Let the Public Vote? Be Careful What You Ask For

Should you encourage the public to vote on a new name? Consider this cautionary tale.

boaty-mcboatfaceA British nautical agency asked the citizenry to select a name for its new research vessel, and the winning name emerged as Boaty McBoatface.

But then cooler heads prevailed, and the vessel is to be named RSS Sir David Attenborough, in honor of the world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster. That name came in fourth place in the public vote. (Nevertheless, Sir David, age 90, ever the gentleman, said he was “truly honored” by the decision.)

ship needs a nameThis kerfuffle began when the UK’s Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) asked the public (at #NameOurShip) for names for its new polar exploration ship. A social media joke grew out of the agency’s website, and sure enough, 124,000 votes sailed in for Boaty McBoatface – 10 times the number for the second-place contender.

But the UK’s Science Minister weighed in and said there were “more suitable” names, and dispatched Boaty McBoatface to a watery grave.

There’s a better way to involve the public in a naming choice, if you’re so inclined.

  • Come up with half a dozen semifinalist names that you’d be willing to implement, and then ask the public for a vote.
  • That way, you maintain control of the proceedings.

Posted in Public Relations