Saturday, January 15, 2022

Still Life with Robin: Winter Storm IZZY - Is he coming? (plus 25 other mostly silly storm names)

The Weather Channel

by Peggy Robin

By now you've no doubt heard the prediction that a big winter storm is on the way. It should be here sometime tomorrow. Maybe you've also heard it's named IZZY....leading to the almost immediate reaction, as you wait for the storm to appear, "IZZY coming or not?!"

Who names a storm IZZY, without considering that punchline?

The Weather Channel, that's who! And this is the TENTH straight year TWC has taken upon itself the task of naming the winter storms. It's also the tenth straight year I've posted a critique of the list of names they come up with. Year after year, I've been pretty harsh on them. But then, year after year, the names have been pretty stupid. Here's the link to my column in the very first year, 2012: "A Storm Named....Boo-Boo

As I did in 2012 and every winter since, I will list TWC's 26 chosen names of the season, then will give a brief origin for each name taken from a standard naming dictionary, followed by my own judgment of its suitability to personify a winter storm. At the end of each entry, I award a letter grade on an A to F scale. Once I've graded all 26 choices, I will calculate the grade point average to assess how well The Weather Channel did at the storm-naming task this year. (They've never done better than a C!)

We'll start with the coming storm, which I've already said is named Izzy, and then continue through the alphabet from there, returning to the top of the alphabet for the A-H winter storms that have already come and gone. Here we go:

Izzy. A nickname for Isabel (female) or Isadore (male). But when it comes to a storm on the way, the name instantly calls up an obvious pun, "Izzy here yet?!" Groan! Grade: D-

Jasper. Means "bringer of treasure (Persian origin). Treasure? Is that what we get from winter storms? You've got to be a glutton for punishment to want such "treasure"... unless you are being sarcastic ... and sarcasm is never a good naming strategy. Grade: C-

Kenan. In Genesis, one of Adam's great-grandson's was named Kenan (meaning, "to acquire" in Hebrew) -- but these days the one and only Kenan is Kenan Thompson, the longest-serving cast member on Saturday Night Live. A likeable, easygoing, light-hearted funny-man, and absolutely the opposite of a raging winter storm. Grade: F

Landon. Old English for "long hill". Of course, if you grew up in the vicinity of DC and its suburbs, you will think of Landon as a super-expensive school for a lot of rich, golf- or lacrosse-playing preppies. If you didn't grow up in this area, then the first thing that comes to mind is Michael Landon, the actor who played Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. In either case, the last thing that comes to mind is a ferocious snowstorm. Grade: D

Miles. Latin for "soldier." But if you had to think of a "Miles" you would probably come up with Miles Davis, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. He was cool all right - but not in a fearsome, stormy way. HIs music is smooth and lush, more like a tropical breeze than the ravages of winter's worst. Grade: C-

Nancy. A nickname derived from Anne or Annis, a medieval form of Agnes, which means "lamb." These days, the name most likely calls to mind Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is not at all a stormy personality; quite the contrary, she's known for staying cool and collected, no matter how outrageous the provocation. So not a stormy name at all. Grade: C-.

Oaklee. OK, this one's barely recognized as a name. The few naming dictionaries that had it indicated that's it's a recent, gender-neutral creation, which, if used for for a girl, could suggest Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter, and if used for a boy, could suggest....maybe an oak tree? Or could it have been borrowed from the Oakley brand of sunglasses? Nothing about it would suggest a winter storm, that's for sure. Grade: F

Phyllis. From the Greek myth of Phyllis, whose lover has gone away and failed to return as promised. Phyllis kills herself and comes back in the form of an almond tree. The name means "green foliage" Anything there to suggest a white-out in January or February? I thought not. Grade: D.

Quinlan. It's the English spelling of the Irish Caoindealbhain, meaning "son of the comely one." Really, they're not even trying to come up with winter-worthy names. Grade: D-.

Rachel. From the Hebrew, meaning "ewe." There are so many famous Rachels, from the Biblical matriarch to TV pundit Rachel Maddow, to environmentalist Rachel Carson to the fictional Friend Rachel Green. Rachels can be anything - so why not a winter storm? Grade: B

Silas. From the Latin, Sylvanus, meaning "of the woods". If they made you read "Silas Marner" in high school English classes, you may think of Silas as the wronged young man who turns into a bitter recluse, and then has his spirit restored by raising a child, ultimately finding both happiness and justice. OK, lots of drama & harsh vicissitudes, enough to justify Silas as a personification of harsh conditions. A-

Tad. A nickname for Thaddeus, one of the twelve apostles. While Thaddeus would have been a fine name for a winter storm (think of the glowering abolitionist crusader, Thaddeus Stevens), the childish diminutive version just doesn't cut it. Grade: C-

Usher. Meaning door-keeper, the word is also used in the sense of a forerunner or harbinger (as in the phrase, "to usher something in". Of course, the Usher that springs to mind these days is the mega-popstar Usher Raymond -- and I will bet you didn't know he even had a last name! But there's still nothing about the name Usher that suggests ushering in an arctic blast. Grade: D+

Vega. Shows up in the naming dictionaries with two different origin theories. It might simply be the Spanish word for meadow.. But some say it's from the Arabic "waqi" for "swooping eagle." We'll accept the second theory, which makes a fitting thing to call a swiftly moving and possibly dangerous entity. Grade: B+

Willow. A gently swaying tree that grows by riverbanks. Willows appear in art as symbols of grace, tranquility, and spiritual solace. You really couldn't get any further away from storminess than Willow. This is definitely the worst of the bunch. Grade: F-

Xandy. A unisex nickname of Alexandra or Alexander. The name Alexander is one of the great classical names, calling to mind the world-conquering Alexander the Great. But of the 30+ nicknames that come from Alexander, "Xandy" is only ranked at number eighteen, possibly because names that start with an X tend to be mispronounced with an initial "Ex", and that would turn the correct pronunciation, "Zandy" into "Ex-Andy." Sounds more like the former name of a male Raggedy-Ann doll than a fearsome storm. Grade: C

Yeager. A variant spelling of Jaeger, German for "hunter." The most famous Yeager, of course, was the test pilot with "The Right Stuff" -- Chuck Yeager. He broke so many speed records, he was called the greatest pilot of all time. He flew like the wind! So by all means, call a winter storm, "Yaeger"! Grade: A.

Zion. Hebrew for "citadel" Zion is often used as a synonym for Israel. The imagery in the Bible is of "a land flowing with milk and honey" -- the place you long for and dream about while in exile -- hardly a place of storm and strife. Grade: D

And now we go back to the beginning of the alphabetical name list of 2021-2022 winter storms:

Atticus. From the Greek, meaning a person from the region around Athens, but for anyone ever assigned to read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in middle school, or for anyone who's seen Gregory Peck playing the role in the movie, Atticus will be familiar to you as a paragon of principle, steady as a rock, the one you count on to stand up for what's right when others are easily blown by the winds of prejudice and fear. Atticus stands for all that is calm, measured, and fair. Grade: F.

Bankston. Not a real first name by any stretch of the imagination -- probably the invention of some would-be comic-strip artist, thinking up something ridiculous to call the richy-rich kid he's created in his cartoon-y high school world. It's a "Thurston Howell III" made-up sort of name -- so why someone at The Weather Channel chose it as one of this year's storm names? We may never know, but we give it Grade: F

Carrie. Finally, a good one! Like the central character of the Stephen King horror novel of that title, "Carrie" is a name that calls up scenes or horrific retribution. You'd better watch out, for we've seen what havoc Carrie may wreak! Grade: A.

Delphine. From the Greek, meaning from Delphi -- but if you know a "Delphine," we'll guess she's a stylish French girl, artsy and sophisticated. She may smoke Gauloises and blow a ring of wispy smoke at you -- not blow a winter's gale your way! Grade C-.

Elmer. Although the name comes from two German elements meaning "noble" and "famous," the image instantly called to mind is of just one character --last name of Fudd-- whose mission in life is to "kill the wabbit". You just have to laugh -- and that's not supposed to be your reaction when you hear that a winter storm is on the way. Grade: F.

Frida. From the German "frid" meaning "peace." The most famous Frida is of course, the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. When you think of her, you may also think of her long and tempestuous relationship with her husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera. For the two of them, it was stormy all the time. Grade: A.

Garrett. From the Norman French and German, a variant of Gerard or Gerhard, in which "gar" means "spear" and "hard" means "hard" or "strong". Not a bad way to describe the hard, stabbing winds of a winter storm. Grade: A.

Hatcher. It's an English surname, meaning someone who lives near a hatch, which was originally a word for a gate in a forest. However, that meaning seems to have faded, and nowadays if you think about hatching, you think about somebody sitting on an an egg. Like Horton the Elephant, perhaps? It has its drawbacks as a human name, that's for sure, and it's even less suitable to be the name of a winter storm. Grade: D.

And now for the grade point average of all 26 names together: 1.66, rounding up to 1.7 to earn a C-. It's been ten years of TWC naming, and they're not getting any better at it! Maybe I should start grading on a curve.....


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

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