Instead of hearing about the punishing path of Hurricane Dorian, it could have been Danielle, Dana, Dorothy or another woman’s name, if not for a group of feminists who pushed to change a longstanding system that only gave tropical storms and hurricanes the names of women.
In 1953, the United States officially began exclusively using female names to identify tropical systems that formed during hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Feminists, most notably the late Roxcy Bolton — who is credited for creating the term “himmicane” — began to fight the tradition as early as the late 1960s.
Male names wouldn’t be added to the rotation until nearly a decade later, said Liz Skilton, a professor of history at the University of Louisiana and author of “Tempest: Hurricane Naming and American Culture.”
Bolton took particular issue with the naming of storms after Hurricane Camille devastated the Gulf Coast in 1969.
“It was an issue of time and place for [Bolton],” said Skilton. “She was living in the Gulf Coast region and the rhetoric had become increasingly negative.”
Broadcast meteorologists and others in the media used phrases like, “She can’t make up her mind,” and “She’s no lady,” to describe the movement of storms.
Reports chronicling Bolton’s fight to change the naming convention used terms like, “stormy woman” to describe her, Skilton said.
“The inclusion of men in the list of names was a direct result of the gender equality movement,” said Dennis Feltgen, a former broadcast meteorologist who now works at NOAA.
The change was among a host of language shifts that took place during that time.
“It was at the same time that writing conventions moved to using ‘he or she’ semantics for the singular form, rejecting the masculine pronouns for gender-neutral constructions,” said Anne Nicotera, a professor at George Mason University, who recalled being taught one way in high school and the other in college.
Bolton and the National Organization for Women, a feminist organization founded in 1966 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., met in 1969 and added the issue of hurricane names to the 1970 agenda.
In 1970, Bolton wrote her first letter to the National Hurricane Center urging the agency to consider changing the practice. She also met with several directors of the National Weather Service, according to Skilton’s book on the subject.
“After three consecutive years of discussion, the weather bureau voted to table the issue of hurricane naming indefinitely, arguing that Bolton had failed to make a suitable proposal for an alternative naming list,” Skilton said.
Bolton’s movement found new life under President Carter’s administration, when he appointed Juanita M. Kreps as the Secretary of Commerce, making her the first woman to hold that office.
As the commerce secretary, Kreps, who was familiar with Bolton’s work, oversaw the National Weather Service and its umbrella agency, NOAA.
Under her leadership, an eastern Pacific hurricane that formed in 1978 was named “Bud.”
The switch to a hurricane name list that alternated men’s and women’s names official took full effect beginning in 1979.
Names are recycled every six years. The names of the most infamous storms are retired from the list.
For more than a half century, Arlene has been the most used overall, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).