Her-icanes and Him-icanes: How One Awesome Feminist Changed the Hurricane Naming System

by Erika W. Smith

You’ve been hearing plenty about Hurricane Isaac this summer, but did you ever wonder why Isaac is called Isaac, and not Isa or Ingrid?


Until 1979, hurricanes were always named after women. The system started during WWII, when U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists needed a way to identify hurricanes while analyzing weather maps. Many of those meteorologists – male, of course – began naming the hurricanes after their wives and girlfriends in a twisted sort of tribute. Interesting idea, but who would want to share a name with a deadly storm?


In 1945, the National Weather Bureau, later the National Weather Service, introduced a system based on the military phonetic alphabet, but by 1953 they had run out of names. In 1954, hurricanes were back to women’s names. This lasted until the 1960s, when some feminists got sick of reading about women-named hurricanes destroying towns and ruining lives. 


They were led by one awesome feminist named Roxcy Bolton. Bolton was a force to be reckoned with in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s: she founded the nation’s first Rape Treatment Center, helped form Florida’s National Organization for Women, and helped abolish the Florida practice of keeping “men only” sections in restaurants.


Roxcy Bolton. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.


In the early 1970s, Bolton gave the National Weather Service a piece of her mind. She said, “Women are not disasters, destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting and devastating effect.” She also wanted to change the name “hurricane” to “him-icane” because she thought the “her” sound was too gendered. Instead, she suggested that hurricanes be named after senators, who “delight in having things named after them.” Could you imagine a Hurricane Lindsey Graham or a Hurricane Scott Brown?


In 1979, the National Weather Service started alternating the genders of hurricane names. Today there’s a rotating list of hurricane names, which you can check out here. While there might be a hurricane with my name on it in 2015, there could also be a hurricane that shares a name with my brother in 2014.


I think I’d rather see a Hurricane Pat Roberts, myself.


Hurricane Isaac image via ABC News.


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