Can We Give 'Canes More Forceful Names?

Why do meteorologists give hurricanes such wimpy names? Should devastation really come in the form of Gert or Dennis? Why not Ishtar, Lucretia Borgia or Genghis Khan? The word hurricane means "evil spirit," so give them their due.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

With hurricane season upon us, WEEKEND EDITION essayist Diane Roberts shares some thoughts about the names given to the killer storms.

DIANE ROBERTS:

Gert? Harvey? Stan? Wilma? They sound like characters in black-and-white TV sitcoms. Are these names picked by a particularly dorky computer or what? I've known Stans and Harveys, even a Wilma. They were all fine people. Look, I don't know about you, but when a force 5 blows into town, yanking the roof off your garage, shoving your bass boat up a live oak tree, hurling the Burger King sign from a half a mile away through your picture window and floating your new van all the way down to the Winn-Dixie, where it ends up in the cat food aisle, well, I want my devastation to be called something more awe-inspiring than Dennis or Tammy or Wilma.

Hurricanes ought to have names that reek of grandeur, names that evoke mightiness, names drawn from great, if destructive, figures of myths and history. Hurricanes ought to be called Thor, Cali, Juno, Julius Caesar, Shockazulu, Athena, Ishtar, Shango, Medea. Maybe even have a Hurricane Robespierre, a Hurricane Lucrezia Borgia, a Hurricane Genghis Khan, a Hurricane Pizarro. To be fair, the name Ophelia did somehow float onto the 2005 list. I guess that's a little meteorological humor. Ophelia, get it? Floods, drowning. At least she's literary.

There's nothing trivial about tropical storms, especially ones that turn into hurricanes and leave death and destruction in their wake. Last year's succession of four devastating hurricanes darkening Florida in the course of a few weeks provides ample evidence of that. This is merely a modest proposal to stop trying to domesticate one of nature's most terrifying forces with smaller-than-life names. The word `hurricane' is Carib Indian and means `evil spirit.' A hurricane can drown whole islands, change the shape of the shoreline, flatten dunes and too often kill people. You don't diss a hurricane. It's like calling a pitbull Fluffy.

This plan will challenge the pronunciation skills and orthographic talents of weathermen and women across the nation, but that's no bad thing. I can hear it now. `Just who was Medea, Katie?' `Well, Tom, she was a lady in Greek mythology who killed her own children.' That counts as a teaching moment and it's so much more interesting than just talking about the weather.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts weathered many hurricanes while growing up in Florida.

It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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