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What Can We Learn from Storm Naming?

Posted by: Rob Meyerson on October 30, 2012
Todd Hale's Sandy Meme

Hurricane Sandy Meme by Todd Hale, toddhale.com

Do you know the inspiration for the National Weather Service to begin giving major storms personal names comes from a 1941 science fiction novel? The origin of this naming convention is George Stewart's Storm, starring a storm dubbed "Maria."

The alphabetical approach, naming hurricanes and tropical storms alphabetically throughout each calendar year, was formalized in 1950, and originally only female names were used. In the interest of fairness, the convention of only naming terrible storms after women ended in 1979, when male names for storms were introduced.

The brilliance of this naming convention is that meteorologists don't have to scramble for a name when a storm is brewing and there's consistency without competing names for new storms. (Although, certainly multiple nicknames for storms can emerge, case in point, "Frankentorm" and "Snor'eastercane" for "Hurricane Sandy.") Brand managers who oversee large portfolios could benefit from a similarly systematic approach -- what we'd call a naming or nomenclature system.

Building a naming system can help build buzz for upcoming products and allow brand managers to more effectively manage the transfer of equity between brands. Perhaps the biggest benefit of these systems is that they reduce the ambiguity and frustration that can accompany product naming, providing a road map to guide us in answering questions like, "What should we call the new version?" or "Who chooses the final name?"

As Sandy passes and the Northeast of the United States begins to assess its impact, product naming may be the furthest thing from our minds. Yet, the next time we run into a naming challenge, we can remember the hurricane naming system and how it simplifies the naming job for meteorologists. Just like us, they've got more important things to think about. And if another hurricane hits this year -- hopefully not! -- at least we know it'll have a name that George Stewart's Maria would have loved: "Tony."

Rob Meyerson is a Director of Verbal Identity for Interbrand San Francisco.

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