Even without Katrina and Audrey, hurricanes with female names are twice as deadly as their masculine counterparts, according to a recent study. The theory: potential victims aren’t as threatened by feminine-sounding storms, don’t prepare as diligently, and suffer the consequences.
If a clearer case for the power of the name exists, we’ve yet to hear it. Names are the tip of the spear. Of any brand element, they send the first and strongest signal. And with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why we think about naming in terms of objective: a name can do one or two things really well. The only thing a hurricane name should do is terrify people it its path. And while we’d love NOAA to knock on our door and make us the agency that names hurricanes, that’s not happening—they’ll be shouldering the burden all on their own.
But they don’t have to.
Don’t name hurricanes, NOAA. Skirt the nastiness of gender politics, avoid ruining a name for the rest of us, and save lives. Keep the established nomenclature, in which hurricanes are assigned letters of the alphabet (so far, A and B for Arthur and Bertha, with more planned), and just tack on the year. Hurricane D2014 sounds a hell of a lot deadlier than Dolly.
Tropical storms aren’t the only arena in which names carry too much clout. We don’t remember Schoolhouse Rock mentioning bill titles like these, all of which hail from the trainwreck we’re calling the 113th US Congress:
- Stolen Valor Act of 2013
- Homes for Heroes Act of 2013
- Uniting American Families Act of 2013
- Gabriella Kids First Research Act
- Offshore Energy and Jobs Act
- Save American Workers Act of 2013
And their true purposes, respectively:
- ensure that medal forgers can’t cash out
- add a top-level job to the Veteran’s Affairs office
- punish immigration fraud connected to permanent partners of US residents
- cut government funding of presidential campaigns
- drill offshore for oil and natural gas
- change definition of “full-time” to 40 hours from 30
This is Congressional deception at its best, and branding in the worst sense of the word. These names don’t add meaning: they obscure it. The best-known case of this is Citizens United, the infamous PAC that turned corporations into people for the sole purpose of campaign contributions. A more descriptive name would be Koch Brothers Exerting Massive Influence on Politics.
Let’s stick to the legally established system when naming these bills. That way, the Keep the Promise Act—a bill banning new Phoenix casinos so that the existing profiteers can control the market—would simply be H.R. 1410. No spin there.
The Pentagon has shown it’s willing to avoid names when convenient: the current military action in Iraq doesn’t have one. Let’s extend that courtesy to legislation—phone your local congressperson. Meanwhile, from the world of hurricanes, we’ve learned that our homegrown alphabetical naming system, like some pandemic, has spread across the globe.
Terrible names are all around us, obscuring meaning and wasting the chance to say something helpful and compelling. These names aren’t just uninteresting, they’re actually dangerous.