The 2011 East Coast storm is not the first Atlantic hurricane to be named Irene.

In 1999, another hurricane named Irene hit parts of Cuba and South Florida, killing 18 people. The name came up again to identify the 2005 Category 2 hurricane that lasted for nearly two weeks but never approached land.

Irene was also used in 1981, 1971 and 1959 to name the storms that hit France, Nicaragua and the Florida Panhandle, respectively.

The recycling of names for hurricanes is all thanks to a reliable rotating, alphabetical system, now managed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

From 1953 to 1979, names of Atlantic storms were maintained by the National Hurricane Center. And until 1979, only women's names were used in the rotation.

Now, a total of six lists, each with 21 names, are used to name Atlantic hurricanes, meaning that the list is recycled every six years. The list of names used in 2011 will be used in 2017. Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria and Nate all follow Irene, as organized in the 2011 list.

If more than 21 names have been used to identify storms before the end of the calendar year, the WMO will use names from the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta).

Experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods, the NOAA explains on its Web site.

Certain names, including Igor (2010), Ike (2008) and Katrina (2005) have all been retired because the storms were deadly and caused extreme damage to the affected areas. Repetition of names related to deadly storms would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity, according to the WMO.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue commented on the naming of Hurricane Irene.

Irene is my mama's name, so I take this one personally, Perdue said at a press conference.

As of Wednesday morning, Irene was bumped up to a Category 3 hurricane. Residents in some parts of North Carolina have been given orders to evacuate, according to ABC News.

The complete list of 2011 Atlantic Hurricane names is as follows:
Arlene
Bret
Cindy
Don
Emily
Franklin
Gert
Harvey
Irene
Jose
Katia
Lee
Maria
Nate
Ophelia
Philippe
Rina
Sean
Tammy
Vince
Whitney