What's in a name? Plenty if you're a hurricane. It defines you, it gives you a personality and if you're bad enough, your name gets retired.

According to Environment Canada, hurricanes were named by the year in which they occurred followed by a letter (for example 1946a, 1946b) until 1950. After 1950, hurricanes started getting female names. Male names arrived in 1979. 

Using names proved to be a more efficient way to communicate storms both in writing and in broadcast, as it limited confusion.

An international committee of the World Meteorological Organization chooses the actual names under a strict procedure.

Six different lists of names are used in rotation. The names chosen are short and reflect the languages prevalent in the Caribbean, and Central and North America. Namely: English, Spanish and French.

Hurricane Arthur location

This was Hurricane Arthur's location as of 11 a.m. ET on Thursday. The name Arthur was chosen by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. (U.S. National Hurricane Center)

Each list has 21 names — one for each letter of the alphabet except Q, U, X, Y, and Z, since those letters start few names. These lists are recycled every six years and names are replaced when a hurricane name is retired.

Retiring a hurricane name is done if the storm does significant damage or causes loss of life.

The World Meteorological Organization will look at the request to retire a name and makes the decision.

Names not really retired

"Retire" is not completely accurate since the name can be reused again — but not for at least 10 years to allow for legal actions and insurance claims to run their course.

In 2004, Canada got Hurricane Juan retired. It was the first time Canada had asked for a name to be stricken from the list.

Juan was a Category 2 hurricane described as the most powerful storm to hit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in over a century. It caused millions of dollars in damage and claimed six lives (two directly) in Nova Scotia.

This year the named storms begin with Arthur, and then come:

  • Bertha
  • Cristobal
  • Dolly
  • Edouard
  • Fay
  • Gustav
  • Hanna
  • Ike
  • Josephine
  • Kyle
  • Laura
  • Marco
  • Nana
  • Omar
  • Paloma
  • Rene
  • Sally
  • Teddy
  • Vicky
  • Wilfred

If a storm season blows through all 21 names, forecasters switch to the 24-letter Greek alphabet. This happened for the first time in 2005, which saw 28 named storms.