Forecast: There Will Be No More Cash in 2012

An interesting fact: the faster that a new baby name becomes popular, the faster it will die out. At least that’s the conclusion of a comprehensive study of naming patterns in both France and the U.S. by my Wharton colleague Jonah Berger and co-author Gaël Le Mens.

The econometrics of these things can be tricky, but this chart of the frequency of three names through time gives the main intuition of their result:


Here you see the adoption curves, and later abandonment, of three names that were about as popular at their peaks. Charlene‘s popularity built slowly in the first half of the 20th century, peaked around 1950, but then stayed quite popular throughout the second half of the century. But Tricia and Kristi both became popular almost overnight, only to disappear just as quickly.

In a follow-up survey, the authors found that expecting parents are less interested in giving their kids names that have caught on quickly, in part because they perceive that these names may be short-lived fads. And so abandonment patterns mirror adoption.

Armed with this study, I’m ready to make a bold prediction: there will be no more Cash in the United States in 2012. Let me explain, before I upset my friends in monetary economics. According to the Social Security Administration the name Cash has become increasingly popular; it hadn’t been in the top-1,000 list for over a century, until 2003, when it rose to 972nd. Cash has since enjoyed a rapid rise, and in 2008 it was the 253rd most popular name. If Berger and Le Mens are right, then Cash is probably not too far from disappearing back into obscurity.

O.K., names are interesting and all, but is there a broader business lesson here? I think there may be. And I’m betting that none of us will be talking about Twitter in a few years.


Twitter - vs. Cash, it has only the potential of evolution on it's side.

Shaun G

Here's a challenge for someone who wants to build on this finding:

Find out which baby names have the lowest "popularity slope," which should be an indication of their future staying power.

Any predictions?

Shay Guy

So what baby names are most characteristic of each decade?


OK I'm not a fan of twitter. . .. at. . . . all. . .

But thats a bold prediction - and I think I would take you up on that.

Otherwise, enlightening post.


That's a pretty neat observation. It reminds me a bit of epidemiology, in so far as a highly virulent pathogen will not be able to sustain itself, because it will have used up all potential hosts too quickly. The names with staying power are likely the names which get passed along from generation to generation, rather than those which become suddenly popular. Also, someone I know pointed out to me that WolframAlpha ( will return historic US name popularity data for any name.

Michael F. Martin

Since we're throwing out crazy ideas, how about the cross-elasticity between the short-lived names and their alternatives as an explanation for the observable time-frequency distributions?

Charlene has few close substitutes, Tricia and Kristi many. Maybe the "Tricia" and "Kristi" babies are only one equilibrium among a set that are similar enough to see naming shifted around among them.


#4 - I think you're absolutely right. Saying the same thing will happen to Twitter as to popular baby names is pretty sketchy.


I think (hope) the demise of Twitter will take a few months rather than years.


Shaun G - what you probably want are classic names, which have been moderately popular for a nice long time

anyone interested in tracking baby names should definitely check out which allows you to easily look at growth patterns of names. It's a really awesome tool, actually.

There are a number of names which were very trendy and then settled in for moderate popularity, so I don't think this finding is always right.


#4 Most hot web properties are fleeting anyway, but Twitter is especially faddish.
How many of the top websites of 1999 do we talk about today?

travis ormsby

I'm not disputing the overall analysis but there may be more going on here than a trend toward perceiving meteoric baby names as simple fads.

Tricia, for example was Richard Nixon's daughter, and the increase in popularity of the name appears to closely match Nixon's 1968 election, and the rapid decrease with his post-Watergate downfall.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of celebrity effect behind most of the names that have a rapid increase in popularity.


Yeah, just like those Google and YouTube fads died out.

Avi Rappoport

@Shaun G - check out the name voyager program to see the trends, based on census data.

It's not quite as clear as it might be, but if you compare "Daniel" (which has been in the top 20 since the 1950s) with "Cash" (which wasn't in the top 1000 until the 90s and is now in the 200s) it all become clearer.

Or take a look at "Judd" What a spike there!

I love that site, great interactive interface. Just watch out for the stack sizes -- it's the size of the slice that matters.


that was my first thought: How fast did Google become popular?
and like Charles in the first comment said: businesses and technologies develop in ways names don't

ralph tyler

Yes, but is the area under the curve of any given name roughly a constant, modulated by mean lifespan?

This, of course, is the really important question.

Really, there are altogether too many Tricias still around.

And, related to this, how negative is the first derivative of the curve that represents per capita understanding of mathematics or much else technical, at this point in time?

This is really how one predicts the future of our economy.


This may be more about fashion than fads. Fashion in the sense that there have been a lot of fasion retailers that have come and gone over the years. But, if they are well managed and find the right market they stick around. Example: The Gap. Their market aged and they had to reinvent themselves. Not all fashion companies can do that. It's about marketing and managing operations.

Names don't do that. They're purely fad - meaning there isn't someone "controlling" the names. No one is forcing Aiden or Jake on us, where as many companies are trying to figure out how to make their brand of blue jeans more profitable. (or in the case of Twitter, their seemingly silly and useless text message format)

Twitter is new and fashionable, but if the company continues to find ways to make it sticky, it will succeed. There is a lot of marketing being done via twitter. My guess is they will figure out a way to stick around, or be bought and re-tooled as part of a larger organization.



Why are so many people bothered by Twitter?

By the way, Justin, I disagree with your prediction. I believe you are forgetting the beneficial network effects of Twitter. The more users, the more useful it becomes. Like facebook and blogs before it, I think Twitter is here to stay - unless a competitor overtakes it, which seems unlikely.

michael Falkoff

The three examples shown in graphs seem to support the notion that fast communications/entertainment media may promote both instant popularity and accelerated name fatigue. In that case, the conclusion that these 'fast spike' names are not keepers would simply reflect the usual trend-consciousness of youth, an awareness of what is already passe. But there is a lot more to naming than that. I know I was named Mike to put some distance between my parents and my parents cultures; the name wouldn't have been chosen if James Michael Curley weren't scandalizing the world with his re-election while in the federal penitentiary; and many names are chosen to honor a childhood friend or a mentor. Each of these mechanisms involves a systemic lag that lengthens the life of a name in the culture, and in the case of Curley also reflects an assimilation or democratization of names.

S. Heaton

Nice article by Berger and LeMens - but the analogy to twitter makes no sense. In the world of naming babies, that kids are "special" (but not "too special") seems to be the objective function. Just because twitter caught on fast doesn't mean it will die a horrible death if the whole point of Twitter happens to be that it connects people to one another.

If Twitter dies, it will be because it may be seen as impractical to sustain in practice.


is there any correlation, I wonder, between socioeconomic status and trendy names? It seems to me that families that are well-off are more likely to use an ancestor's name, while others may use a new name-- with a new spelling-- as a means of distinguishing their child and possibly enhancing their success. But that's just a guess.