Saturday, September 3, 2016

Still Life with Robin: A Hurricane Named Hermine

NASA satellite photo - Hurricane Ivan
by Peggy Robin

This Labor Day weekend we’re hearing a lot about Tropical Storm Hermine, expected to resume the title of Hurricane Hermine sometime tomorrow evening ( We’re learning about its expected path, its strength, how much rainfall it will bring, and its potential for damage, including economic damage to businesses that rely on tourist dollars over the three-day holiday. That’s all important stuff, but I’m here to focus my attention on an admittedly more trivial aspect of the storm: that name! Her – mean ?! Her- mine?! I’ve heard TV weather folks saying either of the two, and a number of other variations besides. When I see it in print, it seems to scream out to me for an O. Herm-I-O-ne, like the powerful young witch in the Harry Potter series. That’s a useful image to go with a weather emergency. Hermine, on the other hand, brings up no associations whatever. Have you ever met a Hermine? I haven’t in all my years. So I Googled it, and came up with just two Wikipedia-worthies of that name: one a 19th CenturyNorwegian children’s author of books I never heard of, and the other, an early 20th century German actress. That’s it.

Since we are only at the H in the 2016 annual list of named tropical storms and hurricanes, and we have two more months to go (and I clearly have too much time on my hands!), I decided to look ahead to see what the rest of the Atlantic tropical storm season could bring us before it ends on November 1. Here’s the 2016 post-Hermine list:

Ian; Julia; Karl; Lisa; Matthew; Nicole; Otto; Paula; Richard; Shary; Tobias; Virginie; Walter.

All except one (I’ll get to that) seem like standard, perfectly serviceable names. There’s something of a tilt toward the German when it comes to the male names (Karl/Otto/Tobias/Walter, according to BabyNameWizard, are all more popular in German-speaking countries than in English-speaking ones), while two of the female names, like Nicole and Virginie, are more popular among Francophones. The only non-standard name on the list is “Shary,” which looks to me like a misspelling of “Shari” – which in turn calls to mind the wonderful 1960s kids’ TV show host and puppeteer, Shari Lewis, creator of sock puppets Lamb Chop and Charley Horse. She died in 1998, and if having a hurricane with a similar name helps people to remember her, then bring on the storm!

Now that we’re looking ahead, why stop at the end of this season? Here’s the list for 2017:

Arlene; Bret; Cindy; Don; Emily; Franklin; Gert; Harvey; Irma; Jose; Katia; Lee; Maria; Nate; Ophelia; Philippe; Rina; Sean; Tammy; Vince; Whitney.

What stands out about this list is the number of names that can be used for either gender: Bret, Lee, and Sean are each in the position for a male-named hurricane but are just as common these days as girls’ names. Whitney, bringing up the rear, started out as a boy’s name but has drifted toward the female-only column. Three of the names (Gert; Harvey; Irma) seem quaintly old-fashioned. When I looked them up on, I discovered that Harvey and Gertie (there’s no separate listing for Gert) both peaked in popularity in the 1890s and Irma peaked around the mid-1920s. None of the three now appears among the top 200 names in any US state.

If you would like to know more about how hurricane/tropical storm names are chosen and the history of naming/retiring the names, you can find an informative account here: I was disappointed to learn that there is not a special naming committee tasked with coming up with new lists of 21 names per year; instead there are just six lists of names used in annual rotation. The only time new names are added is if a hurricane is so destructive that a decision is made to retire that name and choose a new name for that letter of the alphabet. You can see all six years of lists, followed by the list of retired storm names, at:

Maybe you will find that your name will be a hurricane of the future!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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