Of storms and style

Jul 28th 2005

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.


By Anonymous (not verified)
July 28, 2005 6:21 PM

Funny story: I know the "Andrew" that Hurricane Andrew was named after. In high school, he worked as an intern for the National Hurricane Center, which is the group that creates the name list. He added himself. Lo and behold...I know that this is sort of the reverse of what you're talking about, but somehow it still seemed relevant.

By nick (not verified)
July 28, 2005 7:26 PM

When you say "Ophelia, Rafael or Felix" do you mean those are upcoming storms, or are those names rising in popularity?

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 29, 2005 12:09 PM

Funny you should mention this. There was a nees story on the Radio the other day about this sort of thing, about a couple in Florida who were expecting twins, and the Father wanted Dennis and Emily. Momn says that she would not want to hear those names ever. Wonder how that wouold turn out.Then there's Hurricane Hattie in the Comics. [the Strip entitled "The Born Loser"].

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 31, 2005 4:09 PM

I've lived through a lot of hurricanes, thankfully none of them major. Those storm names really get imprinted on your consciousness. When Hurricane Isabel hit the VA/NC coast in 2003, everywhere you looked you heard and saw the name Isabel, for weeks on end! When a storm hits your area, there's a lot of excitement and mystique associated with it, and the name is burned in your brain as a reminder of the experience. That said, it doesn't surprise me that the name Alicia would gain popularity in Texas. Incidentally, nine months after Isabel, the local papers reported that there was a mini-baby-boom in the area as a result of the storm. (Trapped inside for days with no electricity -- what else do couples do?) Not surprisingly, some of the resulting female babies were given the name Isabel.

By Kristin (not verified)
August 1, 2005 5:38 PM

I wish there would be a Harvey revival or a Felix.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 1, 2005 11:33 PM

Totally unrelated post comment...Did you notice that "Bart" went out of fashion right around the advent of the Simpsons?

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 2, 2005 11:32 AM

Bart was clearly out of style in the 80's, when it occurred about 30 times per million babies, way down from the 60's, when it occurred at a rate of 200 per million.It seems that our favorite Springfield family was far to late (coming on the air in December 1989) to be attributed with Bart's demise.

By nick (not verified)
August 13, 2005 6:10 PM

"I wish there would be a Harvey revival or a Felix."Well we're working on it:Here's the baby announcement website of our new son Felix.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 19, 2005 4:56 PM

Congratulations, Nick! The world need more Felixes!

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 23, 2005 3:35 AM

Not to geek out too bad, but when there is a hurricane the atmospheric pressure drops and can actually cause a woman to go into labor. I know a woman who delivered a few weeks early during Hurrican Andrew & if it would've been a boy would've named him Andrew since there was a direct correlation. Luckily, it was a girl.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 25, 2005 12:15 PM

Katrina- I like it!

By Stitchwitch D (not verified)
September 4, 2005 2:58 AM

A woman went into labor during Katrina. She'd been planning to name the baby Katrina, but went with Kaylee instead.

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 7, 2005 4:02 PM

I am the poster who said I liked the name Katrina, and I wrote this when the storm was just coming up to the coast. Now I regret taking that so lightheartedly in the aftermath! I do wonder if we will see a rash of little Katrinas next year, especially among new babies of survivors.

By jm (not verified)
September 11, 2005 10:47 AM

I am 3 months pregnant and had just started to settle in on the name Katrina . . . 1 week before I read about the then-tropical storm. (I planned to call our daughter Kate, but wanted a more formal given name and something less traditional than Katherine or Kathleen.)Now what? Would using this name be really insensitive and in bad taste? Would it be bad luck? Doom her to jokes and forever being asked if she was named after the hurricane? I'm interested in other opinions. (I still like the name itself, just fear it has too much baggage.)

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 13, 2005 6:59 PM

I can understand your hesitation, though maybe reminding people about the hurricane via your daugher is a good thing, at least for the next several years. The people down there will need our help for quite some time, and maybe a gentle reminder of the storm through naming is a good way of keeping that in mind.But if you're really put off by the idea, there are other names that can give you a Kate. The closest is probably Katerina (remember the ice skater Katerina Witt?). There are also names like the Eastern European Katia/Katya or the Mediterranean Catalina (and as Ms. Blanchett shows us, Cate does work with a "C").

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 20, 2005 11:41 PM

If you live in one of the Gulf states, you might want to forgo the name and choose one of the alternatives mentioned in the last post. By calling her Kate, however, you are lessening the association, so I wouldn't worry about it.--Elizabeth

By Katoey (not verified)
May 23, 2006 9:30 PM

My Name Kat short from katoey,, which means ladyboy.

By Aimee (not verified)
May 25, 2006 9:23 PM

What is "Harvey" short for? What would the full first name be?

By katrina (not verified)
July 3, 2006 8:12 AM

My name is Katrina and it was freaky to hear my name repeated again and again and only associated with desperation and destruction. Each time the t.v news came on, each time I opened a paper and it made me feel everything from depressed to slightly amused. The headlines were so odd,Katrina kills hundreds, Katrina destroys a city like some comic book vilain. My sister called my mum and asked her if she had heard of the terrible things I had been doing. My Mum was weirded out with it! I dont really like my name now and I did before, I am thinking of changing the spelling slightly to dissasociate myself with it , however, no one has ever spelt my name correctly, and now they do. If I am on the phone and have to spell my name out I just say 'You know, like the HURRICANE ' and it's no problem. As to name your baby after the worlds most destructive hurricane, people have long memories and it is a weighted name so think hard about it. Katrina U.K.

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