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Vice Blog

We Spoke to People Who're Upset Britain Didn't Name It's Newest Ship 'Boaty McBoatface'

Did people really think a research vessel named 'Boaty' was going to sail around the Arctic?
May 8, 2016, 12:00am

(Photo via NERC)

Sir David Attenborough turns 90 on Sunday, and to mark the occasion a big ship is going to be named after him. It's the gift every nonagenarian craves, right? Anyway, Britain's new polar research vessel is to be named RRS Sir David Attenborough, despite Boaty McBoatface coming out as the people's favourite with more than 124,100 votes. The Government said the decision was made in recognition of the wildlife presenter's life work, with Sir David picking up about 11,000 votes. Fair enough.

There may be no better voice than his to calmly narrate a killer whale violently ingesting a fluffy sea lion while you swallow a forkful of pasta, but the question remains: Were there better names for Britain's newest vessel? James Hand, who first suggested the jokey name, has dubbed the government's decision an "excellent choice" but the hordes of people who seemed to genuinely find Boaty McBoatface funny and unifying were gutted. We spoke to a couple of them to hear how they were coping with news that the best they'd get would be a little "Boaty" submarine aboard RSS Davey Attenborough.


Jo's leaping around in the centre there (Photo courtesy of Jo Walton)

VICE: Hi Jo, what did the Boaty McBoatface name symbolise for you?
Jo Walton: "Boaty McBoatface" perfectly captures the equivocal nature of scientific seafaring in the public imagination. The name has the virtue of reminding us that the object in question is a boat. Yet it also acknowledges our need to personify it, to give it a face. Perhaps on some level we recognise that the ocean is just as scared of us as we are of it: in making our vast machines in our own likenesses, we express our desire to meet monsters and gods on their own terms.

Sure. In the grand scheme of things, was "Sir David Attenborough" a better name choice than Boaty McBoatface?
I would say it is probably the worst possible name. Why is nature so weird? One theory is that David Attenborough's gravel-and-syrup voice is so trustworthy, nature itself changes to conform to his delirious ramblings. Have you seen an aye-aye's thumb?


No, I haven't actually. What does the government's decision say about democracy?
It's interesting we get this announcement just as the local election results are rolling out. Sometimes when things are opened up to a popular vote, you get bizarre results, like the continued election of Conservatives. Sometimes the public just perfectly nails it, as with Boaty. We know as a collective we can be brilliant or fucking stupid. To me, it's pretty obvious that a secure welfare system and economic equality are necessary prerequisites for democracy to even slightly work. Otherwise, everybody is too busy trying to stay alive and sane to work out who to vote for – except for flashes of brilliance like Boaty, obviously.


(Photo courtesy of Nathalie Gordon)

VICE: What does the government's decision say about democracy?
Nathalie Gordon: It's a joke, in light of being told to care about the recent Mayoral elections and the upcoming Brexit vote. But the "millennial generation" is slammed for not wanting to vote as we don't think it makes a difference. So it throws into question the legitimacy of voting in this country. I don't think anyone really cares about Boaty McBoatface, but what we do care about is being asked and then being ignored. It reiterates the thing we get chastised for, which is having no faith in government and people who run it. It's a pretty blatant of subversion of public will.

Do you think events like this put people off voting?
Our government seems to be a tricky game to navigate, and many people have quite lost interest. Something has to change. And fast. The disengaged voter is actually the most powerful untapped resource and soon, it will be the biggest percentage of voters in the country. More people will stop voting with this kind of conduct. It legitimises the opinion of those in power, by asking the people for their opinion but only accepting it if it mirror's their own. We think we are powerless, and this is just further proof.


Right. Is Sir David Attenborough a good name for a boat? Or is Boaty McBoatface better?
Come on. We all voted for the stupidest name possible because we knew no-one would ever listen to us. However well intentioned, we knew the whole thing was insincere. If we lived in a real democracy, we probably would have come up with, 'Sir David Attenborough' or something equally as sensible and/or boring.


Mr Gee is a poet (Photo by Jenny May Finn)

VICE: I've heard you wrote some touching poetry for Boaty McBoatface. What's the deal?
Mr Gee: It was a play on the phrase "Veni, Vidi, Vici": I came, I saw, I conquered. Julius Caeser apparently said this after a swift battle. The decision to name the polar research ship was put out to the public vote, and the name Boaty McBoatface won by a landslide. So much like Caeser, it was a swift battle. But there were other forces that decided it would be for the best if the ship had another name, so they changed it.

Has the story impacted your opinion on the current government?
No. They only want to preserve a status quo, so offer us the cookie dough of democracy when it suits them but then hide it from us later on, claiming it's bad for our teeth. If the public had chosen a name like "Invictus" or even "Mandela", the government would have jumped right behind it with press releases about democratic voting systems indicating the best of Britain's character. To deny its special place in our national character is almost dictatorial.

But is Sir David Attenborough a good name for a boat? What would you call the boat if you had the autonomy to decide?
David Attenborough is a great name for a boat. It's a name that I can thoroughly endorse. I think that the next boat Britain makes should be called Sir David Attenborough. But Boaty McBoatface is genius, it's beautiful, it's poetic. To deny the ship its rightful name would be like still calling Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay. I know that this whole drama will soon fade from public consciousness and we'll all go back to wondering who "Becky with the Good Hair" is. If I was in charge, I would have been democratic and sided with the people.

Can we have one last poem for the legacy of Boaty McBoatface?
There once was a Royal ship called Boaty
That the public decided by voting,
The Government reassessed,
And doing what they do best,
They renamed it after one of their homies!

Thanks, Gee, and thanks everyone.