How storms are named, and the benefits of systematic naming

posted by on 2012.11.09, under Brand Strategy, Naming

[A version of this post was originally published on Interbrand's blog.]

You probably already know that hurricanes are named alphabetically each calendar year, alternating between male and female names. What you may not know, however, is that the origin of this naming convention is a 1941 novel titled Storm by George Stewart, in which the titular storm was dubbed “Maria.” The alphabetical approach was formalized in 1950, but for a long time only female names were used. In 1979, male names were added, since it’s a bit sexist to assume every terrible storm is a woman.

The brilliance of this naming convention is that meteorologists no longer have to scramble for a name every time a new storm is brewing, and there aren’t competing names for new storms (today’s “Hurricane Sandy,” “Frankenstorm” and “Snor’eastercane” notwithstanding). Brand managers who oversee large product portfolios could benefit from a similarly systematic approach—what we’d call a naming or nomenclature system. Think of Apple’s “i” products and the numbers they use to identify their latest objects of desire, Google’s sweetly named versions of Android (e.g., Cupcake, Froyo and Jelly Bean) and BMW’s 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 Series automobiles. These systems help customers navigate complex portfolios to find the right product. They help build buzz for upcoming products, and allow brand managers to more effectively manage the transfer of equity between brands. But perhaps the biggest benefit of these systems is that they reduce the ambiguity and frustration that can accompany product naming—providing a roadmap to guide us in answering questions like “What should we call the new version?” or “Who chooses the final name?”

As Sandy passes over the East Coast of the United States (peacefully, we hope), product naming may be the furthest thing from your mind. But next time you run into a naming challenge, remember the hurricane naming system and how it simplifies the naming job for meteorologists—just like you, they’ve got more important things to think about. And if another hurricane hits us this year (hopefully not), at least we know it’ll have a name that George Stewart’s Maria would’ve loved: “Tony.”

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  • About the Author

    Rob Meyerson is a brand strategist currently working in San Francisco.

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