Exclusive: Think Boaty McBoatface is Bad? We Reveal What The Research Ship Could Have Been Named

By James O Malley on at

Last Spring the British public took part in a major vote - one that would have profound consequences for generations to come. No, not the EU referendum, but the competition held by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to name their new £200m polar research ship.

Of course, everyone knows what happened next: The vote became hugely popular, and the winning name was none-other than Boaty McBoatface.

Yes, the British public are both brilliant and awful, simultaneously.

In the end, the actual ship was never actually given the embarrassing name as NERC and the government used a get-out clause to pick something more sensible. When they announced the campaign, they said they wanted a name that was “inspirational” and related to environmental and polar science. They were also keen to point out that it wasn’t really a competition or a public vote - but more a chance for the general public to “inform decision making”. Which is fair enough, but annoyingly undermines my Brexit joke in the first paragraph.

So they instead named the ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough - because who is going to complain about naming it after the greatest living Englishman? In a nice sop to the public’s enthusiasm however, NERC did decide to bestow the Boaty name on an autonomous submarine that would operate from the ship.

So in the end, everyone was happy. But this did get us wondering though: What else could the ship have ended up being called? What other names had the public been thinking of?

Amazingly, NERC has released the full results dataset to Giz UK thanks to a freedom of information request, meaning that we can exclusively reveal the full results - and see what else was in the running.

Top Names

It turns out that Boaty McBoatface was by some distance the most popular name - which yielded 124109 “likes” by the time the vote ended. That’s 31% of the 397991 votes cast in total.

In second place was Poppy-Mai - with 39866 votes. This was the name of a 16 month old who sadly died of cancer last year, and whose story also attracted wide support on social media. In third place with 15774 likes was Henry Worsley, named for the polar explorer who also died last year. David Attenborough came fourth - with 11023 likes.

Mercifully, some other funny names did perform well: “Its bloody cold here”, “USAIN BOAT”, and “BOATIMUS PRIME” all made the Top 10, and “I Like Big Boats & I Cannot Lie” came in at number 11.

“NICOLAS CAGE” scored a respectable 1893 votes, though disappointingly “Shia LaBoat” only got 9.

Perhaps the most curious high-performing name was “CATALINA DE ARAGON”, which is the Spanish name of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. Perhaps some people are still upset about the Spanish Armada?

Here’s the full Top 50 (with the number of likes next to each):

  1. Boaty McBoatface 124109
  2. Poppy-mai 39886
  3. Henry Worsley 15774
  4. David Attenborough 11023
  5. Its bloody cold here 10679
  6. USAIN BOAT 8710
  8. Katharine Giles 7687
  10. I Like Big Boats&I Cannot Lie 6452
  11. Pillar of Autumn 5823
  12. What Iceberg? 5250
  13. Boaty McBoatface The Return 4730
  14. Boat 4507
  15. Pingu 4343
  16. Poppy-Mai - Warrior Princess 4287
  17. Thanks For All The Fish 4236
  19. Ice Ice Baby 3673
  20. Boatasaurus Rex 3371
  21. Notthetitanic 3201
  22. Boat Marley and the Whalers 2895
  23. Clifford the Big Red Boat 2427
  24. BippityBoppity FloatilyBoatily 2302
  25. MOTÖRBOAT 2192
  26. Millennium Falcon 2045
  27. I'M THE CAPTAIN NOW 2020
  28. NICOLAS CAGE 1893
  29. flying spaghetti monster 1837
  30. red dwarf 1770
  31. CALL OF CTHULHU 1763
  32. Netflix And Endure Sub-Zero 1696
  33. Icey Smashy-smash 1578
  34. Dr John Rae 1558
  36. Steve Prescott 1413
  37. Boaty O'Boatface 1383
  38. Ice To See You 1329
  39. Titanic 2: The Revenge 1272
  40. Mostly Harmless 1160
  41. Slippery when wet 1091
  43. Tiffany Aching 1049
  45. Princess poppy-mai 948
  46. Fish 'n' Chips 906
  47. Gnarly Narwhal 894
  48. Tom Crean 869
  49. Do you want ice with that? 847
  50. Ada Lovelace 836

And here’s the full list of results, so you can see the full range of the internet’s creativity and trolling:

Rejected Names

Of course… this isn’t the full story. Before a potential name could be listed on the NERC website, the organisation sensibly pre-vetted submissions. And now, having the full list of submissions, it is very easy to see why they did it. It appears that there must have been an automatic filter, but that still didn’t stop around 15 people trying to name the boat Adolf Hitler.

Here’s some other favourites/most despairing from a quick skim through the list of everything submitted:

  • “a actual luv boats mate”
  • “ACTUALLY A DOLPHIN Actually A Really Serious Ship Actually Very Much Gravitas Ad hoc”
  • “Cheeky Nandos”
  • “Diana, Princess of Wales”
  • “Full Communism”
  • “Grab your Boat you've pulled”*
  • “Hashtag Boat”
  • “Hiter [sic] Did Nothing Wrong”
  • “John Barrowman”
  • “Malvinas Argentinas”
  • “Shrek 2 Directors Cut”
  • “Titanic 2 Electric Boogaloo”
  • “WATER 9/11”
  • “Your Mum”

    * Surely a better name for a tug boat?
    ** FFS.

    And here’s the full document, which really goes a long way to explain why democracy doesn’t really work:

    Let us know your favourite rejected suggestion in the comments below if you like.