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From Buzz Iceclear to Clearopathra, snowplow naming gains traction around the country

A PennDOT plow truck clears roads in northeastern Pennsylvania following snowfall of up to two feet on March 14, 2017, in Scranton. Around the country, people are participating in contests to give local snowplows clever names.
Brett Carlsen
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Getty Images
A PennDOT plow truck clears roads in northeastern Pennsylvania following snowfall of up to two feet on March 14, 2017, in Scranton. Around the country, people are participating in contests to give local snowplows clever names.

What do Buzz Iceclear, Clearopathra and Snowbi Wan Kenobi all have in common? They are some of the named snowplows hard at work during the winter season.

Cities and states across the country have begun to hold naming contests for their snowplows, hoping to engage more residents and raise awareness for their snowplow drivers.

From Darth Blader in Minnesota to Scoopy Doo in Vermont and Jon Bon Snowi in Michigan, people like to have fun with the name puns.

"[People] like the names and they have fun with that and maybe they have a new appreciation for the [snowplow] work and the drivers who do it everyday," Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesperson Anne Meyer told NPR.

A snowplow nicknamed The Big Leplowski is seen in Detroit Lakes, Minn., in February. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is currently holding its third naming contest for its plows.
MnDOT staff / Minnesota Department of Transportation
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Minnesota Department of Transportation
A snowplow nicknamed The Big Leplowski is seen in Detroit Lakes, Minn., in February. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is currently holding its third naming contest for its plows.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation was one of the first departments in the country to start holding snowplow naming contests, Meyer said. The state received more than 24,000 suggestions for its inaugural contest in 2020 and more than 11,000 last year, she said.

During the first winter of the pandemic, MnDOT looked for ways to connect with Minnesota residents on social media and discovered Scotland's tradition of naming its snowplows, which they call "gritters."

Transport Scotland, which operates 240 gritters, held a competition in Scottish primary schools in 2006 to come up with names for its fleet of gritters. Since then, the agency has named all its gritters.

Its gritters like Gritty Gritty Bang Bang and Snow-be-gone Kenobi can be tracked in real time on its online tracking site that shows their current location and recent routes.

"The gritter tracker is something that everybody takes great interest in when it snows," Transport Scotland winter service manager Iain McDonald told NPR in 2020. "And there's always more interest where the gritters have a good name behind them."

A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow called Scoop Dogg is parked in St. Cloud, Minn., in February.
MnDOT staff / Minnesota Department of Transportation
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Minnesota Department of Transportation
A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow called Scoop Dogg is parked in St. Cloud, Minn., in February.

MnDOT officials hope the naming contest not only brings people laughs during the holiday season but brings appreciation to its snowplow drivers.

"Folks are having fun with it but hopefully they also have a new connection with snowplows and drivers, and treat our drivers a little better on the road by staying back and staying safe," Meyer said.

MnDOT will continue to accept submissions through Friday and narrow the list to 50 names for people to vote on in January. The agency considers "creativity, uniqueness, frequency of submissions, Minnesota-specific ideas, and names that would be easily identifiable and understandable to broad audiences" when selecting the finalists, Meyer said.

Politically inspired and vulgar names will not be considered.

The top eight names will then adorn snowplows, one in each of Minnesota's eight districts, Meyer said.

Other local governments like the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the City of Lafayette, Ind., have also caught on. In its first contest this year, the Lafayette received over 100 suggestions and named 10 of its approximately 50 vehicles, city spokesperson David Huhnke told NPR.

Winning names included Frost Responder, Betty Whiteout and Scoop Dogg, the last two of which were also winners in MnDOT's contest last year.

"We had an overwhelming response to the contest this year and our plan is to expand on the engagement opportunity again next year," Huhnke said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.
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