Who named Nemo?

posted by on 2013.03.01, under Naming

[This post was originally published on Interbrand's blog.]

Meteorologists today predicted a “parade of storms across the US” next week. As citizens of Northeast and Midwestern cities battle the severe weather, they may also have to contend with a blizzard of new names like “Plato,” “Q,” “Rocky” and “Saturn.”

The last time a big storm hit the Northeast, I wrote a post about how it got its name—Sandy—and the naming system used by the National Hurricane Center to name tropical storms and hurricanes. But if you check the Center’s list of potential storm names, you won’t find “Nemo,” which everyone, from Gawker to Michael Bloomberg, is now using for the latest storm to hit the Northeast.

So where did “Nemo” come from?

It turns out the Weather Channel, a commercial entity, has started naming winter storms based on their own list of names announced last November. Despite their goal—“to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events”—many meteorology heavyweights are dead set against naming of winter storms. They accuse The Weather Channel of putting “media spin” before “science and public safety.”

Why is the name sticking?

Whether or not winter storms should be named is a question best left to the weather experts. For now, “Nemo” is here to stay. As naming experts, we already see it benefiting from some of the same properties that make for a great brand name. Specifically:

  • It’s short, sweet and easy to tweet. Compared to “Northeast winter storm,” it’s simpler to say and write, not to mention fit into character-limited social media posts.
  • It’s available (despite Disney’s having found it first). Since both The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center publish their lists in advance, there’s no possibility of overlap. Also, the winter storm list skews toward names from ancient Greece and Rome (as well as Middle-earth), while the tropical cyclone list is comprised of comparatively more modern, if not popular, first names.
  • It’s differentiating. By naming it, The Weather Channel has given Nemo an identity that instantly separates it from other winter storms. This is an essential role of brand identity: to create a “vessel” into which we can pour all of our associations with a brand, whether those associations are along the lines of “I like this product and should buy it again” or “That was the storm that buried my car under two feet of snow.” By giving us a name to attach those thoughts to as opposed to the generic descriptor, “winter storm,” The Weather Channel is ensuring that Nemo remains distinct in our minds.

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

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