What’s so important about a name?

Published 11:17 am Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are we perhaps obsessed with naming stuff?

It makes sense for important things like people and places. They can be a good way to clarify who or where you’re talking about. Although knowing about half a million people named Sarah or Tom is not all that helpful sometimes either.

And don’t even get me started on people who give directions by mentioning the names of old buildings and houses which don’t even exist anymore. Those names aren’t going to pop up in my GPS system, so I’ll probably never find my destination.

In 2016, Britain’s National Environmental Research Council (NERC) ran an online contest to name their new research ship. They let people send in suggestions and then vote on which they liked the best.

The winner by an absurdly large margin was “RRS Boaty McBoatface.” If you think that’s dumb, please note that the fifth place winner was “RRS It’s bloody cold here.” (Though I suppose that name is somewhat apt as the ship will be used for expeditions in Antarctica.)

In the end, however, NERC decided to give the nautical vessel a more respectable name, “RRS Sir David Attenborough,” even though that one landed fourth place on the poll. As a compromise, they named one of the ship’s submarines “Boaty McBoatface” instead.

Personally, I think “Subby McSubface” might have been a more accurate designation for a submersible vessel, but I’m not the one in charge of these things.

Nothing is immune from our need to name things. Yes, that even includes the weather. Hurricanes and tropical storms have been given names for decades. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), this began as a way to avoid confusion when more than one storm developed in the ocean.

“In the past, confusion and false rumors have arisen when storm advisories broadcast from radio stations were mistaken for warnings concerning an entirely different storm located hundreds of miles away,” says the National Hurricane Center website.

That makes sense, though perhaps it’s not as necessary these days when we can just check our phones to see if a storm is nearby or on the other side of the Atlantic.

I can accept naming hurricanes because it’s a practice that’s been in place decades before I was born, and the names really do help people remember them better.

But giving a name to a snow storm? That seems like a bridge too far.

The Weather Channel has been trying to get that trend started since about 2012. They even have a fancy committee of meteorologists to determine if the winter storm will impact enough people to deserve a name.

They called the storm which rolled through our area on January 4, “Grayson,” and the one that followed behind two weeks later is “Inga.”

I have no idea how the Weather Channel picks which names to use, but I do know future names for this winter season include “Jaxon,” “Mateo,” “Uma,” and “Xanto.” Past seasons have had names like “Athena” and “Xerxes.”

Critics have described their name list as being “overly trendy.”

For the record, NWS and NOAA don’t acknowledge the Weather Channel’s winter storm names and they actively discourage people from using them. Why?

Because, among other reasons, they can cause confusion.

Yeah, my head is spinning right now just thinking about all this. Where do we draw the line on naming stuff?

Maybe we should have just listened to Juliet from Shakespeare’s famous play about doomed romances.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

In other words: who cares?


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.