Hurricanes have come to be a normal part of our day-to-day life, unfortunately. Nowadays, no one’s really surprised when you hear about one on the news, and yet, hurricanes continue to be a mystery for most of us. In this article, we’ll talk a bit about hurricane names and where they come from. So that now, when you hear about a hurricane, you won’t just think about protecting your home, installing impact windows, and keeping the dog indoors – you’ll also have a bit of history to fall back on.
As you probably know by now, most hurricanes bear female names, with very few notable exceptions named for males. And while these names are undoubtedly catchy and have a way of capturing our collective imagination, most of us don’t know why they’re named the way they are. So, let’s change that.
It’s believed that this all began with the maritime tradition of sailors referring to the ocean or the sea in female terms. Because of that, and since they were among the directly affected people whenever a big storm hit, it became customary to refer to storms using female names and attributes.
It was not uncommon for sailors and meteorologists to use this naming game as a personal vendetta, or perhaps as a tribute. Indeed, most often, storms and hurricanes were named for girlfriends, sisters, or wives, so as to make them famous. Alternatively, the men in charge of naming hurricanes also used this opportunity to hurt an ex-lover or a woman who had spurned them, and who would now be associated with grave disaster.
This was a thing as early back as the early 19th century, but it was only in the middle of the 20th that the United States decided to officialize it. In 1951, the United States decided to only use female names to refer to big storms and hurricanes. This decision was in effect all the way to 1979, when an ambitious Florida feminist, Roxcy Bolton, managed to have that overturned. Bolton’s initial argument against this sexist tradition sparked protests in other cities, as well, leading ultimately to the decision that hurricanes should also be named for men. However, although nowadays hurricanes can bear both male and female names, there is still a strong inclination towards using female ones.
The idea behind giving hurricanes and storms human names was that it would make it easier for people to remember and talk about them, later on. Traditionally, a list of potential hurricane names is issued and approved at the start of every season (which typically lasts from June 1st to November 30th), consisting of both male and female names, in equal measure. Experts will refer to this list whenever a hurricane hits.
In the past, this was the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s job, dating all the way back to the 1950s. Nowadays, however, it is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that actually generates this list of hurricane names. This makes the WMO responsible for giving hurricanes in any given year their names, by which people remember them.