not be the final choice.

A panel of experts could choose a different name. However, by opening up the question to the public, the researchers have created a system similar to that of a democratic vote. If the public’s choice were overruled, what would this say about Britain’s values?

Obviously, the infringement of democracy is not the strongest reason for keeping the name of the ship. Surely, few people would be offended by the changing of a ship’s name? It is hardly an issue over which the British public will declare that they have an inviolable right of choice. After all, it might never have been offered to them in the first place. Had the question not been opened to the public, the issue would not have arisen. Nevertheless, now the vote has taken place, it would be wrong to ignore its result.

Not only will the refusal to adopt the name break a promise made to the British people, but it will also be detrimental to the image of Britain in other ways. While some argue that the name is inappropriate and that ‘Boaty McBoatface’ is not a name that they want to see under their flag, the retraction of it will suggest that the British take themselves too seriously. The creation of the name shows the British character — known for its sense of humour. This is why it is entirely appropriate to be flown under our flag.

Some have suggested though that the name shows a disregard for the prestige of British research and will mean that it will not be taken seriously at home or abroad. However, the rest of the world already knows that this name is winning in the poll, so if it is going to be detrimental to British ‘prestige’ the damage is already done. Alternatively, the quirky name could actually stimulate public interest in the ship’s research.

There have been arguments that the name cannot be used because Boaty will not be a boat but a ship, so the name is factually incorrect. However, I doubt that the people making this comment would be satisfied with the name ‘Ship McShipface’.

It has also been suggested that the lack of support for more suitable names is upsetting as the ship was intended to honour the work, sacrifices and achievements of another researcher. In the list of names, there is a combination of both serious and humorous ones. In second place is currently RSS Henry Worsley, who was the first person to attempt a solo Atlantic crossing. He died during the attempt in January. Perhaps, his name should have been put on the ship without opening the question to the public.

Realistically, the internet should not be relied on in important decisions. However, I cannot agree with those that now say the vote should be withdrawn, it is too late.

Fortunately the popular name is inoffensive. It would have been nice to call the ship in Worsely’s honour but giving it this alternative title in no way diminishes the respect due to him. It adopts an innocent, child-like humour that has no intention of hurting anyone.

‘What’s in a name?’ As we approach the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, perhaps it would be appropriate to reconsider this sentiment. Will this name make a difference to the achievements of the ship? Almost certainly not. However, this should serve as a lesson about using submissions to an internet poll to make important decisions.



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