Posted in Science & Nature


We often hear on the news of cataclysmic storms with oddly common names such as Hurricane Sandy, Katrina and Harvey. It seems weird that we give such devastating forces of nature a basic name, let alone naming them human names at all.

A hurricane is the name given to tropical storms that occur in the Atlantic Ocean. For reference, a hurricane is essentially the same as a cyclone or typhoon. The history of naming hurricanes dates back over a hundred years, with residents of the Caribbean Islands naming hurricanes after the saint of the day from the Catholic calendar. Initially, American meteorologists named hurricanes by the geographic location that the storm originated in.

However, during World War II, military meteorologists in the Pacific started using women’s names for hurricanes. This made communication much easier as hurricanes could be identified by name and much easier to say. There are some apocryphal stories about the origin of women’s names for hurricanes, such as wishing that the hurricane will be calmer and of better temperament, or that they were named after the meteorologists’ wives and girlfriends. This practice soon spread to the rest of USA and became the default method of naming hurricanes. From 1979, it was decided that the gender of the names would be alternated.

In the present, there is a rolling six-year roster of 21 names each year in alphabetical order that is used to name hurricanes (see below for list). For example, the first hurricane of 2019 was called Andrea, the second Barry, the third Chantal and so on. In 2020, the first hurricane will be named Arthur, then Bertha, et cetera. The same names would be used in 2025 and 2026.

The one exception to this rule is that when a hurricane is particularly devastating and results in many deaths, the name is “retired” in honour of those who have lost their lives or livelihoods to the hurricane. For example, there will be no more hurricanes named Katrina or Harvey in the future.

Posted in History & Literature

Unspeakable Names

An important part of the Harry Potter story is the infamous villain Voldemort, who is so fearsome that the general populace are too afraid to say his name out loud. Instead, they call him “He who must not be named” or “You-know-who“.

The phenomenon of taboo avoidance of names is fascinating and examples can be found all around the world.
In ancient China and Japan, it was forbidden by law to say the emperor’s name, to the point that the names of some historical figures have been forgotten.
Some Australian Aboriginal cultures do not refer to their dead by name during the mourning period, but instead use titles such as kunmanara, translating to “what’s his name”.
In cultures speaking Highland East Cushitic languages such as some parts of Ethiopia, women practice ballishsha – a system where they avoid pronouncing any words beginning with the same syllable as the name of their mother or father-in-law.

This is called avoidance speech and it is typically used as a sign of respect or fear. For example, there are cases of cultures avoiding saying the name of demons or other evil creatures in fear that calling its name may summon it.

Perhaps the best example of this is the bear.
The old word for bear is arkto (note that Arctic comes from the same Latin roots, as the North is associated with the constellation Ursa Major and Minor – the bear). However, the bear is a fearsome wild beast and it was thought that saying its name would summon it, which would be particularly problematic if you were a hunter.
So instead, they used the word bear, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European word for “the brown one“. This practice became so commonplace that this euphemism became the present formal name for this animal.

Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #22

Being proud of and propagating your cultural heritage.

First of all apologies for not keeping to the “post every day” rule. I had short cases on Tuesday and was up till 4am the night before prepping for it : Was pretty shattered last night so instead of studying I chose to play Magic with a friend for hours, get Nandos for dinner, and watch TV shows until I went to bed early. Recovered since but study is boooring.

Anyway, today was Hangul Day (한글날), yay!!! Hangul is the Korean alphabet and was invented by King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) 567 years ago. It is a beautiful written language that was designed scientifically and logically to better represent sounds, making it easier for common people to learn. To celebrate it, I made a small event on Facebook where I wrote my friends’ names in Korean haha. One friend jokingly said “Arnold Schwarzenegger”, so I happily obliged… along with a sketch 😛

Posted in History & Literature


There is an interesting story regarding the history of Japanese surnames – known to be the most numerous in the world as there are over 100,000 surnames in Japan.
It is said that in the late Sengoku period (16th~17th century), a period filled with civil wars, there were so many soldiers who had died that there was a shortage of men. To remedy this, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (who unified the clans in Japan) issued a ruling to all women, stating they must wear a blanket-like cloth on their back and to wear no underwear. If they met a man, they were obligated to have intercourse with them in the hopes of conception. This is the origin of the kimono – a garment that can easily be undone and be used as a blanket outside when required (although now the use is different), and the reason why underwear is not worn with kimono traditionally.

This meant that any surviving males had the luck of having any women they pleased. This resulted in the women not knowing who the father of the baby was and thus they named their babies according to where they were conceived. Out of all Japanese surnames, 80% refer to something geographical: 山本 (yamamoto) – at the mountain, 木下(kinoshita) – under a tree, 竹田 (takeda) – at the bamboo field, 山野(yamano) – mountain plain, 川邊 (kawabe) – next to a stream… and the list goes on.

With their surnames being so ranged and “meaningless”, culturally Japan is not very attached to their own surnames. Contrary to this, the neighbouring countries, Korea and China, place great importance in surnames as it shows the roots of the people. For example, in Korea all families have a book called jokbo where the entire family lineage for the surname can be traced back to the root. Every family member’s name and birth date is recorded along with the generation they are in.
Because of this, the Japanese were perplexed after their invasion why the people were so against changing their names to Japanese. What they did not understand was the pride people have in their names and their cultural heritage, as the same pride is not found in Japan.

Posted in History & Literature


Pakistan is a country founded in 1933 and is located west of India and China. It formed from the unification of some of the upper regions of India, where the ruling power of Britain had weakened from Gandhi’s independence movements (in fact, Pakistan was still under British rule until 1947 when it gained independence). The people in this area were mostly Muslim and Pakistan was formed amid fears that the Muslim would be neglected in politics by Hindus.

The etymology of the country’s name is quite peculiar. Pakistan is an acronym of the five regions that formed it: Punjab (P), Afghan (A), Kashmir (K), Sind (S), and Baluchistan (TAN), combined with I for Islam. Also, the word “Pakistan” is a portmanteau of Pak, which means “clean/pure” in Hindustani, and –stan, which stands for a country in Turkish.

Interestingly, the word Pakistan was devised by British students at Cambridge University.

Posted in Philosophy


When a person dies, what do they leave in the world? As an old proverb states, tigers leave their hide after death and people leave their name after death. Little is left after death: bodies slowly decay and return to the ground, wealth is split up and taken by others. If you think about it, the only thing that remains as evidence that the person existed is their name, and people’s memories regarding that name. Official records or photos can be lost among time and forgotten about, but a strong bond between people is hard to forget.

But as even memories fade away, a person who you met once or twice will be forgotten eventually. Therefore, a person who never was close to people or make an impact in someone’s life would “not have existed” to anyone other than a select few, such as family. Therefore, his or her life would have had no meaning, as it may have never existed. Although some may argue that there would have been meaning while the person was alive, there is no greater meaning outside of the past and present, with no impact in the future.

However, if one is close to many people and actively leaves some mark in someone’s life, they will be remembered for those “marks”. In other words, the way people see you is how you will be remembered after death, and by extension, it will define who you were. If you were generous and kind, you become a “good person” forever, but if you did not interact with people or treated them with little respect, you are then defined as a “not so good person”, or even worse, not defined at all. This is regardless of what kind of person you are on the inside, as that would be completely destroyed after death.

The main point of this thought process is that if you do not leave some evidence that you existed, more specifically a good mark, whatever you did in your life will be meaningless. One could accomplish a great feat and have their name known across the world, or leave a work of art or literature that will be seen and read, or even just befriend many people and leave an everlasting impression of yourself in their mind. 

But if you do not want your life to have any impact on the future, there is the option of simply enjoying the present and disappear as Andersen’s Little Mermaid did.
Ergo, it is ultimately your choice whether you want to leave a mark in the world or not.