The stormy past

Our namesakes

Some families pass names down from generation to generation. Some give their own names to their children. Some give their parents names’ to their children as middle names. Some give a mother’s maiden name to a child as a first name.

My family? We loan our names out for hurricanes.

Hurricane Hugo

No, not Sandy, thank heavens (she sez, looking nervously over her shoulder as the winds pick up and the rain pours down). At least not unless you want to count a third great grandfather’s (and a nephew’s) middle name of Alexander. But way too many other storm names can be found in The Legal Genealogist‘s immediate family tree.

My grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell loaned her name to the most powerful Category 4 hurricane of the 1995 Atlantic hurricane season. Opal traveled from the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatán Peninsula, the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Tennessee and even the mid-Atlantic region, killing 63 people and causing losses of more than $3.5 billion. The storm was so bad, the National Hurricane Center retired the name in 1996.1

My grandfather Hugo Ernst Geissler and father Hugo Hermann Geissler jointly loaned their name to what is now considered to be the 11th costliest hurricane in the United States. Hurricane Hugo formed in September 1989 in the eastern Atlantic and, for a while, was a Category 5 storm. It hit Guadeloupe, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico before making landfall at Charleston Harbor. Sixty-one people died, and the storm caused roughly $10 billion in damages — the most ever to that point. The name was retired from use because of the storm’s fury.2

My mother Hazel Irene (Cottrell) Geissler hit hurricane name jackpot. She loaned her first name to the 1954 hurricane which is the first I can remember — and one that damaged the house I grew up in. Hurricane Hazel was a Category 4 storm that killed as many as 1,000 people in Haiti before making landfall near the border between North and South Carolina. It killed another 95 people in the U.S. and then 81 more in Canada. It was so destructive, the name has never been used for another hurricane.3

And she loaned her middle name to a whole bunch of hurricanes: Hurricane Irene of 1971, a Category 1 storm that hit Nicaragua; Hurricane Irene of 1981, a Category 3 hurricane that didn’t make landfall until it was only a storm over France; Hurricane Irene of 1999, a Category 2 hurricane that hit Cuba and Florida; Hurricane Irene of 2005, a Category 2 hurricane that never made landfall;4 and the big one, the 2011 hurricane that hit St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Bahamas and the East Coast. That storm killed at least 56 people and caused more than $15.5 billion in damage. Needless to say, the name was been retired.5

We won’t even bother with the aunt and uncles (Carol, David and Michael) or the brother and sister (Frederick and Diana) or the niece and nephew (Hanna and Dennis), and don’t even get me started on cousins…

Heaven help us all if they ever put Judy on the list for Atlantic hurricanes…


Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  1. Wikipedia (, “Hurricane Opal,” rev. 23 Oct 2012. See also “Preliminary Report, Hurricane Opal, 27 September – 5 October 1995,” National Hurricane Center ( : accessed 28 Oct 2012).
  2. Wikipedia (, “Hurricane Hugo,” rev. 26 Oct 2012. See also “Preliminary Report, Hurricane Hugo, 1-22 September 1989,” RENCI East Carolina Regional Engagement Center ( : accessed 28 Oct 2012).
  3. Wikipedia (, “Hurricane Hazel,” rev. 29 Oct 2012. See also “Preliminary Report, Hurricane Hugo, 1-22 September 1989,” National Hurricane Center ( : accessed 28 Oct 2012).
  4. Wikipedia (, “Tropical Storm Irene,” rev. 16 Jun 2012.
  5. Wikipedia (, “Hurricane Irene,” rev. 29 Oct 2012. See also “Tropical Cyclone Report, Hurricane Irene (AL092011), 21-28 August 2011,” National Hurricane Center ( : accessed 28 Oct 2012).
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6 Responses to The stormy past

  1. Nancy Schlegel says:

    Stay safe, Judy, and everyone else in this storm’s path.

    Still holding our breath for family and friends in Raleigh NC, with not fond memories of falling trees and whirlwinds of earlier storms – especially Hurricane Fran.

  2. Celia Lewis says:

    Such a famous family, I must say, but I’m sure your turn will come, Judy – maybe next year! And did you see that Scientific American blog about naming patterns of hurricanes – it only started officially (naming) in 1950! Not that long ago… I mean, I can actually remember a lot about 1950, since it was just the year after hearing that Newfoundland joined the Dominion of Canada, and we added a note to the big map of Canada at school.

    I hope y’all are looking after yourselves and your neighbours as well. That storm will cause lots of damage on its way through the East coast and southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Nasty storm – I’m keeping track.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If my turn ever comes… the entire United States will be at risk, I’m sure!! Thanks for the good wishes, Celia. We’re all concerned about the scope of this one.

  3. Kelly Leary says:

    My mother’s name is Diane and she grew up in Torrington, CT. Hurricane Diane formed in 1955 when she was 9-years-old. When it hit Torrington, her father’s dry cleaning business washed destroyed [as was all of downtown] and she had cousins airlifted from roofs of their houses.

    Since she was so young, when people spoke of the hurricane she thought it was her fault because it was her name on the storm. She still doesn’t like to discuss that time period in her life as it brings back such horrible memories.

    Hurricane Diane took the lives of over 200 people I believe is still in the #6 on the list of worse hurricanes in the 20th century. It caused over $831 million in damage.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Aw… it’s so sad when kids get it in their heads that something is “their fault” when it couldn’t be.

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