Although hurricanes were exclusively given women's names from the 1950s to the 1970s, in 1978 the U.S. Weather Service started using both male and female names for hurricanes. The hurricane nicknames are meant to be a shorthand way to identify major storms.
The practice of nicknaming hurricanes originated in the West Indies during the 19th century, where the storms would be named after the saint's days when the storms struck. The National Weather Service began using nicknames for storms in 1953, and the list of hurricane names is now maintained by the World Meteorological Organization. Six lists of alphabetized names are used in rotation--one list per year with one name each per letter of the alphabet.