In wintry Minnesota, there’s a belief that every snowplow deserves a name

Jan 25, 2024, 10:12 PM

Snowplows are essential to enduring winter in Minnesota, so maybe it’s not surprising that every year thousands of people vote on names for the giant machines that clear the state’s roads, such as Plowy McPlowFace and Darth Blader.

The often-icy state began naming its 800 plows in 2020 and is expected to announce winners of its 2023-2024 Name a Snowplow contest early next week, adding eight selections to more than three dozen names that already grace trucks scraping snow off Minnesota highways.

“We definitely know snow in Minnesota, and anyone who lives up here knows the challenges of those conditions and the challenges of trying to keep roads safe for folks to travel during the winter,” said Anne Meyer, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which hosts the contest.

The agency knew officials in Scotland had named snowplows for years and decided a similar effort in Minnesota might draw attention to their winter work, Meyer said.

The response in the first year of the contest was overwhelming, with about 24,000 submissions and 122,000 votes cast. Participation has dropped over the years but remains strong, with about 8,000 submissions for the latest contest.

Besides Plowy McPlowFace and Darth Blader, winners over the years include Blizzard of Oz, Scoop Dogg and Han Snolo. Top names often have Minnesota connections. F. Salt Fitzgerald was a nod to St. Paul-born author F. Scott Fitzgerald, while The Truck Formerly Known As Plow recognized musician Prince, who for a time famously declined to be recognized by a spoken name.

The response in Minnesota has prompted states and cities across the country to hold similar contests to name snowplows, from Alaska and California to Ohio and Massachusetts.

New Mexico launched its first name-a-snowplow contest this winter, drawing more than 1,500 submissions and 23,000 votes to name 12 of the state’s 400 plows. Winners included Sleetwood Mac, Mr. Snow it All and Billy the Skid, acknowledging the New Mexico roots of the gunslinger Billy the Kid.

“There’s a natural infatuation with (snowplows),” said Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. “They’re big, huge trucks. They look great on the road, and they are such a visual statement to the core of DOT, which is helping people get to their destination safely.”

Lincoln, Nebraska, also held its first snowplow-naming contest this year. More than 2,300 people voted to name eight city plows, with Clearopathra taking honors as the top selection.

“We hope this helps develop a closer relationship with people, and we can show them that we are human, too,” said Erika Hill, a spokesperson for Lincoln’s Transportation and Utilities department. “We’re laughing along with them about some of these great names.”

Plowy McPlowFace is a favorite in many of the contests, in part because it harkens back to a rejected online vote in 2016 to name a British polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface. Although that choice garnered more than three times the votes of its closest competitor, officials opted to name the ship after naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Minnesota plans to keep its contest going in coming years and Meyer noted each plow keeps its name, which is displayed along the side of the vehicle.

“We’ve got 800 snowplows statewide for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, so we have a lot of snowplows to name,” Meyer said.

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In wintry Minnesota, there’s a belief that every snowplow deserves a name