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'Ciara caused a lot of hassle': Irish pronunciation leaves Dutch tongue-tied in naming of 2020-21 storms

Irish, UK and Dutch meteorologists recently collaborated on the winter storm names.

Flooding in the UK in the aftermath of Storm Ciara
Flooding in the UK in the aftermath of Storm Ciara
Image: PA

THE PRONUNCIATION OF Irish names and an unintended reference to an infamous hurricane were among concerns raised during the naming of this year’s winter storms.

Correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act reveals how Met Éireann, the UK Met Office and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) decided upon storm names for the 2020-21 season.

It is the second year that the three offices have shared responsibility for designating the storms under the ‘Name Our Storms’ scheme, which aims to raise awareness of severe weather before it hits.

The names are used when a wind storm is strong enough for either office to issue an orange or red warning.

An alternating male-female pattern is followed, with names beginning with letters Q, U, X, Y and Z excluded to comply with international conventions.

This year, Aiden, Bella, Christoph, Darcy, Evert, Fleur, Gavin, Heulwen, Iain, Julia, Klaas, Lilah, Minne, Naia, Oscar, Phoebe, Ravi, Saidhbhín, Tobias, Veronica and Wilson were selected and formally unveiled on 1 September.

Severe flooding

A list of names sent from the UK Met Office to Irish and Dutch meteorologists on 24 July shows that 16 other names were initially proposed.

They included the names Albert, Brenda, Charlie, Dionne, Eddie, Felicity, Hasina, Igor, Joanne, Klaus, Lauren, Mark, Odin, Rachid, Stella, Tyler and Viola.

However, in an initial reply on 27 July, Met Éireann’s Head of Forecasting Evelyn Cusack asked for the name Charlie to be dropped.

“My only strong rejection is Charlie,” Cusack wrote. “Ireland cannot have Charlie as we were hit by severe flooding in 1986 from an off-shoot of Hurricane Charley.”

In the same email, Cusack proposed the names Cillian, Oscar and Saidhbhín on behalf of Ireland, noting that Cillian would be the only one used (as the number of storms was unlikely to reach the point at which Oscar would be required).

And although two of those names later made the list, the choice of Cillian was later overruled by the KNMI as meteorologists felt that Dutch people would have issues with it.

“Unfortunately Cillian is almost impossible to pronounce in Dutch (last year Ciara also caused a lot of hassle…),” a forecaster wrote. “Is Cees or Cor still an option for the C?”

Instead, the name Aiden was chosen on behalf of Ireland, with Christoph chosen for the letter C in order to ensure each nation was represented in the first three storms.

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St Elmo’s Fire

In another email on 10 August, Cusack also proposed the name Elmo on behalf of the Dutch meteorologists.

“Elmo could be a good Dutch boy’s name meaning ‘noble’ but also of meteorological significance as in ‘St Elmo’s Fire’,” she wrote.

However, this suggestion was also rejected by the KNMI, who wrote: “Unfortunately Elmo isn’t a Dutch name. We only know it as a character in Sesame Street.”

A final list of names was eventually agreed in August, and released to the public in September.

It is the second year in a row in which Irish suggestions have been problematic for forecasters attempting to draft a list of winter storm names.

In 2019, the KNMI dropped a the suggestion of Eimear over concerns about how British people would react to it. Cusack also corrected the UK Met Office on its spelling of the name Róisín, after the forecaster did not include fadas when the name was put forward.

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