While seemingly random, the process of naming a tropical cyclone does not occur aimlessly.

In fact, the Bureau of Meteorology have a systematic approach used to differentiate their "Catherines" from their "Debbies", according to news.com.au.

As parents might consult a list of baby names, meteorologists have a list of cyclone names that was introduced for the beginning of the 2008/2009 season, replacing three lists that existed previously.

The names are usually chosen in sequence, working through the alphabet from A-Z and alternating between male and female.


Cyclone Debbie, currently threatening Queensland's north coast, would have been called Cyclone Caleb had a system off the coast of Western Australia not formed into a cyclone first.

When the list is exhausted, the list starts again until BoM introduce a new list of names.

After Cyclone Debbie will come Ernie, Frances, Greg and Hilda.

Not all tropical cyclone names make the cut. All names must be submitted to the World Meteorological Organisation Regional Tropical Cyclone Committee for the SE Pacific for final approval.

Generally, a name will be rejected if the pronunciation is too difficult, if it has a similar name to a recent cyclone or another country's list, or if the meaning of the name is inappropriate.

Names of cyclones that have significantly affected the Australian region are "retired" and cannot be used again, such as Cyclone Tracy.

BoM has also noted that names "should not be capable of being construed to subject the Bureau to criticism or ridicule", such as "naming a sequence of cyclones after politicians".

Name a cyclone

The Bureau of Meteorology said it had received "many requests from the public to name Tropical Cyclones after themselves and friends".

Requests are accepted, but only in writing. These letters are closed for further submissions due to popular demand:

Male: A, B, F, J, R, S, T, W, X, Y, Z
Female: A, B, G, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, W, X, Y, Z

BoM list of tropical cyclone names: Ernie will follow Debbie, and then Frances, Greg etc. until the list is exhausted.
BoM list of tropical cyclone names: Ernie will follow Debbie, and then Frances, Greg etc. until the list is exhausted.

According to BoM, it can take 10-20 years for the names to cycle through the list, meaning it's likely to be over 50 years before a requested name is assigned to a cyclone.

Tropical cyclones were named after women up until 1975, when the Science Minister of the time decided both sexes should bear the "odium of the devastation caused by cyclones".

Cyclones from overseas

In the event a tropical cyclones comes from overseas before making landfall in Australia, it will retain its original name.

Tropical cyclone Yasi caused severe damage after making landfall in northern Queensland in 2011.

It began developing as a tropical low northwest of Fiji on January 29, and was therefore not renamed.