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Open Mic

What's In A Name?

John Thorp

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This month's article is by John Thorp

I seem to be at inquisitive stage of my life. Not in the, “Mother, Father, babies. Where do they emerge from?” stage, obviously, but my mind gets restless over other, much more trivial things.

Call it youthful rebellion, but I resist Birthday cards. Society and social rule dictates that I can’t avoid birthdays, the over the top celebration excuse of millions determined to ram it down the throats of all and anybody possible, that they’ve survived another year on the harsh place we call Earth.

As congratulations for this amazing feat, and their Mother’s pain, you, as an often unnecessary person in the grand scheme of things, present said person a much mulled over gift. But a card as well? If you’re presenting somebody with a paid for gift, then why, may I ask, do you need to give them a piece of card, with your name in and a humorous picture on the front? What use would anybody have with that?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about names. No, I’m not about to become a Father, at least as not far as I’m aware, but rather that names are utterly necessary but entirely pointless devices. Without them, we’d just be in terms of nothingness, or worse, silly little numbers, as portrayed in The Prisoner.

But they stay in our sub-conscious like little meaningless burrowing voles. The media and culture influences our ideas about names – ever met somebody called Dracula, or Jesus – but in the day when brand is everything, a name means a lot to a ride.

Take Nemesis, for example. The executives at Tussauds felt that the most high impact ride the company have ever installed, back in their relatively early days of Alton Towers ownership, Nemesis, had such a cultural impact our little island, that when the ride’s sister was commissioned for Thorpe Park, Inferno, it’d gain a ‘Nemesis’ prefix. And subsequently, Nemesis + Inferno = Nemesis Inferno.

Of course, this is no new idea. Since the 1970’s, Disney has been opening clones and tweaked versions of it’s rides all over the world, leading to pioneering attractions like Space Mountain being just about the most well know roller coaster in the world, and ‘it’s a small world’ becoming the most mocked, parodied, satirized, yet still shamelessly and blatantly copied ride in the history of amusement parks.

Before long, Disney will be releasing a ‘Tower of Terror’ already an internationally recognized ride name, in Paris. On a serious note, Disney are spinning it’s title off a history of good press. I doubt a ride would be originally christened Tower of Terror in today’s socio-political climate.

The name ‘Big Dipper’ is also scattered frequently through the modern lexis, and the ever resourceful RCDB lists over 20 rides baring the title from 1923 onwards – over half of these have since closed, but two of the most notable exceptions include the classics at both Pleasure Beach, Blackpool and Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California – two of the most iconic and famous rides on both sides of the Atlantic.

Credit must go to ‘Barry’ of ‘Barry’s Amusement Park’, County Antrim, UK, for titling his Pinifari Looper, ‘Barry’s Big Dipper’, the only listed Big Dipper with any personification… which ironically is also, not a Big Dipper in the traditional sense at all. It’s always nice to see pioneering, out of ‘the box’ park owners like Barry exist in the industry today.

Alton Towers last year suffered much mocking and general bewilderment on the public’s part when they boldly named their new Intamin accelerator coaster, ‘Rita – Queen of Speed’. The park’s weekly newsletter announced that although a name like Pedal to the Metal, or Burnout would be the obvious choice, a name like ‘Rita’ is unique enough that it’ll forever be associated with the park, and the ride.

To the marketing department’s credit, attendance did rise thanks to ‘Your best Alton Towers ride ever’. Meanwhile, enthusiasts continued to plot bad gags, puns and dirty in jokes regarding her majesty. Much funnier still, was that the success of ‘Rita’ prompting nervous fans to speculate whether this title would be bestowed upon the other Intamin coaster of the same variety, which was under construction at Thorpe Park. Well, it happened with Nemesis.

Thankfully, the behemoth now known as Stealth wasn’t called ‘Rita 2- Das Speedening!’ after all, but was in fact given the equally idiosyncratic title of Stealth.

If anything, Stealth (or ‘Stelf’, to its locals) is even more of an idiotic title than Rita. Firstly, there is absolutely nothing Stealthy about a 205 foot tall ‘icon’ coaster in three stark and varying colour schemes. Secondly, it makes absolutely no sense in the Beach Boys and faded sea hut theme of the ride. Thirdly, it’s a stolen title which Paramount parks coined over half a decade ago, and coupled it with a relevant theme.  

But who am I to whine – the Pepsi Max Big One is perhaps the most iconic rollercoaster in the country, and its title was suggested by a five year old girl. Well, the ‘Big One’ bit anyway, no toddler is that aware of corporate synergy. In fact, the Big One’s name frequently takes on a life of it’s own, called anything from ‘The Pepsi Max’, ‘Big One’, ‘Pepsi Max One’ or my particular favourite, ‘Maximum Pepsi Dipper’. Indeed, it is the Pleasure Beach which remains the king of bad, bad names. Their knack for sponsorship has churned out such classics as ‘Playstation – The Ride’, and ‘Walls Cornetto Soft Spin Doctor’.

Oh but let us not be negative. Out there, in the vast wilderness of European amusentdom lies real, quality namage – Goliath or Colossus sits pretty with powerful, imposing rides like Goliath, or Colossus.

Phantasialand are notable namesmiths – Winjas Fear and Winjas Force are so unique they demand attention, the same applying to Colorado Adventure’s strange and infamous subtitling as ‘The Michael Jackson Thrill Ride’, but probably for entirely different reasons.

Not to mention children’s rides such as ‘Wubi’s Wappi Wipper’ and ‘Wozl’s Duck Washer’. The park have also recently had the nerve to open their much touted, Ł17 million inverted coaster under the same title as the world’s biggest selling sex toy. That’s Black Mamba, for those of you who aren’t on the ball. In terms of German thrill rides. Obviously.

For all my Tussauds baiting, for every ‘The Flume’ or the utterly misleading ‘Toadie’s Crazy Cars’ (they’re not that crazy), you get a ‘Nemesis’ or ‘Slammer’, just two really good examples of titles that fit their ride to a tee, and remain perfectly original at the same time. In fact, an intoxicated John Wardley decided on Nemesis on the strength of its ‘S’ sound. A promotional comic, millions of visitors and it’s own range of soft drinks later, and it remains a healthy staple name.

I’m personally a fan of those rides are those modern thrillers with odd and out there names – Expedtion Ge Force actually subliminally tells the visitor of just what they’re signing up for, just as well as any ‘Big Dipper’.

Similarly, Thorpe Park’s ‘X:/ No Way Out’ informs us not only of when the ride arrived, during the dotcom and virus obsessive mid nineties, but perfectly reflects the nonsensical nature of what is to follow in the pyramid of obscurity.

As 2006 rolls into full swing, we’ve been treated to Abisimo, at Parque De Attractiones (add your own gag there), Oakwood’s latest investment, Speed (a disappointing name from the people that hilariously combined the power of ‘phobia’ with the super-exciting ‘Mega’!) and Plopsaland’s Super Splash, a ride name identical to that of the ride model! Well, it is from the diverse minds of a park called Plopsaland, so maybe that’s a lucky escape?

So, next time you’re in a lengthy queue for your favourite ride, perhaps you’d like to take some time to discuss the credentials, the pros, the cons, the favourite letters, the grammatical credibility of the attraction’s name. It’ll make the time fly by, not only for you, but those plucky regular guests around you! I’m not trying to mislead you. Honest.

Guest Author: John Thorp

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 19: Jun 2006

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