Beyond Boaty McBoatface: 9 Public Naming Contests That Ended Badly

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iStock

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.

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

9 People Who Have Been Called America's Sweetheart

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The term “America’s Sweetheart” first appeared in the early 1900s, back when motion pictures were still a novelty. Over the years, it’s been applied to a vast number of celebrities—largely young, bubbly, wholesome-seeming ladies who women want to be and men want to introduce to their mothers. (The occasional man has been dubbed America's sweetheart, too, but the moniker has never quite defined famous men the way it has defined a certain genre of female celebrity.) Here are nine people who have been called "America's sweetheart" in the past.

1. THE ORIGINAL: MARY PICKFORD

Mary Pickford circa 1910
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Mary Pickford—perhaps the most iconic actress of the Silent Era and a founder of Hollywood institutions like the United Artists studio and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—was the first to hold the unofficial title of "America's Sweetheart," a nickname reportedly given to her by influential theater owner David Grauman. The title would later be used in ad copy for her films and by magazines writing about her work. In a 1918 feature in Photoplay magazine called "Women I Have Loved," actor Elliott Dexter, in enumerating all of the actresses who had served as his on-screen love interests, wrote that "Mary Pickford absolutely captivated me as she does everyone who goes near her. Her genius, her brilliancy, her charm, her beauty—oh, what's the use? All of that has only been said two or three thousand times more or less and all of it is true." Dexter played opposite Pickford in A Romance of the Redwoods, a 1917 silent Western. (To give you an idea of her comparative clout, she received top billing, while his name didn't appear on the film's poster at all.)

"In more than 200 films, including 52 full-length features, she was the brave little girl whose hair hung down in golden ringlets," The Washington Post described in her obituary in 1979. "She was scarcely 5 feet tall, but she never gave up when times got bad. She was funny and sad, tough and vulnerable, innocent and ingenious, and she always won out in the end."

Oddly enough, Pickford proved that you didn't need to be from the U.S. to become America’s sweetheart—she was Canadian.

2. SHIRLEY TEMPLE

Shirley Temple, circa 1934.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Several decades after Pickford pioneered the name, Shirley Temple took over as "America’s Sweetheart," so effectively embodying the title that many have mistakenly called her America's first sweetheart. The dimpled, ringlet-sporting Depression-era child actor was famous by the time she was 6, singing and tap-dancing her way through more than 40 films before she retired from the pictures at the ripe age of 22 and selling millions of dolls in her likeness to American children in the process. As an adult, she went on to become a U.S. delegate to the U.N. and ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

The title of America's sweetheart stuck with Temple throughout her life. When Fox released box sets of her complete works on DVD in the early 2000s, the studio called them the America's Sweetheart collection.

3. DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Debbie Reynolds circa 1955
Keystone, Getty Images

Debbie Reynolds became America's latest sweetheart in the 1950s, starting with her star turn in Singin’ in the Rain, which debuted in 1952 when she was 20 years old. She went on to appear in multiple movies a year throughout the 1950s and had several hit songs on the Billboard charts. "Her girl-next-door looks, bouncy personality and energy in a string of comedies and musicals quickly earned her the title of America's Sweetheart," The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana explained in 1988.

Unfortunately, Reynolds's position as America's sweetheart was often juxtaposed with the sex-symbol status of her close friend Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds's husband Eddie Fisher (himself an American sweetheart) divorced her to marry Taylor in 1959, a scandal that garnered tremendous media coverage at the time and still appears in headlines today. Reynolds died in late 2016, and nearly every obituary referenced her years as America's sweetheart.

4. MARY TYLER MOORE

Mary Tyler Moore, circa 1969
E Milsom, Getty Images

In the 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore took over the title of America's sweetheart—though there was often a caveat. "Just as surely as Mary Pickford was America's sweetheart, Mary Tyler Moore is the viewers' sweetheart," a UPI newswire story about The Mary Tyler Moore Show declared in 1972, not quite giving her the full title. Moore became a household name in the early 1960s while playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and went on to star in her own eponymous show between 1970 and 1977. In 1977, the New York Daily News called her "America's TV sweetheart." But in other publications, there was no descriptor required. Both Esquire and Rolling Stone labeled her "America's sweetheart' in cover stories in 1977 and 1980, respectively.

And yet, America can't focus on one sweetheart for too long. Already, her title was already at risk of being passed off to someone else. In 1979, The Pittsburgh Press wrote that Donna Pescow of Saturday Night Fever, who was then starring in the ABC show Angie, "may replace Mary Tyler Moore as America's sweetheart." (That one didn't quite come to fruition.)

5. MARY LOU RETTON … AND NUMEROUS OTHER FEMALE OLYMPIANS OF THE 1980s

Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Olympics.
STAFF/AFP, GettyImages

Not all of America's sweethearts have been actresses. Walter Cronkite bestowed the honorary on gymnast Mary Lou Retton following her wins at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Olympic runner Mary Decker occasionally donned the label in the 1980s, too, as did tennis star Chris Evert and swimmer Janet Evans. Just about every successful female athlete of the 1980s was at one point deemed to be America's sweetheart. The trope continues today, too—more recent Olympic gymnasts like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman have all been called America's sweethearts, too.

6. MEG RYAN

Meg Ryan circa 1993.
MYCHELE DANIAU, AFP/Getty Images

Meg Ryan became America’s sweetheart thanks to roles in a string of romantic comedies, starting with When Harry Met Sally… in 1989 and continuing throughout the 1990s. In one typical article of the time, a Detroit Free Press story in 1996 called Ryan "she of the giggle in the voice and the sparkle in the eye." Another, published by The Age in Australia, called her "cinema's intoxicating, decent-hearted sprite." But she fell out of Hollywood favor in the early 2000s after an affair with Russell Crowe brought about the end of her marriage to Dennis Quaid, a scandal that captivated the tabloids. If there's one rule to being America's sweetheart, it's that you have to keep your image scandal free—extramarital affairs are definitely not allowed.

Though she has been out of the spotlight for several years, Ryan recently discussed her time as America's sweetheart with Gwyneth Paltrow at a Goop conference, saying she never liked the title. "When you get labeled anything, like America's sweetheart—I didn't even know what that meant," she told Paltrow. "I remember thinking, 'Is that good?'" She went on to say, "It doesn't necessarily imply that you're smart or sexual or complicated or anything. It's a label. And what can a label do but guess at you?"

7. JULIA ROBERTS

Julia Roberts in ‘Runaway Bride,’ 1999
Getty Images

Julia Roberts got her start in Hollywood with films like Mystic Pizza (1988) and Steel Magnolias (1989) and became a true international star when Pretty Woman came out in 1990. In 1993, The Boston Globe called her "the closest thing there is to America's Sweetheart." Throughout the '90s, both she and fellow sweetheart Meg Ryan regularly made the top of lists like Harlequin's Top 10 Most Desirable Women and Men's Health's list of the top stars to "take home to Mom." And yet by the mid-1990s, some writers were already moving on to someone else. "Sandra Bullock emerged as the likely successor to the fading Julia Roberts as America's Sweetheart," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel announced in its end-of-year coverage for 1995. But she was soon back on top—after My Best Friend's Wedding came out in 1997, the Orlando Sentinel wrote that she "hardly seems ready to relinquish her title as America's Sweetheart." In 2003, National Enquirer released a biography of the star called Julia Roberts: America's Sweetheart.

8. SANDRA BULLOCK

Sandra Bullock talks on a cell phone while shopping for laundry detergent in 1999’s ’Forces of Nature.'
Getty Images

Anyone with a few hit romantic comedies under their belt is sure to become America's sweetheart, and Sandra Bullock was no exception. Bullock made her name starring as the plucky heroine in movies like While You Were Sleeping (1995), but when she tried to stretch her dramatic legs, she wasn't quite so beloved. "Sandra Bullock and Clint Eastwood are popular because of their personalities and looks, not necessarily because we want to see them perform," a Knight Ridder newspaper critic snarked in 1999. Bullock wasn't particularly invested in being America's sweetheart, however, and she certainly understood the rules of the game. "There's a different 'America's Sweetheart' every time they have to promote another romantic comedy," she told The Orange County Register in 2005.

9. JENNIFER ANISTON

A promotional image of Jennifer Aniston with her arms crossed, 1995
NBC Television/Getty Images

Even more fool-proof than romantic comedies, the quickest way to become America's sweetheart is to link up with another all-American celebrity. While Jennifer Aniston hit sweetheart status thanks to the massive popularity of her character on Friends—one Entertainment Weekly labeled as a Top 10 greatest pop-culture characters of the last 20 years in 2010—her romance with noted Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt definitely sealed the deal. When that ended in 2005, she got to keep the title, except she became "America's jilted sweetheart" (compared to the "superhumanly sensual" Angelina Jolie), as a writer from The Arizona Republic called her in 2005. (Another rule for these superfluous titles? Women must be pitted against each other, whether they like it or not.)

Even though Aniston no longer appears in our homes every Thursday night as she did during her run on Friends, she'll always be the country's sweetheart for many. "Look at Jennifer Aniston: she's America's sweetheart for a reason," fellow actress Allison Williams observed while talking about red carpet styles in Elle's 2014 Women in TV issue. "You know what she's going to look like when she shows up to something, and there's something so comfortable in that."

Maybe that's the key. If America's sweetheart is anything, it's comforting.

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