The Impact of a Name

Storm Names Were all Female from 1953 until 1978.

Naming storms, wildfires and blizzards started in 1953 in the USA. Before that, tropical storms and hurricanes were named by year and position in chronological order. For example, in 1940 the first tropical storm was called Tropical Storm One. The hurricane that followed a few months later was called Hurricane Two. This all changed in 1953, when the United States began using female names for storms.

Experts began naming storms and disasters for clarity. While naming hurricanes and other natural disasters does make it easier to track, it created several other unusual problems.

Names Create Emotional Associations

A name is powerful. What do you think of when you hear “Andrew,” “Sandy,” “Maria,” or “Irma?”

When someone hears a word or name, they immediately associate it with their implicit emotions, biases, and prejudices. The German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler demonstrated the impact of a name by creating names for two shapes, maluma and takete. The shapes aren’t real, but respondents identified maluma as a soft and rounded shape, while identifying takete as a sharp and jagged shape. The respondents in Köhler’s study overwhelmingly identified one shape as soft and one shape as jagged based solely on a name. Responses like these illustrate how something as simple as the name of a brand have massive consequences.

Names Affect the Way Audiences Act or Respond

Names have a drastic effect on hurricane preparedness too. A study analyzed U.S. hurricanes over a period of 62 years, and found that hurricanes with a feminine name caused significantly more deaths than hurricanes with a masculine name. The researchers stated that the hurricane names led to gender-based expectations about the severity of the storm, which would result in less preparation for hurricanes with female names. According to the study, changing the name of a strong hurricane from Charley to Eloise could nearly triple the death toll.

Naming Goods and Services

We understand the power of a name – for a storm, a child, a product, service or cause. The way our audiences feel about and respond to a new product or service has everything to do with their geographic, cultural and historical associations with the name. It also matters whether the words are new or familiar, easy to say and spell, and sound – phonetically – appropriate to the item they describe.

If you are ever responsible for creating a name and someone asks “aren’t you overthinking this?” – the answer is always no.

Philip Paverd is the lead Research Analyst at GillespieHall. A dedicated political junkie, he spends every waking hour measuring new trends and analyzing campaign effectiveness.

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