Andrew, Katrina, what’s in a name? A hurricane by any other name would still be as devastating.
If you want to get the public to pay attention, branding is key. A big part of branding, Shakespeare notwithstanding, is the selection of a name. The names Kleenex, Scotch Tape and Advil are so recognizable that we use them interchangeably with the generic products they represent. Not-so-great product names include Doodie (a candy bar), Dingle Berries (a breakfast cereal) and Baby Gag (a pacifier). The initial reception for Apple’s iPad involved lots of snickering references to female hygiene, but the company fought through it and the name stuck.
The National Weather Service uses a naming system for a slightly different reason. Beginning in the early fifties, they realized that the use of short, easy-to-remember names helped to avoid confusion and speed communication. The names themselves come from the World Meteorological Organization, which has established 6 lists of 21 names each that rotate annually. Alex, the first Atlantic hurricane of 2010, got another chance in June of this year. To shelter themselves from claims of gender discrimination, The WMO added male names to the list for the first time in 1979.
But wherever there is data, there is a doctoral student waiting to analyze it. Kiju Jung is such a student at the University of Illinois, and his work shows that the more feminine a storm’s name, the more people it kills. Because the names are assigned randomly from predetermined lists, there had to be a deeper reason (and a PhD thesis) hidden somewhere.
It turns out that our gender biases are inescapable, and we can’t help but judge a Danielle as being kinder, gentler and less dangerous than an Isaac. As Kiju’s data proves, this is a fatal mistake for the many who fail to take adequate precautions.
All-female R&B group Klymaxx said it best – “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman.”