How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?

Hurricanes in the Central Pacific area will receive one of 48 titles. It all depends when they form.


Naming Hurricanes

A satellite captured this image of Hurricane Lane as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA


Thereʻs something just not Hawai‘i about the current hurricane threat. Our last major systems were ‘Iwa and ‘Iniki. This one is Lane, nothing local about that. Blame it on where it formed.


Hurricane Lane organized in the Eastern Pacific, so it received one of the names from the Eastern Pacific list for 2018, which has 26 names, one for each letter of the alphabet. That list changes annually. Next year, it would be Hurricane Lorena; in 2020, we would have been watching as Lowell barreled toward us.


If the system had formed in the Central Pacific region—defined as between 140W, the equator, and the dateline—all the newscasts would be talking about Hurricane Walaka, pronounced wah-LAH-kah, as dutifully noted on the Central Pacific Hurricane Center’s website. Unlike the eastern storms, names for the Central Pacific do not change year to year. When meteorologists hit the bottom of one list, they just start at the top of the next.


As for the origins of those names, we noticed Walaka didn’t sound like any Hawaiian word we had ever heard. A search on online Hawaiian dictionary Nā Puke Wehewehe ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i turned up nothing. In fact, when we typed in all 48 local-esque names, about a third of them appeared not to be Hawaiian at all. What gives?


Turns out all hurricane names are maintained by the World Meteorological Organization. The words are selected by regional committees from proposals from members in North and Central America and Caribbean. The organization says the names are just supposed to be familiar to people affected in the region so they can remember them.


Here is the full list of Central Pacific names, with pronunciation guides included, just in case you needed it.


List 1
Akoni (ah – KOH – nee)
Ema (EH – mah)
Hone (HOH-neh)
Iona (ee-OH-nah)
Keli (KEH-lee)
Lala (LAH-lah)
Moke (MOH-keh)
Nolo (NOH-loh)
Olana (oh-LAH-nah)
Pena (PEH-nah)
Ulana (oo-LAH-nah)
Wale (WAH-leh)
List 2
Aka (AH – kah)
Ekeka (eh – KEH – kak)
Hene (HEH-neh)
Iolana (ee-OH-lah-nah)
Keoni (keh-ON-nee)
Lino (LEE-noh)
Mele (MEH-leh)
Nona (NOH-nah)
Oliwa (oh-LEE-vah)
Pama (PAH-mah)
Upana (oo-PAH-nah)
Wene (WEH-neh)
List 3
Alika (ah – LEE – kah)
Ele (EH-leh)
Huko (HOO-koh)
Iopa (ee-OH-pah)
Kika (KEE-kah)
Lana (LAH-nah)
Maka (MAH-kah)
Neki (NEH-kee)
Omeka (oh-MEH-ka)
Pewa (PEH-vah)
Unala (oo-NAH-lah)
Wali (WAH-lee)
List 4
Ana (AH – nah)
Ela (EH-lah)
Halola (hah-LOH-lah)
Iune (ee-OO-neh)
Kilo (KEE-lo)
Loke (LOH-keh)
Malia (mah-LEE-ah)
Niala (nee-AH-la)
Oho (OH-hoh)
Pali (PAH-lee)
Ulika (oo-LEE-kah)
Walaka (wah-LAH-kah)


We might want to alert the World Meteorological Association that Hurricane Moke might not be the best pick. That is, unless it is followed immediately by Hurricane Tita.


Side note about the Western North Pacific naming conventions. Thirteen countries from Asia, the Pacific as well as the U.S. each suggested 10 names for that list, resulting in a range of titles from Vincente (U.S.) to Nanmadol (Micronesia).