How Hurricanes Influence Baby Names

by | Jul 24, 2018 | Brand Naming

There is a curious correlation between severe hurricanes and baby names. Big storms like Katrina, Sandy, and Harvey influence how parents name their children.

According to Jonah Berger, “names that begin with K increased 9 percent after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And names that start with A were 7 percent more common after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.”

Berger explains, “The more you hear a sound, the more you like it.”

This is a form of exposure bias, and we see this phenomena frequently in brand name testing. To evaluate the effectiveness of a brand name we test preference and recall. Preference gives us an indication of likability, while recall helps us establish stickiness.

The names that tend to score highest in preference are the most familiar. But when you test recall, the names that have the highest preference scores are usually not the most memorable.

We prefer names that feel more comfortable and common, but being common can make your brand less memorable. This leads to a strategic decision:

  1. Do you choose a name you prefer, or
  2. Do you choose a name that’s hard to forget?

In branding, you may gravitate towards what you like, but take note of what is more memorable. Brands that stick in customers’ minds tend to outperform their less memorable competitors.

Back to the hurricanes.

Hurricanes have a fascinating naming convention. According to the National Ocean Service, “it was learned that the use of short, easily remembered names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time.” As a result, the National Hurricane Center began giving storms boys and girls names.

Today, hurricane naming is maintained by the World Meteorological Organization. They have developed names for the next six years. For example, in 2018 you may see some of these storms make the news:

  • Alberto
  • Beryl
  • Chris
  • Debby
  • Ernesto
  • Florence
  • Gordon
  • Helene
  • Isaac
  • Joyce
  • Kirk
  • Leslie
  • Michael
  • Nadine
  • Oscar
  • Patty
  • Rafael
  • Sara
  • Tony
  • Valerie
  • William

Hopefully 2018 is nothing like 2017, but if any of these storms cause devastation you can expect two outcomes:

  1. Parents will gravitate towards baby names that have the same first letter as the storm.
  2. The use of the name will plummet following the storm.

Parents are less likely to choose a baby name if it’s associated with a hurricane that caused death and destruction. According to a report in Reuters, “the name Katrina all but disappeared from nurseries following Hurricane Katrina.” It went from 1,327 baby girls in 2005 to just 190 in 2016. That’s a 96% decline in usage in less than a decade.

The same is true of Harvey, Irma, and Sandy. Parents don’t want to associate their children with a natural disaster. Which is logical!

I find these two behaviors fascinating, because they demonstrate how easily we can be swayed by trends. There’s lot of things that influence and shape our preferences, and this can affect how you choose names — either for your children or brands.

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