A couple of years ago, our dog Duchess acquired a middle name for the first time.
“Her middle name is Hunter,” declared a young boy at one of Missy’s summer softball games – a player who, by amazing coincidence, was named Hunter himself. As the pronouncement was made, Heather and I silently tested out the new addition to our timid canine.
Duchess Hunter Rochat. Hm.
It wasn’t bad. And it fit her old habit of chasing down every rabbit in the backyard that she could find, back in her younger days in Kansas. So, without further ado or ceremony, Duchess Hunter Rochat it was.
If only things were that simple for the British.
Some of you may have been following one of the sillier stories in the news cycle: a $300 million polar research boat for the United Kingdom whose name was thrown open to an online poll. The National Environment Research Council was probably hoping for a name connected with penguins, or explorers, or something else sober and traditional.
What it got was over 124,000 votes for “Boaty McBoatface.”
The name had been thrown out as a joke by a former BBC host, then took on a life of its own. By the end of the contest, according to The Guardian, it was crushing the competition with four times the votes of the second-place entry.
Alas, this week, Science Minister Jo Johnson threw cold water on the proceedings. She said the British government would review all the submissions in order to find a more “suitable” name.
“Admittedly, calling a boat Boaty McBoatface was a bad idea, voted on by idiots,” Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage said. “But it was our bad idea.”
I’m often a bit skeptical of Internet democracy. But this time around, I’ve got to agree. It may be ridiculous. It may be downright stupid. But it honestly deserves to survive, no matter what the regret by the gray-faced bureaucrats.
McWhy? Consider this:
1) The National Environmental Research Council wanted to attract more attention to its scientific activities through the contest. It might be fair to say, mission accomplished.
2) As my sister pointed out, it makes an excellent object lesson for anyone conducting an internet contest. When you make a choice open-ended instead of giving a pre-set ballot to choose from, you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get. I mean, imagine if Dave Barry had gotten hold of this one. (He didn’t, did he?)
3) It’s fun. Utter, glorious, stupendously silly fun. And to be honest, we need a bit more of that in the world these days.
Sure, we face serious problems everywhere we look. There’s always a crisis to consider, a candidate to defend, a cause that’s earnest and urgent. And as we all know, it doesn’t take much to stir up an online fist fight around any of these, full of sound and fury and not much real conversation. Often, the sheer heat of the “debate” protects any of it from being read, unless you’re already a partisan of one side or another.
In the midst of all this, a boat that sounds like it came off the set of Thomas the Tank Engine might be a much-needed piece of whimsy.
Not everything has to be life-or-death. In the physical world, something put under pressure too long will deform or break. Minds need to release pressure, too, for much the same reason. And if it’s by laughing at something silly that isn’t hurting anyone – well, why McNot?
The British used to be famous for eccentricity. Surely the nation that gave the world Mr. Bean, Doctor Who, and the makeup artist for Keith Richards can accept one more excuse to sit back and laugh at itself for adding a little more weirdness to the world.
It’s healthy. It’s refreshing. It breaks people out of their ruts for a moment and makes them smile. So why not bow to the inevitable?
Or just call it Hunter. You know. Whatever floats your McBoat.