Analysis · Opinions

Hurricane Names

Matthew and Otto were just retired as hurricane names, to be replaced by Martin and Owen.  Atlantic hurricane names generally cycle on a six-year rotation, so the 2016 list will reappear in 2022, 2017 in 2023, and so-on.  The genders of the names alternate every year as well, so if you have Abigail one year the next could be Alan, but you’d never have Anne follow Abigail.  Atlantic storms will never bear names with the letters Q, U, X, Y, or Z because they’re considered too rare…though the lists for Eastern North Pacific cyclones only exclude Q and U (they simply use the same female or male X, Y, or Z name every year instead of every seventh year).  At least in the Atlantic, if the list is exhausted (meaning there are over 21 named storms in a year), Greek letters are used.

Hurricane Matthew (2016)

We stop repeating names when a hurricane is especially fatal or costly; there will never be another Katrina.  However, the National Hurricane Center mentions that a few early names were simply replaced for no cited reason.  Something else to think about is that there are more retired female hurricanes than male, probably for two big reasons.  The first is that men’s names weren’t included in the Atlantic storm lists until 1979; the system began in 1953.  The second reason (according to recent research) is that hurricanes with female names are apparently deadlier because people think feminine names sound less dangerous and don’t prepare as they should.  Moral of the story: sexism kills! 

Anyways, I have a few thoughts about this kind of naming.  Firstly, I think the rarer letters could be incorporated fairly easily now.  I get that there were very few Q and X names in the 50s.  But in 2017, there should be no problem finding three girls’ names and three boys’ names to rotate, even for X (Xanthe, Ximena, Xena; Xavier, Xander, Xerxes).  And names at the back of the alphabet probably won’t have a chance to be retired all that often, so it’s doable.

Secondly, sometimes I think the hurricane names can be overly outdated.  For example, not that many ‘G’ names have been retired, so there’s a possibility that 2017 will see Tropical Storm Gert.  Not GertrudeGert.  Has anyone even met a Gert lately?  I know that short names are preferred because people can remember them better, though I’d expect the names to be familiar too.  On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing if hurricanes don’t reflect the day’s popular baby names?

The Atlantic names for 2017 are:

  • Arlene
  • Bret
  • Cindy
  • Don
  • Emily
  • Franklin
  • Gert
  • Harvey
  • Irma
  • Jose
  • Katia
  • Lee
  • Maria
  • Nate
  • Ophelia
  • Philippe
  • Rina
  • Sean
  • Tammy
  • Vince
  • Whitney

The West Coast (Eastern North Pacific) also has a rotating list.  Here’s 2017:

  • Adrian
  • Beatriz
  • Calvin
  • Dora
  • Eugene
  • Fernanda
  • Greg
  • Hilary
  • Irwin
  • Jova
  • Kenneth
  • Lidia
  • Max
  • Norma
  • Otis
  • Pilar
  • Ramon
  • Selma
  • Todd
  • Veronica
  • Wiley
  • Xina
  • York
  • Zelda

There also appear to be Hawaiian cyclone name lists that only have 13 letters, but they don’t seem to operate on a yearly basis.  It seems that once one list is exhausted they just move to the next.

Something else I found that looked interesting: Hurricanes and Hot Baby Names.  Essentially, research suggested that the hurricane names themselves were less popular after the storm but the initial letters were more popular; i.e., more ‘K’ names after Katrina.  Unfortunately the link provided within the article didn’t work, so I couldn’t read about the research more thoroughly. The author’s point that similar-sounding names influence each others’ popularity is something I and other name enthusiasts have noted, but I would like to point out something.  No, Stephanie, Mandy, and Brandi were not more popular after Hurricane Sandy just because they sounded similar!  Nor did Katrina lead to a surge of (now 11-year-old) Kevins and Kimberleys.  By the time the article was written in 2012, all of those names were outdated or soon going to be.  Modern, but outdated.  I understand using them as examples, but suggesting that faddish 70s and 80s staples will inundate a 1st grade class in the 2010s is quite another thing.  At least take a look at their individual trajectories in the SSA data first…

Thoughts?  Let me know in the comments! 

If you’d like to read about the full six-year rotation of names, check out the NHC/NOAA or WMO link below.  The WMO article includes hurricane names for regions all over the world, too.

One last tidbit – the name Katrina actually gained popularity the year of the hurricane (2005).  After that though…well, she’s no longer in the top 1000. 

Further Reading:

2 thoughts on “Hurricane Names

  1. I love learning about the nuances of naming conventions, like learning how hurricanes are named. That was really cool. But the psychology of naming, like the correlation between ‘k’ names and Katrina just blew my mind. Honestly at this point if I ever have a kid, I don’t know if the name or how the name came about will be more interesting. I wonder what strange thing that day or year or thing in pop culture will affect my decision. God I hope it’s for the better though.

    Liked by 1 person

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