Naming hurricanes seems to date back to Spanish monks in Cuba. They would name the hurricanes for the saint days on which they fell. Hurricane Santa Ana struck Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825, the day of Santa Ana. When hurricanes hit land on the same saint day years apart, they were tagged first and second, as was the case with hurricane San Felipe the first, which made landfall at Puerto Rico on September 13, 1876, and hurricane San Felipe the second, which struck land on September 13, 1928.
Years later, hurricanes, which were most often reported by ships at sea, were named for their coordinates of latitude and longitude. This system failed to work because hurricanes are erratic forces of nature that often hit several locations. The same storm might end up with a number of “named” coordinates, thus creating confusion and panic.
Giving nature’s force a human identity is first attributed to George R. Stewart, whose novel Storm was published in 1841. In his book, he named his hurricane for a woman. This caught the fancy of the Air Force and Navy meteorologists who plotted Pacific storms during World War II. They began giving those storms women’s names.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the United States, between 1860 and 1865 hurricanes were being named for the phonetic alphabet (Abel, Baker, Charlie, Delta, etc.). But in 1953, the US National Weather Service, which is the federal agency that tracks hurricanes and issues warnings and watches, began using female names for storms.
Then in 1979, it was decided to use both men’s and women’s names. One name is selected for each letter of the alphabet except for Q, U and Z. For Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, the names given can be French, Spanish or English, since these are the major languages bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
The World Meteorological Organization is the group who decides which names are used each year. The list they use is prepared every six years. The same lists are reused and new names are added only if named hurricanes cause widespread damage. Those storms’ names are then retired and new names are added to the list.
Though many storms will be named, not all will reach full hurricane status. As soon as a storm with rotary circulation reaches wind speeds of 39 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Florida christens the storm with a name.