This article is from the Storms FAQ, by Chris Landsea email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication
between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches,
and warnings. Since the storms can often last a week or longer and that
more than one can be occurring in the same basin at the same time, names
can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. According
to Dunn and Miller (1960), the first use of a proper name for a tropical
cyclone was by an Australian forecaster early in this century. He gave
tropical cyclone names "after political figures whom he disliked. By
properly naming a hurricane, the weatherman could publicly describe a
politician (who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau
appropriations) as 'causing great distress' or 'wandering aimlessly
about the Pacific.'" (Perhaps this should be brought back into use ;-)
During World War II, tropical cyclones were informally given women's
names by USA Air Force and Navy meteorologists (after their girlfriends
or wives) who were monitoring and forecasting tropical cyclones over the
Pacific. From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic
Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.),
but in 1953 the USA Weather Bureau switched to women's names. In 1979,
the WMO and the USA National Weather Service (NWS) switched to a list of
names that also included men's names.
The Northeast Pacific basin tropical cyclones were named using
women's names starting in 1959 for storms near Hawaii and in 1960 for the
remainder of the Northeast Pacific basin. In 1978, both men's and women's
names were utilized.
The Northwest Pacific basin tropical cyclones were given women's
names officially starting in 1945 and men's names were also included
beginning in 1979.
The North Indian Ocean region tropical cyclones are not named.
The Southwest Indian Ocean tropical cyclones were first named during
the 1960/1961 season.
The Australian and South Pacific region (east of 90E, south of the
equator) started giving women's names to the storms in 1964 and both men's
and women's names in 1974/1975.