‘Harambe McHarambeface’ wins Chinese zoo’s gorilla naming contest

A naming contest held for a baby gorilla at Jinhua Zoo, located in China’s central Zhejiang province, has announced the winning entry – which captured over 93% of all votes cast online – as “Harambe McHarambeface”.

According to a report filed by Chinese-language media, up until last week the most-popular option for the newly-born male gorilla was 黑金 (Heijin), which had received several hundred votes. However, after a link to the zoo’s website was shared on social media in the US, thousands of users added new name suggestions, with “Harambe McHarambeface” topping the poll with a total of 73,345 votes.

The unusual winning name is a reference to a 17-year-old Western lowland gorilla who was killed in May 2016 at his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. In that incident, which has been the subject of heated debate throughout the US and abroad, a three-year old child climbed into Harambe’s enclosure, forcing zoo officials to make the controversial decision to shoot the gorilla to protect the child’s safety.

Intense criticism from internet commentators has followed, with many claiming the child was not in any danger from the ape. After Harambe’s death, he has become an internet meme, inspiring a number of fan sites and online groups which have been created in his tribute.

At the start of September 2016, a similar campaign to name a baby gorilla “Harambe McHarambeface” was launched across social media after the Philadelphia Zoo announced a contest to name their own newly-born gorilla. However, the zoo’s management soon ruled out any possibility of selecting a name in honor of Harambe by stating that options including “Harambe McHarambeface”, “Harambaby” and “Harambe Jr.” would not be considered.

“We never announced we were having a naming contest,” the Philadelphia Zoo’s marketing officer told CNN. “What we are having is a voting opportunity… once we have better determined the gender of the baby.”

The disappointment of the internet community at being denied a chance to name the Philadelphia gorilla in Harambe’s honor appears to have spilled over to Jinhua Zoo’s contest, with zoo management reportedly ‘stunned’ at the level of interest abroad. “We had no idea our contest would attract so much attention from overseas,” said a Jinhua Zoo official to local media.

“We do hope it will attract more foreign visitors to Jinhua in future.” The official mentioned that the zoo accepts “Harambe McHarambeface” will be used as the gorilla’s English name, but ‘Heijin’ will be used as his Chinese name. “It is nearly impossible to render Harambe McHarambe face in Chinese language,” said the official, “so we hope those who voted will accept that we have decided to give him a different Chinese name.”

The unusual name of the winning entry was itself inspired by another contest, held in early 2016 for a British polar research ship. In that case, the public were asked to submit and vote on names for a $400 million vessel, and the entry receiving the most support was “Boaty McBoatface.”

To the disappointment of voters in that case, the British Government ignored this option, instead selecting RRS Sir David Attenborough as the vessel’s title. However, there was some good news for supporters of Boaty McBoatface, with UK Science Minister Jo Johnson announcing this option would “live on as the name of one of the high-tech remotely operated sub-sea vehicles” onboard the research ship.