More on Hurricanes and Names

I’ll be the first to admit that I stopped posting on the blog the last few weeks because I got stuck. Stuck in my own busy semester, stuck in the unexpected emotions that surfaced in me while watching Levees, and stuck in the shock of realizing that I hadn’t noticed some of these important things before. But after class today, and being able to ground my thinking in course readings (I think I’m just naturally comfortable with words), I think I might be getting unstuck.

With that in mind, I’ve been really interested in the concept of “names” especially in recent posts by Helen and Christina that highlighted the difference between male/female named storm, since the idea of being conscripted into a role and the connections to gender stereotypes is not something I had spent time thinking about. However, what I really wanted to focus on for this post was the idea of “retiring” hurricane names, which Christina does mention.

Miles touches on this too when she writes, “When a storm proves particularly epic—like Katrina or Andrew—that name is retired from the list and is replaced by one of the new names approved by the committee” (43). I knew this before the course, but I’ve been thinking about how subjective this criteria is. Who gets to decide what counts as epic or devastating? Is it one death? 10? How many people need to have their lives turned upside down and inside out before a name gets retired? I understand that retiring every name would be almost impossible, but the idea that there must be a threshold of destruction passed before making it onto this “elite” list is discomforting to me.

There have been 78 retired hurricane names since the conception of the naming system used today (and explained in other posts). Here is a list of them. What I found really shocking, however, is that on this webpage (operated by the National Hurricane Center) is that there is a link in the middle of the page (and it comes up multiple times!) that says “Can I have a tropical cyclone named for me?” Apparently, that must be a Frequently Asked Question, which given the destruction that hurricanes can cause, seems wild to me. The link leads to a page that says how the National Hurricane Center is not in charge of naming the hurricanes.

I think this link gets to a larger idea of memory/forgetting, which we have been examining since the beginning of the semester. I am reminded of the “Tot-tanic” picture that we saw earlier in the course. There is a certain novelty to events of catastrophe in the idea that they cannot be forgotten. We, as human beings, do not want to be forgotten. Perhaps some people think that having their name tied to a hurricane will provoke a memory, although I’d contend that that may not be the memory one wants associated with their name/identity?

I’m unsure exactly how I feel about that being on the National Hurricane Center website, but I don’t think if a hurricane (especially a very destructive one) shared my name that I would enjoy that feeling. I think it would tie my identity to a chaotic, life-changing force that causes people physical and emotional harm in ways that would be hard to overcome. Perhaps I’m being sensitive, but I don’t think I understand the desire to share a name with a hurricane, even though people with the name Katrina for example are in no way responsible for the destruction caused by the hurricane. I just don’t think I’d go seeking out the opportunity to name a hurricane Erin.

The idea of wanting a hurricane to be named after you reminds me of a quotation by Roach that I find us returning to in class quite often: “Catastrophe may reemerge from memory in the shape of a wish” (43). Wishing for a tropical cyclone to be named after yourself to me seems like a particularly egregious example of forgetting, yet I am trying not to be just scornful therefore that is why I maybe can see the connection with a name taking on a meaning that is larger than just one individual person. Being associated with some epic force may, at a surface level, seem inviting. Does anyone have any other explanations as to why this question may be one asked often enough that there is a link to it? 

I’m optimistic heading back into the final weeks of the semester and I hope my presence on the blog reflects that.

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