Anthropomorphizing Mother Nature

The Weather Channel announced in early October that it would be taking up the practice of naming storms this coming winter. No big deal, right? After all, “summer” storms—that is to say, tropical cyclones—have been given names by the National Weather Service (NWS) for decades. Every year, the NWS releases a list of what the names for Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes will be from A to Z, and when a storm reaches tropical storm strength, (winds of 39-74 mph) it’s given the next available name on the list.

Why does the NWS name tropical cyclones? A couple of reasons: to remember them, for one. Most east coasters who have been alive in the past half-century recall Hurricane Hugo, which hit Charleston, SC; Hurricane Andrew, which hit south Florida; and of course, Hurricane Katrina, which walloped New Orleans. A name is much easier to remember than “2012 North Atlantic Hurricane Number 9,” for example.

But naming something also gives it a personality and frees us up to give it human qualities. For example, “That Katrina was one nasty lady,” or “Andrew was angry and south Florida was going to feel his wrath.” We do this all the time, with all kinds of things. We name the computers in our office, the laser printer, the copier or the snack machine, especially when they don’t work. We name our cars and our musical instruments (B.B. King calls every guitar he plays “Lucille”).

What does the naming of storms have to do with your business? Maybe this whole naming thing isn’t such a bad idea. Engadget featured an article last year by Donald Melanson on product naming last year and broke down product names into “good, safe, meaningless and bad.” Making the good and safe lists were Kindle and iPhone; meaningless was pretty much anything that was a series of letters and numbers (think “2012 North Atlantic Hurricane Number 9,” and bad was a bunch of cell phone names like “Rhyme,” “Vivid,” and “Epic.” To me, these sound just as good as or better than “Kindle,” but odds are, the product wasn’t. And I’d add to the good list “Siri,” Apple’s new personal assistant, not because the name is especially good in and of itself, but because people like the product

Melanson concludes with some pretty sound reasoning:

“On the whole, however, a good product naming strategy isn’t all that far removed from a good product strategy. You have to know when to take a risk with something new and when to play it safe. You can’t just keep throwing things against a wall and hope that one sticks, or keep echoing the same chorus of hyperbole that drowns out everything and resonates with no one.”

Hmm…a good product with a good name. Makes sense to me.

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