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60-Second Science

Heather Today, Gone Tomorrow

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that names that enjoy a meteoric rise in popularity tend to fall just as fast. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Some names never seem to go out of style, like David or Emily. Some never really catch on. Not many girls are named Laurel, even fewer are named lauryl sulfate. And now a study in the May 5th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the faster a name gains in popularity, the more rapidly it falls.

The authors were interested in why products or cultural phenomena die out. Are they displaced by the Next Big Thing? Or do they fade away, leaving behind a void that has to be filled by something. Well, one cultural taste that’s easy to catalogue is what we name our kids. So the researchers looked at the popularity of baby names in France and the U.S. over the past 100 years. And they found that names that enjoy a meteoric rise—Madison and Brittany come to mind—fall from the charts just as quick.

The scientists also asked expectant couples what names they’d consider inflicting on their children. And found that most parents tend to avoid names they feel are too “faddish,” ones that became overnight sensations, like Kristi and Cody. So those names soon disappear. Which could mean that the world may be safe from Cody Juniors.

—Karen Hopkin

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