What's in a name?

Perhaps you have heard – the nation’s new polar research ship is to be named the RRS Sir David Attenborough rather than Boaty McBoatface, the frivolous suggestion of a former BBC radio presenter that the majority of those who took part in an online poll to name the vessel seized upon, and apparently would have preferred.

Humour – and giving people their say – can both backfire. I have never forgotten being asked to marry a couple whose wedding plans, apart from standing before God and making their vows, turned out to be aimed mainly at amusing their friends. Weddings are joyful occasions, yes – but they include some essential solemn bits too. They point to something beyond which is all too easily missed if we’re too busy laughing, as I’ve been careful to remember ever since. Perhaps that’s why a recent survey of churchgoers revealed that although most like their minister to have a sense of humour they generally dislike sermons peppered with jokes – they prefer solid content to comedy.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t follow him just because he made them laugh, as far as anyone can tell. There was much more to it than that. Stand-up comics take centre stage and try to be funny. But Sir David Attenborough doesn’t take centre stage. He directs our attention towards something beyond - anything from a whale to an ants’ nest - and in doing so reminds us what a fascinating place our world is.

No doubt some will be disappointed that Boaty McBoatface will be the name of an unmanned submarine instead. But like its namesake, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will deepen our understanding of our world and perhaps encourage us to take better care of it. At the end of the day, that’s no laughing matter.