Saturday, September 23, 2023

All Life Is Local: Saturday with Ophelia

by Peggy Robin

TS Ophelia arrived in town this morning, ruining so many long-planned festivals and other fun, outdoor events. That's why I'm sitting inside at my computer instead of being out and about, enjoying the first day of autumn. The silver lining (well, more like a dull, drizzly grey shroud), is that I get to indulge one of my favorite pet peeves, which is to lodge curmudgeonly complaints about poor naming choices. (See any of my past columns about renaming the Washington football team, or about The Weather Channel's announcement, usually in mid-October, of its list of 26 mostly-ridiculous names for winter storms.)

In this case, I put the blame squarely on the World Meteorological Organization, the international body of meteorologists in charge of the hurricane naming process. They maintain six lists of names, which are assigned, one alphabetical list per storm season, with the names alternating male and female, until all six lists have been used over six years, and then the cycle begins again. If any tropical storm or hurricane is so destructive that people will be talking and writing about it for many years to come, that name is "retired" so that it will remembered as the unique name of that historic hurricane. That is to say, there will never be another Hurricane Katrina, or Sandy, or Andrew, or Camille.  

Ophelia, now less than a Tropical Storm, is bringing mainly heavy rainfall but is not otherwise terribly dangerous -- so it will certainly be back around in 2029 when this year's names are used again....but I'd really like to see it kicked off the list.

My argument has nothing to do with anything weather-related. That's the domain of the meteorologists who decide which storms are name-worthy; my brief against that name is of a literary nature. How unfortunate that they picked the name of one of Shakespeare's most memorable female characters -- the one who dies by drowning. 

"Poor Ophelia, divided from herself and her fair judgment" says the king, after she appears to have lost her mind. Not long after, her body is found in the river, and Hamlet, the man she loved who had so cruelly cast her aside, says rather dismissively, "Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, And therefore I forbid my tears"

I'm guessing that when the people at the World Meteorological Society were making lists of "O" female names, they weren't thinking of any of that, but just trying to come up with enough girl O's (it's not the most popular starting-letter for a name in any language!) and someone threw out "Ophelia." And nobody raised a hand and said, "Hmm, Ophelia.....drowning....maybe the sort of literary allusion we ought to avoid, for an event can drown whole cities."

I doubt they had any English majors look over the name list....but maybe they should. 

Just in case any CP Listserv members have any pull with anyone involved in the WMO hurricane-naming process, I've come up with some decent alternatives, and maybe you could mention it, if you get a chance?

First, here are the six O names used in rotation, starting with the current year: Ophelia, Oscar, Olga, Omar, Odette, Owen

Now here are my suggestions for a replacement for this year's unfortunate female O name:

Odile, Oksana, Olivia, Olympia, Ondine, Ooma / Oona, or Opal.

No Oprah, of course; I wouldn't do that to the one and only Ms. Winfrey! 
Still Life with Robin is posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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