Saturday, October 6, 2012

Still Life With Robin: A Storm Named...Boo-Boo?

Photo by Bill Adler

by Peggy Robin

On Wednesday the good folks at The Weather Channel announced a list of names for the winter storms of the 2012-2013 season. Naming storms, says Bryan Norcross of the Weather Channel, makes a storm “easier to follow,” which in turn will mean “fewer surprises and more preparation” for viewers. 

The idea makes sense; it’s the execution that needs work. The Weather Channel came up with a list of 26 names --22 male and just 4 female-- many of which seem randomly (drunkenly?) plucked from a hodgepodge of sources: ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, sci-fi and fantasy, Shakespeare, Disney movies, and the New York City subway system. Let’s take them one by one:

Athena. Not a bad start, naming the first winter storm for the powerful Greek goddess.

Brutus. One of the assassins of Julius Caesar. So the idea is that being hit by a winter storm is something like a betrayal, a terrible blow from someone you thought was on your side. The imagery doesn’t work for me. On the other hand, storms can be brutal, and that’s the literal meaning of the name in Latin, so I withdraw the objection.

Caesar. Continuing with the Latin theme, many of the Roman caesars were harsh, acting on sudden, cruel whims, like a fast-moving winter storm.

Draco. Latin for “dragon,” which might seem suitable, but then you realize that for 99 percent of kids and perhaps 75 percent of adults, the character Draco calls to mind is that pasty-faced, little mean boy wizard from the Harry Potter series. His personality wasn’t especially stormy – just disturbingly petulant.

Euclid. The Greek mathematician was the father of geometry, which literally means “earth measurement” and is surely useful in assessing winter storms, so I won’t quibble with using his name for one of them.

Freyr. The Norse god of sunshine and fair weather. This just seems like a mistake -- something a quick check of Wikipedia could have cleared up. They could have used Norse mythology to name a storm after Thor, god of thunder and lightning, or used the R for Ran, the Norse goddess of storms, and come up with something different for the F.

Gandolf. That’s the fictional wizard from The Lord of the Rings, nothing to do with storms. Also, it’s misspelled. Tolkien spells it Gandalf. That’s just embarrassing, Weather Channel. Do you mean to tell us you don’t have a LOTR nerd working for you who could have caught the typo before you released the list?

Helen. Of Troy, presumably. She’s “the face that launched a thousand ships,” in the sunny Aegean, not across the stormy North Atlantic.

Iago. The villain of Shakespeare’s Othello. He’s a Venetian, who plays on Othello’s passions and goads him into a hot, murderous rage. I’m trying to sense some connection to a winter storm here but I’m just not getting it.

Jove. Another name for Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods. Apparently, he is also the god in charge of the sky, so there’s the rationale for naming a winter storm after him.

Khan. A Mongolian title meaning military ruler or sovereign, but something tells me what The Weather Channel people had in mind was the Star Trek character Khan from the original Star Trek episode, “Space Seed,” and reprised in 1982 Star Trek movie “The Wrath of Khan.” Played both times by Ricardo Montalban as a hot-blooded megalomaniac, who had nothing wintry about him, except maybe the furry animal-skin flung over his bare shoulders (movie version only).

Luna. Latin for moon. No particularly stormy associations come to mind but it’s an atmospheric sort of name, so it’s okay.

Magnus. Latin for "great." As in “Carolus Magnus,” better known to us as Charlemagne -- that’s how The Weather Channel identifies this name. In that case, fair enough.

Nemo. One of the worst names on the list. Maybe they had in mind the submarine captain from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” But that still won’t prevent anyone from thinking immediately of the adorable orange clownfish from the kids’ picture, “Finding Nemo.” He’s the little guy who wanders off and need lots of help finding his way back home. Is this the unconscious expression of The Weather Channel’s secret hope that its viewers get lost?

Orko. The Weather Channel identifies him as “the Thunder God in Basque mythology.” But you know people are going to hear “Orko” and think “orca.” As in Shamu the Killer Whale. Or Free Willy. The Weather Channel can bring in a Basque scholar if they like, but it’s not going to help.

Plato. The ancient Greek philosopher, who defined ideal government and who valued contemplation and the life of the mind. If anyone at The Weather Channel has read Plato, perhaps he or she could tell us what in Plato’s philosophy inspired the choice of his name for a winter storm.

Q. Those Weather Channel guys expect us to believe they picked this one because it’s “The Broadway Express subway line in New York City.” Yeah, right. So no one was thinking of that all-powerful but mischievous alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the one who keeps popping up in the series to wreak havoc on humanity? If you buy that, I’ve got an express train to Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Rocky. This is supposed to be the singular of the Rocky Mountains. You have the Rockies, and this is one Rocky. I’m not making this up – here’s the exact quote from The Weather Channel’s page: "A single mountain in the Rockies." Perhaps they were too embarrassed to write what was really on their minds – the big, lumbering palooka from all those Rocky movies, the Sylvester Stallone character, the one anyone can parody simply by yelling, “YO, Adrian!” I only wish this one was actually named for the animated flying squirrel from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. Now there was a character --plucky, always whooshing around, easily confused but never discouraged-- whose name would be well-remembered on this list.

Saturn. You all know this Roman god, for whom the sixth planet in our solar system is named. And it’s also a very boring car. I think we could have done much better for the S. Since we need more female names, my vote would be for Sibyl  -- either the Greek seer, or the character with multiple personality disorder played by Sally Field in the TV movie of 1976.

Triton. In Greek mythology, Poseidon’s son, the messenger of the sea. I like this one: Triton is portrayed blowing on a conch shell, making a noise like a winter wind.

Ukko. The Weather Channel tells us that Ukko is “In Finnish mythology, the god of the sky and weather.” All I have to say is “Yucko.”

Virgil. Why name a storm for ancient Rome’s great epic poet when there are so many great V’s to choose from? Like Vulcan. Or Vesuvius. Or Vesta. Or Veruca (the little monster from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”)

Walda. No, Nemo is not the worst name on this list. Walda is. It’s the feminine form of Waldo. As in, “Where’s Waldo?” Is there any other association with the name Waldo that springs to mind? I can just see the storm trackers on The Weather Channel idiotically repeating the question each and every time they are called upon to chart the storm’s path. Please, Weather Channel, change it now while there’s still plenty of time!

Xerxes. The king of Persia. Nothing wrong with this name

Yogi. This one comes close to Walda for the race to the bottom. A yogi is a master of yoga, that ancient practice that combines physical and mental discipline with skills of movement, balance, breath control and artistry. Except that few of us can remember that when we hear the name, which instantly and irrevocably calls to mind a cartoon bear who lives in Jellystone Park and torments Mr. Ranger by stealing pick-a-nick baskets, with his little friend Boo-boo. (If you can remember that Yogi Bear is a play on the name of baseball legend Yogi Berra, you are smarter than the average bear.)

Zeus. Oh, Weather Channel, you would have to end with the obvious. Well, that’s fine. At least we’re done with your first year of named storms.

Next year, let’s hope for a better set. You have 361 days to work on it!


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

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