Beyond Boaty McBoatface: 9 Public Naming Contests That Ended Badly

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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

Fred Durst in 2000
Lucy Nicholson, AFP/Getty Images

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

An figure of Cthulhu

Chase Norton, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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.

9. HARAMBABY

A bronze statue of a gorilla and her baby
John Sommers II, Getty Images

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.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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