MnDOT’s 'Name a Snowplow' contest returns with some truly chilling puns

DOT snowplow
A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow rumbles along Highway 169 north of Mankato.
John Cross for Mankato Free Press via AP 2013

She may have only lived in Minnesota on television, but the memory of the woman who played TV homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” may yet get a lasting tribute from the state. 

On the side of snowplow. 

“Betty Whiteout” is one of the dozens of names selected by officials at the Minnesota Department of Transportation for its second year of christening eight signature orange trucks that clear Minnesota’s winter roads and spread salt far and wide. 

White didn’t make the original list last year, but her death on New Year’s Eve has apparently rekindled the state’s affection for the scampish nonagenarian. 

Her namesake was among some 11,000 entries to answer MnDOT’s call last month for new monikers.

Last winter’s sweepstakes dubbed one of the state trucks “Plowy McPlowFace,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the British research vessel naming poll that went viral, and famously off the rails, in 2016. 

Eight more names will chosen this year, from among 50 finalists, for eight more trucks — one for each of MnDOT’s service districts across Minnesota. The initiative was modeled after a tradition in Scotland of naming otherwise undistinguished winter maintenance vehicles. 

Like at least one of last year’s winners, “Darth Blader,” this year’s finalists include a nod to “Star Wars” — “C-3PSnow” — and a host of other pop culture references. There’s the “Harry Potter”-esque “Lord Coldemort” and “Mr. Plow,” an apparent reference to a popular “Simpsons” episode that featured Homer’s disastrous foray into the snowplowing business. 

There are some direct and obliquely homegrown options as well, including, “Ičamna,” the Dakota word for blizzard and “Giiwedin,” the Ojibwe word for north wind.

There’s also “Ski-U-Plow,” a reference to the University of Minnesota motto; “Plowin’ in the Wind,” just a letter away from a famous Bob Dylan song title; and “The Big Leplowski,” a pun after the title of one of the most famous movies by Minnesota filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen. 

Voting opened today on MnDOT’s contest website and runs through midnight on Jan. 26. 

The agency is asking voters to select up to eight names. Officials say they’ll reveal the winners in early February. 

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