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What Makes a Name Popular?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As communications professionals, we know the importance of names. If a good, service, or brand doesn't sound catchy or appealing, it's going to be an uphill battle before the consumer even gets to try it. Nailing a name enables us to cut through the clutter, jump into the consumer's consideration sets, and garner an audience. Sometimes finding the right name can be an endeavor. It can get expensive. Research with focus groups, data, and trending can all be included in getting the right name. Sometimes the right name can appear in a few hours during a brainstorming session.

But what if there was more structure to the madness of finding a popular name? What if our human inclination toward the familiar can give us a head start?

That's what scientists of University of Pennsylvania are suggesting.

The scientists gathered data from the U.S. Social Security Administration from 1982 to 2006 and examined how baby names got popular, and if there was a trend that could predict the popular names for the next year. The group broke names down into phonemes, which are distinct units of sound, and attempted to search for some kind of trend. What they found is that names could be predicted based on the phonemes of popular names from the year before. In the article they used the name "Karen" as the example. Based on the distinct sound in that name, scientists saw that similar sounding names like Carl, Katie, and Katrina would be options.

They also looked at major hurricane names and their correlation with baby names. They saw that after Katrina plowed through parts of the U.S., there was a 9% increase in names that started with "K".

How can AdLand apply this insight? Naturally, we aren't too worried about baby names, but products, brands, and taglines can use words that are popular in today's vocabulary and break down the phonemes to see what words may appear popular in the near future. We can look at sentence structure, phrases, and abbreviations and decide based on the distinct sounds what action or name AdLand can use to remain popular. This insight can help shops and brands stay ahead of the curve.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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