People have been naming hurricanes, informally, for centuries. Past identification schemes included naming storms after Christian saints or the location that suffered the most damage. Today, when a tropical cyclone’s winds exceed 39 mph, it is classified as a tropical storm and assigned a name from a pre-determined list.
Naval forecasters began using unique names for storms during WWII in an effort to avoid confusion when multiple storms were on the map. Shown to improve communications, this system was adopted by the NWS in 1953. Originally using only female names for storms, the list was diversified in 1979 to include male names. Today, the World Meteorological Organization produces the alphabetical lists and the order of male and female names alternates every year.
The WMO maintains a set of six rotating lists for each hurricane-prone region around the globe. After a six-year cycle, names are re-used. Names are only retired when a storm was particularly noteworthy – causing a large number of fatalities or an extraordinary amount of damage. Some retired Atlantic Basin names include: Andrew, Katrina, and Irene.
Below is the list of names for the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Note that names beginning with Q, U, X, Y, and Z are omitted from this list, as they are in short supply.
Chart: Weather Gamut