According to the research by University of Illinois, severe hurricanes with a more feminine name result in a greater death toll, simply because a storm with a feminine name is seen as less foreboding than one with a more masculine name.
The researchers said that people in the path of these severe storms may take fewer protective measures, leaving them more vulnerable to harm.
The finding indicates an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the gendered naming of hurricanes, which has important implications for policymakers, meteorologists, the news media and the public regarding hurricane communication and preparedness, the researchers say.
Kiju Jung, a doctoral student in marketing in the U. of I.'s College of Business and the lead author on the study, said that the problem is that a hurricane's name has nothing to do with its severity and names names are assigned arbitrarily, based on a predetermined list of alternating male and female names.
Kiju said that if people in the path of a severe storm are judging the risk based on the storm's name, then this is potentially very dangerous.
The authors found that for highly damaging storms, the more feminine the storm's name, the more people it killed and their analysis of more than six decades of death rates from U.S. hurricanes suggests that changing a severe hurricane's name from the masculine "Charley" to the feminine "Eloise" could nearly triple its death toll.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.