The strange case of Boaty Mc Boatface


Creativity researchers have been trying to pin down  the qualities of a creative idea for many years. We look at how the prize-winning name for a boat meets the criteria

The research has been developed in factor studies of names voted creative.  This approach results in creativity being interpretative (some call it subjective).  Typically, a panel of experts rates names on factors believed to be associated with creativity. A contest to name a new boat would make a nice illustration of the research.  Or we could use the research to assess the creativity of the most popular name.

Lord West has his say

The contest, according to the BBC report, was an open one, that is to say the assessors or voters were not selected by experts on what qualities a boat name should have. They might favour a name for one particular quality.  A distinguished sailor, Lord West, was forthright in his condemnation of the name which he believes appealed to the British public ‘because of its silliness’.

Humorous silliness

Humorous silliness might be a powerful factor allied to creativity, for example in much of the Monty Python humour. One of my favourite examples is The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.

What Lord West was indicating was a factor of utility or fitness for purpose. A competition for naming a new planet or a new memorial garden would rate humorous silliness less highly than appropriateness.

Paying rent to its brand

The  voters ignored the need for the boat name to ‘pay rent to its brand’. Lord West suggested heroic exploration as important.  That’s what the £200 million vessel is about. Think Enterprise (starship) or Endeavour (Captain  Cook’s vessel).

Bertie Mc Boatface is a brilliant and creative name for a character in a cartoon film, but not for a high technology prestige research vessel with a brand to sustain.

Stop Press

It seems that attempts are being made to find a loophole that will rescue the vessel from a Monty Pythonesque name. [Watch this space]. Pity. it would have been fun to hear the words at the launching ceremony: “I name this ship Boaty McBoat Face“.

Technical Note:

The creativity research has tended to suggest three or four factors around concepts such as




A nice little book on evaluating product ideas is one written by Sue Besemer

And a more formal treatment can be found here in her co-authored paper


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