Published Friday, August 26, 2011. 4:00 PM
To tens of millions of people living on or near the Atlantic coast, the name “Irene” may, by the end of the weekend, signify a whole lot more than its meaning (in Greek) of “peace.” The impact of the hurricane may well turn out to have a harsh effect on the popularity of Irene as a first name for baby girls.
For comparison, the popularity of the name “Katrina” (also a Greek name, meaning “pure”) slipped from the #247 name for baby girls born in the U.S. in 2005 to #382 by 2006. Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, occurred in late August, 2005.) As USA Today wrote: “The name’s association with the catastrophe has now knocked it out of consideration for most parents, sinking its popularity to the lowest ebb since the 1950s.”
David Lipkin has been married to a woman named Irene for the last thirty years. Asked about the subject of the name “Irene,” Lipkin, an attorney who lives in Oceanside, California, after having spent most of his life in the Philadelphia area, said “‘It’s kind of strange to hear of a hurricane that is going to cause a lot of destruction when its name actually means ‘peace.'”
Asked if he thought it might get annoying to hear lots of lame jokes and comments about the name “Irene,” Lipkin responded: “No, because I’m used to all these years of hearing comments about the song ‘Goodnight Irene’ all the time. So it would be nice to hear a different comment for once.”
Lipkin, it should be noted, is not currently feeling much regret about his decision to relocate from the Philadelphia area to Southern California. On that subject, he said: “All of my friends said ‘why are you moving out to all of those earthquakes?’ ,,, I now see that the East Coast has hurricanes, tornadoes in the last few years, and now an earthquake. So I can’t figure out any reason why anyone would want to live on the East Coast.”
In that regard, this weekend, when much of the the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Maine is feeling the effect of Hurricane Irene, Lipkin will be considerably more relaxed. He said, “The only thing I’ll have to be concerned about on the golf course on Sunday would be whether there might be an earthquake … which might actually help my putt get into the cup.”
Women named Irene anticipating imminent loaded reactions to their first name may want to pay attention to the experience of Greater Dallas-based WatchtheVote.org executive director and Tea Party Review Magazine national grassroots director Katrina Pierson.
Asked what it was like to have that name when Hurricane Katrina caused devastation six years ago (as of this coming Monday), Pierson said: “At first, it was a tropical storm, and I thought it was exciting because I never find my name anywhere. As a kid, you’re trying to get the pre-printed keychains and pencils, and they never had ‘Katrina.’ So I was really excited that my name was out there in the newspaper.”
However, she continues, “And then, as it began to grow, it made me really, really nervous. And then, after Katrina impacted, I changed my name to ‘Trina’ for a few months. Just for the few months after Katrina hit. I used to work for a psychiatric practice, and there were a lot of people who were transferred [from the New Orleans area] over to Texas, obviously. So I didn’t use ‘Katrina’ because I didn’t know who had suffered and who had not.”
As for specific advice she would give to Irenes, especially those living along the Eastern Seaboard, Pierson says: “Find a nickname, if you need to. I just did it because I wanted to be sensitive to the victims who were transferred here to Dallas. Other than that, it’s unfortunate; they don’t give you a choice of which name you get.”
She adds: “I really hope that it doesn’t have an impact like Katrina, especially on the [Northeast] coast, where, I understand, they’re not as prepared for hurricanes, in terms of infrastructure. Hopefully, everybody will take cover and get out and not take any chances.”
For a while in September 1995, as Hurricane Rita built up into a Category 5 hurricane a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina occurred, musical theater actress Rita Markova (who co-starred in the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Fiddler on the Roof last year) thought her first name might end up similarly triggering highly widespread negative associations.
Markova explains that she did not have to deal with too many comments about her name because, in the end, “Hurricane Rita did not get that much attention [despite causing $11.3 billion of damage in western Louisiana and Texas], because of Katrina. And it was such a somber period. But it was definitely weird.”
According to Markova, “One of my cousin’s names is Katarina [which, despite being one letter off, has the same meaning and is basically pronounced the same in Markova’s native Russian tongue], and the New York Times had this cartoon drawing in which it had Hurricane Rita was fighting with Hurricane Katrina. We had a really good laugh about it because of the unlikelihood of having two hurricanes having our names the same year, when there are just three of us cousins.”
Markova admits that, despite the mini-“rivalry” between her and her cousin Katarina, she is not disappointed with how things turned out. Given the even more lives and billions of dollars that a more devastating Hurricane Rita would have cost, she is, in the end, content that her namesake hurricane did not outdo the damage of that of her cousin.
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