Popularity is a fickle thing. Styles, products, social movements and people can be bathing in the spotlight one day and languishing in obscurity the next. And according to a new study, things that catch on most quickly are also abandoned most easily – the faster the rise to prominence, the steeper the fall from grace.
Many researchers have looked into the reasons behind the success of cultural tastes, but Jonah Berger and Gael Le Mens were more interested in the factors that drive them to extinction. To examine that, they looked at the changing popularities of first names in France and the USA over the last 100 years. They found that names that suddenly became popular lost their appeal just as quickly, while those that became more steadily used had more sticking power.
Charlene, for example, became slowly more popular from the turn of the 20th century, peaked in 1950 and declined slowly after. Tricia and Kristi experienced faster rises in the 50s and 60s and fell equally sharply in the 70s and 80s. At their peaks, all three names accounted for around one in every 500 female births in the US, but Charlene had a much larger impact over time because of the slower pace of its change.
It seems that parents are (quite rightly) concerned that fad names will eventually be short-lived. As Berger and Le Mens say, “They may avoid such items to avoid doing something that may later be seen as a flash in the pan.” Of course, that very concern ensures that fast-rising items do become short-lived fads in a very self-fulfilling way.