-Laurel Sutton Senior Strategist & Linguist at Catchword Brand Name Development
If I was in charge of naming scientific research vessels, they’d all get names like Boaty McBoatface. This, in case you hadn’t heard, is the leading candidate in a crowdsourced effort to name the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council’s new polar research ship. Fans of Monty Python and Eddie Izzard will recognize the strain of very silly British humor on show here; other entries include “Big Metal Floaty Thingy-Thing”, “Science!!!”, “Its Bloody Cold Here”, and “Usain Boat”. It’s a good reminder to never take things too seriously.
But where did the “X McX” naming convention come from? Over at Slate, journalist Katy Waldman found that “the practice of affixing ‘Mc’ to nouns, adjectives, or verbs ‘to create mock names denoting a person who … is considered an exemplar or personification’ goes back at least to the late 1940s, according to the OED.” But the “X-y McXerson” construction didn’t really take off until the 2000s, and is now ubiquitous in sitcoms and movies; when Character A addressed Character B as “Cheapy McCheaperson”, it’s shorthand for “Character A is witty” (spoiler: they’re not).
I wondered if this naming trend had manifested itself in product or company names, but a quick check through a few thousand recent trademarks containing “mc*” was disappointing. (Interestingly, many of those trademarks turned up the words “Hatfield” and “McCoy”. The feud rages on.) There are some toy names: a Pound Puppy plush dog from Hasbro called Patches McFrisky and a doll from Mattel’s Monster High line called Venus McFlytrap. There’s also a Scotch Ale called Sticky McDoogle, as well as a mark for photojournalist Brain Murphy’s website called Homer McFanboy.
But none of those names really fit the “Noun McNoun” format. We get a little closer with Molly McButter, a powdered butter substitute (it’s actually pretty good on popcorn), in which both words at least start with the same letter. And two of the marks I found employ rhyme: Toys McCoy, a Japanese motorcycle clothing company, and Shady McGrady, which seems to be both a bar in Harrisburg, PA, and a clothing line, for which the mark was filed; they don’t seem to exist yet. Urban Dictionary defines “Shady McGrady” as “a person, persons, or object that appears or behaves in a suspicious manner”, so maybe don’t go to that place in Harrisburg by yourself.
The only mark that seems to follow the format is for Waffle McWaffle, a children’s book and TV show currently in development. (Waffle is the guy in the middle, not the elephant. Waffle McWaffle would be a great name for an elephant!) Here, the repetition of the word “waffle” is meant to be whimsical, to appeal to kids, rather than snarky or patronizing. It’s fun and memorable: who doesn’t like waffles?
Trademarks aside, Boaty McBoatface inspired an epic naming battle on Twitter, as scientists competed to create better names for heavenly objects and animals, using the hashtags #TheInternetNamesSpace and #TheInternetNamesAnimals. Top entries includes Comet McCometface (a comet, of course), Starface Gassy McSmashy (a spiral galaxy), while the red spot on Jupiter became The Big Swirly Swirly. On the fauna side, we got Nopey McNoMyGod (a scary spider), Pantless Thunder-Goose (ostrich), and, for a photo of a cobra wearing a top hat, Danger Noodle.
The moral of the story: When you crowdsource naming, be careful what you Wishy McWish for.