As mentioned, naming storms and hurricanes started in 1945. But back then there was a different way of naming the cyclones. For example, in 1950 the original naming system for the Atlantic Region used the WWII version of the Navy Phonetic Alphabet. This means the first cyclone would be called Able, then second – Baker, third one – Charlie, then Dog etc. However, a secondary military phonetic alphabet was developed and to avoid confusion, a list of 23 women’s names was created. In the Eastern Pacific Region the female names lists were adopted, but 10-15 years later feminists from various women’s rights groups started protesting. This resulted in a set of new lists which included both male and female names. So this is how the naming system actually originated. But the lists have changed through time and the patterns used to create and work with them became different in most of the Ocean Regions.

The WWII Navy/Army Phonetic Alpabeth
world war ii military phonetic alphabet naming system

Today, each meteorological Center has created naming lists in advance which are later used to name each consecutive tropical cyclone according to the order of the names in the lists. And here is the difference. Each of the naming schemes is different from the others but also similar as well. Therefore, the naming strategies of the different regions can be divided into a few categories depending on what we focus:

1. Alphabetical VS Non-alphabetical lists

Most of the naming lists are created by placing names in alphabetical order which includes names with most of the letters of the alphabet of the nation that is in charge of the meteorological center. Usually, a few naming lists are created in advance so that there are prepared names for the next few dozens of cyclones.

2. Rotatable VS non-rotatable lists

A rotatable naming scheme suggests that a few lists are created and when all of the names have been used, they start again from the beginning. This is safe since the main reason why the naming of tropical cyclones exists is to differentiate between storms which are in close proximity in time. So it would be ok to use the same name twice, if there is time-span of a few years. The naming lists are either changed each year and start over as a cycle of a x-amount of years (e.g. 6 lists for 6 years) or are reused again after all names have been assigned without regard to year. The non-rotatable lists are created in advance but the names are only supposed to be used once, so once a list is used, the names on it will not be used again by the same meteorological centre.

3. Reusable VS unique names

As mentioned above, rotatable lists suggest the repeating of a name every few years. Therefore non-repeatable cyclone names are mainly found in the non-rotatable lists. However, some meteorological Centres have decided that despite the rotating pattern of their lists, a name can be taken out of the lists and replaced with others if it is assigned to a significant hurricane that will be discussed at length in the future. Below you can see a list of “Retired hurricane names” by year (via geology.com)

North Atlantic hurricane retired names katrina felix

4. Nature of the names

When the trend of naming tropic storms started in the 1950’s the assigned names were mainly female. However, things have changed and since 1978 the meteorology centre for the Eastern North Pacific decided to use male names as well and thwarted using and that is for half of the storms. The next year meteorologists working in the Atlantic Ocean area started using male names as well. However, it is not only names that are assigned to storms – when an annual alphabetic list is finished before the actual end of the year and more cyclones are formed, Greek letters are used until the next year, when the next list will be used. This means storm being called Alpha, Beta etc.