What’s In A Name

Atlantic hurricanes haven’t always been referred to by a list of male and female names. The practice started in 1941 with no “official” list really being used, but storms were given only female names (the story goes sailors would name storms after wives, girlfriends and female relatives). In 1950, the U.S. started naming storms alphabetically, but instead of using people names the storms were referred to somewhat innocuously (Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, etc…). That naming system (using armed forces phonetics) lasted just three years; in 1953, the National Hurricane Center took over naming storms (returning to using female names).

Today, names of hurricanes are maintained by the World Meteorological Organization (the WMO is part of the United Nations). The WMO is responsible for naming all storms worldwide; the U.S. falls into the WMO’s Region IV domain (there are a total of six regions). Twenty-five different countries in Europe, North and South America are part of Region IV. The naming of storms is itself somewhat unique: up until 1978, U.S. storms were only given female names. That same year, Pacific Ocean storms were given male names for the first time; at the start of the 1979 hurricane season, male names were added to the Atlantic Basin list for the first time.

As noted, storm names are “rotated” every six years (that practice also started in 1979). The letters “Q”, “U”, “X”, “Y” and “Z” are not used for Atlantic Basin storms but Pacific hurricanes use names that run all the way through Z. The reason: there are simply not enough names to go around for those letters and chances are Atlantic Basin storm names will get retired rather then Pacific Basin storm names. The exception to the rule with “X”, “Y” and “Z” names in the Atlantic: when forecasters end up using names from the Greek alphabet, “Zeta,” “Xi” and “Upsilon” are used. Storm names starting with the letters “Q” and “U” have and will not ever be used to name an Atlantic Basin storm.

Lastly, even though both male and female names are used in naming hurricanes (did you realize names alternate alphabetically between male and female), the storms are always “gender neutral.” Always refer to a storm as an “it” rather than a “he” or a “she.” And if you want to make a suggestion for a name to be added to the list, you can e-mail the WMO here.