How We Should Name Hurricanes

by Patrick Appel

Storm Names

Adam Alter explains:

[P]sychologist Jesse Chandler and his colleagues found that people donate significantly more money to hurricanes that share their initials.  So Roberts, Ralphs and Roses donated on average 260% more to the Hurricane Rita relief fund than did people without R initials.  Also in 2005, people with K initials donated 150% more to the Katrina relief fund, and in 2004 people with I initials donated 100% more to the Ivan relief fund.

This information isn’t just idly interesting.  Since we know that people are more likely to donate to hurricanes that share their first initials, the World Meteorological Organization has the power to increase charitable giving just by changing the composition of its hurricane name lists.  In the United States, for example, more than 10% of all males have names that begin with the letter J—names like James and John (the two most common male names), Joseph and Jose, Jason, and Jeffrey.  Instead of beginning just one hurricane name with the letter J each year (in 2013, that name will be Jerry), the World Meteorological Organization could introduce several J names each year.  Similarly, more American female names begin with M than any other letter—most of them Marys, Marias, Margarets, Michelles, and Melissas—so the Organization could introduce several more M names to each list.

Alter provides the above figure, which “illustrates the relative frequency of each first name initial in the U.S. population by linking the size of each letter to its frequency as an initial.”