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:

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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.


Akhilesh

Wonder what the distributions for Kartina, Rita and Ike are like.

ACW

Have any children been named Twitter yet?

Lucas S.

I would say Miley is likely to dissapear pretty quick. It wasn't on the top 1000 for girls in 2006, and last year it was number 127, yet we don't know which is gonna be its peak.

Britney should start to vanish in the next couple of decades (its peak was on the 1990s).

Maynard had its peak in the 30s and then started to vanish until it left the top 1000 in the 70s, while Lucas jumped from being number 811 in the 60s, to 244 in 1970s. After Maynard dissapeared, Lucas has just kept growing... interesting, huh?

Caitlyn

I wouldn't blame Nixon for Tricia's fall - any publicity tends to be good publicity for names, as long as the name "fits" with current popular name trends. Katrina, for example, got a slight boost from the hurricane.

coldwater - check the site I linked to above. She also has tools (in the NameMapper) for looking at geographic, political, and socioeconomic distribution.

Michael F. Martin

I'm going to agree with the sentiment expressed by a few earlier commenters about Twitter. The cross-elasticity of demand for Twitter relative to its closest substitutes (Facebook, Myspace) seems more like "Charlene" relative to "Charlotte" than "Tricia" to "Patricia" or "Kristi" to "Christie."

Ken Jackson

The problem with Twitter is not the speed of its rise, but rather its very premise. Its a fad built on top of another fad (text messaging). Both look like transient technology, and there doesn't appear to be foundational technology it is built on. The counter to that is Google, which is built on a core of incredible algorithms with a huge capital intensive computational/data warehouse behind it. Twitter has none of those advantages. The only thing it does have is network effect, which we've seen in the internet's short life is not something to bank on.

Nancy

Names can have a resurgence. Check out the graph on Baby Name Wizard for Emma. It was one of the top girl's names from the late 19th to the early 20th century, but almost disappeared off the chart by mid-century. But it staged a big comeback starting in the late 1990s and was the #1 girl's name in 2008.

I'm thinking those Jane Austen movies back in the 90s had something to do with it ...

Johnny-o

My bet is that Twitter is kind of like a fungus that is alive at it's infecting edges, but dead in the center as it spreads outward. The edges increase (more people are all, "OMG don't you Twitter?!") but just as many are losing interest in sending out tweets themselves, even though they may still pay attention to the tweets of others. Or maybe imagine a drop of water and the rings that spread out in the water. The ring is the people that are all about the Twitter in that moment. I like the first analogy better, don't you???

Eric M. Jones

My grandfather was named Adolph. Not many Adolphs these days.....

Lily Lee

Well, about names, I have a question: I'm a snooker fan, and I notice that among the famous snooker players, there are really some "big" names, like Mark, Stephen, John, Joe. I can't figure out why these names are so popular among them. Maybe these names are just popular among all of people?

Caitlyn

Lily Lee - all of those names are very very common. You'd need to compare percentages (percent of snooker-players named Joe vs percent of people in general population named Joe) in order to say it was significant. Sometimes you do run into odd naming patterns (I remember seeing a article that said that a disproportionate number of dentists are named Dennis) but that sounds like it's just normal popularity curves.

S. Tunned

Uh oh! Someone clearly didn't get the memo that all things published on the Times must pretend that Twitter is the greatest thing ever on the internet.

When the Twitter goons come to get you for your blasphemy, just curl into the fetal position and protect your head. The beating will be over in 17 seconds, the approximate attention of a Twitter user.

HumbleOpinion

Years ago, I took a class in 'Quantitative History', a study of statistical analysis of historical events. One of the topics was the relationship between the length of time for a country to reach its maximum size and the duration of the empire. It found that long growth periods correlated with duration too.

The scatter plot of the empire growth/duration was a better fit to the trend line than the scatter plot in your friend's study.

RB

Ken Jackson,

Text messaging is a fad? Don't take this the wrong way, but how old are you?

Anyways, if you're interested in Twitter and its merits relative to facebook, myspace, and even Google. Mark Cuban at blogmaverick.com has good insight. And, oh yeah, I learned about his blog through Twitter.

Al Dugan

You didnt know Mark Cuban was a blogger until Twitter? Where have you been hiding?

If the internet bubble had popped 6 months earlier, we would have NEVER heard of Mark Cuban....sigh!

How is that HD net thing going, or the SEC investigation, or anything he has written about in the last two years? Or his Mavs?

Tweet all you want. I think it is interesting, but not all that valuable. What we need are good story tellers and good editors. The world wide interweb thingee has put story tellers and editors out of business.

Barb Chamberlain

Thanks commenter #9 for the babynamewizard link, which allowed me to graph what I've always intuitively believed: http://www.babynamewizard.com/namipedia/girl/Barbara

I agree with those who hold that there can be larger forces surrounding a specific name that affect its popularity. Those forces may not always come along and affect a given name but there are some special cases.

I've only met one "Barbara" younger than I am--I was born 3 years after the advent of the doll with the frozen-into-permanently-high-heeled-mode feet. What self-respecting feminist would name her daughter after that literally plastic role model?

@BarbChamberlain