Saturday, February 18, 2023

Still Life with Robin: The Stormy Names of Winter - Alejandra to Zariah

by Peggy Robin

What a crazy weather week! Just a few days ago it was in the mid-60s and but when I went outside to get the newspapers early this morning, the outdoor thermometer was showing 28F. Yet there are daffodils blooming on the hillside!
We're still 31 days away from the official start of spring, and I realize I've let the better part of winter slide by without doing my annual critique of The Weather Channel's designated storm names. Like hurricane names, the winter storm names go in alphabetical order, using both male and female names, but unlike hurricane names, they're not recognized or used by any official meteorological organization, either nationally or internationally; they're just a cable channel's way to make it sound more interesting when they talk about a coming storm, as in: "Elliott blasted the Buffalo area with brutal blizzard conditions from Thursday into the weekend." (December 29, 2022).
The most recent one is Winter Storm Nova -- so let's start there, and then after finishing the alphabet, I'll circle back around to the top, and take on the A through the M. For each letter of the winter storm alphabet, I will give the dictionary definition of the name, followed by my quick-take reaction to it, followed by a letter grade. After I've done the whole alphabet's worth of winter storm names, I'll calculate the GPA for The Weather Channel's storm naming team for the 2022-2023 winter storm season.. 
If you'd like to compare this year with last year's grade, you can go to "Still Life with Robin: Winter Storm IZZY - Is he coming?" If you'd like to go back and see the write-ups of the winter storm names for all the years I've been doing this (but why would you?), you can go the column that covered the 2019-2020 winter storm season, which ends with links to all the previous years' columns:
Nova. Means "new" in Latin. Well, each storm is a new thing, so there's a certain literal-minded sense in using the name Nova. On the other hand, it's also breakfast-table shorthand for "Nova Scotia" -- a high-end type of lox. And when you see that on top of your cream-cheese shmeared bagel, you think, "comfort" and "cozy, nourishment" -- not the punishing gales of winter. So I give it a C.
Olive. Means what it says it is: the fruit of the olive tree. Metaphorically, olive branches are symbols of peace. And does a winter storm bring us peace? Quite the opposite! Grade: F.
Piper. Originally a boy's name, but now more often used for girls, the name means "one who plays the pipes." If by pipes, you mean the bagpipes, then yes, it's a good name for the blustery, spine-rattling blasts of a winter storm. But if you're thinking the pan-pipes that lull you to sleep or the gentle pip-pip notes of a little flute, then no, it's not a good name for a winter storm. Since it can go either way, let's give it a C.  
Quest. Means a journey to seek something. But it's not really a name, is it? Given that things are much more likely to be lost in a winter storm than found, the imagery is all wrong. So I'm giving it an F.
Ricardo. It's the Spanish form of Richard, which means "strong ruler." That would be OK as a winter storm name -- but I'm betting that when you hear "Ricardo" you don't think "strong ruler."; the first thing that comes into your head is Ricky Ricardo, the TV husband in "I Love Lucy," whose most famous line is: "Lucy! You got some 'splaining to do!" Weather Channel, you got some 'splaining to do, too! Grade D-.  
Sage. Means either a wise person or a garden herb. Neither sense of the word evokes any thought of the severity of winter weather. D+.
Taylor. The name comes from the surname, which in turn comes from the profession. But you've got to think of Taylor Swift right away. And when you imagine the cute little pop-diva whose every record sells in the gazillions, you don't think of the icy, desolation of a winter you? Grade F.
Uriel. That's the  name is one of the archangels in the Hebrew bible; the meaning is "flame of god." Uriel has been depicted as the archangel of God's wrath, so finally we have a fitting name for a winter storm. A.
Vanessa. Comes from the Greek word for butterfly. Hard to think of an image more unsuited to a winter storm than that! Grade F.
Wayne. Means "wagon builder" (as in "wainwright"). It's one of those "News of the Weird" facts that among serial killers, there is a wildly disproportionate use of the name Wayne, mostly as a middle name. Which makes the name weirdly appropriate for a killer winter storm. A.
Xar. The name comes from a character in the Wizards of Once, a series of children's fantasy adventure books -- at least that's what I found when I googled it. Xar is "a 13-year-old prince...son of Encanzo, the King Enchanter and ruler of the Wizards." The series description adds: For ages 8 and up." I guess that tells what age-range The Weather Channel is appealing to in their choice of winter storm names. Grade C-. 
Yvette. Comes from the French word for the yew tree. I don't know how old you are, but I'm old enough to think of the French-American film starlet and sex-kitten, Yvette Mimieux, mainly remembered for teen rom-coms like "Where the Boys Are" (1960). And you know where those boys were? At the beach! Where's the winter storm in that? Grade D.
Zariah. It's either from the Arabic, meaning "radiance" or "blossom" or it's a shortened form of the Hebrew "Azariah" meaning "helped by God." Either way, it's a name imbued with a light and positive spirit, just the opposite of what you expect from a blizzard in the dark depths of winter. D-
Now that we've reached the end of the alphabet, let's go back to the start of the names of the 2022-2033 storm season behind us, and see how they stack up:
Alejandra. It's the Spanish feminine form of Alexander, Greek for "Defender of Man." Given that it calls to mind the conquering warrior-king, Alexander the Great, it's a fitting name for a winter storm. A
Beck. Comes from "Bach," the German word for stream or brook -- as in a "babbling brook." Not exactly associated with raging winds of winter, is it? Or maybe you're thinking of Beck, the American singer-songwriter whose music is a melange of folk-rock-funk-blues styles? Whatever it is, you're not thinking of the howling gales that blow down from the polar regions, are you? Grade F.
Carli. This popular girl's name is more commonly spelled Carly - as in the teen sitcom, "iCarly" that ran on Nickelodeon from 2007 to 2012. Or, for us older folk, it calls up Carly Simon, whose biggest hit, "You're So Vain" was about an ex-lover (the guessing game of the day was which celebrity did she mean?) who would "probably think this song is about" himself. No matter which one it is, it's probably NOT going to make you think of a winter storm -- although it might make you think about a total eclipse of the sun (especially if you flew off to see it in a private Lear-jet). Grade C-.
Diaz. One of the most common surnames in Spanish, it comes from "dias" -- "days" but it could also be derived from "sons of Diego." However, I'm betting that the first thing you think of when you hear the name is the rom-com actress Cameron Diaz. She's cute and bubbly and bound to get into some funny scrapes before whatever silly Hollywood ending is cooked up by the writers for her final movie scene. Grade D-.
Iggy. A short form of Ignatius, thought to come from the Latin for "fire" -- although some scholars say it comes from an Etruscan King Egnatius, whose name is of unknown origin. As soon as it's shortened to "Iggy," it calls to mind "Iggy Pop," the bare-chested hard rocker, who's been dubbed "The Godfather of Punk." Lots of stormy imagery in a guy known for banging wildly around the stage and letting it all hang out. I'm giving this one a B+.
Jimenez. What is it about these Latin last names being used as winter storm names? Jimenez derives from Spanish, meaning "Son of Jimeno," which in turn comes from the medieval Basque name Ximon, a version of the Hebrew Shimon (in English, Simon). Nothing along the path from Shimon to Ximon to Jimeno to Jimenez puts me in mind of anything other than date palms and the hot desert sun, so I'm giving this one a D.
Elliott. It's an Anglicization of the Hebrew for Elias or Elijah, meaning "The Lord is my god" -- but the first thing I think of whenever I hear the name Elliott is Elliott Ness -- who, with his Untouchables, comes on like gangbusters -- much like an unstoppable winter storm. So this one works for me, and I give it an A. 
Fernando. This Spanish name is a variant of the German Ferdinand, meaning "daring journey." But when I hear the name, I think "Fernando Lamas," and the next thing that comes to mind is the parody version played by Billy Crystal, whose  signature lines were: "You look mahhhvelous!" and "It's better to look good than to feel good." I'm thinking moussed hair and wide lapels and Hollywood glitz -- and 80 degrees and sunny outside -- in a world without winter. Grade F.
Gael. First of all, Gael is not the girl's name that is the diminutive of Abigail; Gael is the name for the Celtic people of Ireland. But it's also a homonym of "gale," which means a strong, cold wind. So in that sense, it's well suited to be a winter storm name. A-
Hudson. While the name derives from "Hud's son" or "Hugh's son," the main association most of us have upon hearing the name Hudson is with the river that flows from the northern reaches of New York state down to Manhattan. Given that upstate New York is prone to some fierce blizzards, "Hudson" seems like a fitting name. A. 
Kassandra. That's the Greek spelling of Cassandra, the mythological Trojan priestess who was blessed with the gift of prophecy, and then cursed with never being believed. That puts me in mind of a weather forecaster who keeps telling us we must prepare for an epic blizzard -- but then thousands of us fail to heed the warning and end up stranded on snow-bound highways. This one's definitely an A
Leona, The feminine form of Leon, which means "lion" -- fierce and dangerous, like a winter storm. Another A-rated name.
Mara. Meaning "of the sea." While those who name a daughter Mara might be thinking of tranquil blue waters, you should also remember that the sea can be treacherous in a winter storm. B.
To sum it up and average it all out, you end up with a GPA of 1.9 -- and rounding it up by a tenth of a point, you get 2.0, or a solid C. Or is it a very stormy SEA?
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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