Of storms and style
A reader, watching radar images of swirling winds, sent in an intriguing question: have names of hurricanes influenced parents' baby name choices?
The U.S. National Weather Service has been naming hurricanes to aid tracking since 1953. Lists are set in advance with an alphabetical set of names assigned to each year. All storms received female names until 1979 when, realizing that men too are capable of widespread destruction, the NWS switched to alternating sexes.
On the face of it, a calamitous storm seems an unlikely choice to inspire parents' name choices. You might expect a name's popularity to dip after an association with death and disaster. Yet there's also the simple exposure effect to consider. A name that tops the headlines day after day could rise to the top of parents' consciousness.
In fact, you can see both the positive and negative effects in U.S. hurricane/baby history. The net impact, I believe, depends on the name's baseline popularity -- how familiar it sounded before the storm. A classic, familiar name doesn't benefit much from media exposure because it's already at ceiling for public awareness. So the overall impact of a hurricane with a name like Andrew is neutral to negative (green bar=storm year):
But for a name with a lower profile, the media boost is huge and can translate to a sharp rise in the name. Hurricane Camille lashed the Southeast in 1969:
I rather expected to see a second split in name effects based on geography. It seemed reasonable that parents who hear the news but are far removed from the destruction might lean more toward the name, while parents in the eye of the storm would stay away. But take a look at the numbers for Texas, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Alicia in 1983:
It's an impressive demonstration that "any publicity is good publicity." Yet not just any name will rise with the tides. Even the biggest storm won't rescue a name that's already fallen dramatically out of fashion, like Floyd in 1999. Looking ahead to names on the 2005-2007 lists, I wouldn't expect a revival of Harvey or Wilma. But a major storm named Ophelia, Rafael or Felix could leave plenty of namesakes in its wake.