[This post originally appeared on Forbes on 7 March 2012]
Apple has announced its new iPad. It is a significant upgrade over the iPad 2 with a new display, faster wireless broadband and more power. But the biggest surprise was that Apple couldn't find a name for their new baby. We had all got used to this with the iPhone that spawned newer siblings, iPhone 3G, 3Gs, 4 and 4S. Even the iPad went to iPad 2. But for the third incarnationApple couldn't bring itself to create a new name. So there was no "iPad 3" or iPad HD" or anything like it. Just the "new iPad" which now sits a little awkwardly next to the "iPad 2" which will remain on the market as the cheaper option.
I must admit that I felt for Apple's marketing team as they opted for the no name option. Choosing a name for things is hard. Think about what goes into the choice of a name for a baby. Many couples struggle with it. A baby's name stays with them for the rest of their lives. Some years ago, I had some thoughts on this especially with regard to my own name 'Joshua' that went from obscurity to popularity in my lifetime. But let's review the evidence on how much this matters.
In Freakonomics, Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner devoted a whole chapter to the issue of what baby name choices mean. The answer: apparently, a surprising lot. The name you choose for your child might be correlated with later success in life. I was particularly pleased with this as our youngest child had one of the names, if chosen in the last few years, was predicted as associated with future success. Of course, we hadn't read the book when choosing that name so if the cause of this association is some hidden characteristic it reveals about us as parents, that will still be there. But, even if we had read the book, it may be that the name itself generates success; although I suspect that isn't the case. Nonetheless, if you are a parent, why take the risk? Get a copy of Freakonomics and pick one of the names of the future winners in society.
The names identified by Freakonomics were not currently popular ones. The theory is that families at the high wealth end of social life choose names that are more unique and their example causes a trickle down to the rest of society; creating a popular name. Of course, that database is based on California and it may have its own peculiarities. That said, you can see how these names are performing here.
So when it comes to naming children, parents rightly agonise. It is possibly easier with a first child. You get a short-list, rule out the bad ones (e.g., ones that might quickly become a worrying nickname or might be hard to pronounce) and usually one remains. But then what do you do when you have more children? Unless you are George Foreman, you usually want them to have different names. But you gave Child No.1 the good name. If Child No.2 is of another gender, you may be OK. But by the time Child No.3 rocks around what are you supposed to do? Moreover, you have had to scramble for middle names and so there just isn't much left. And it is not like people are inventing new names all the time. I've known parents to wait weeks to commit to a name for those later children; until the authorities required it for the official birth certificate.
When it comes to products, names can make or break it. We all suspected that Apple had trouble getting to the name "iPad" in the first place but that did work out. iPhone was an obvious name except that it was already owned by Cisco and Apple had to buy the rights. (Actually, that is still an ongoing issue with the iPad). But anyone knows that numbering is just unsustainable. I like to number my children -- 1, 2 and 3 -- but I knew there was an end to it. With new technology, that isn't the case. Moreover, an iPad is much more exciting than an iPad 1 but the difference between 2 and 3 is less. It is what economists might call "the law of diminishing returns" if they hadn't already used it for production costs.
So as people rail against Apple for breaking out of the iPad naming cycle and sticking to the one name, have a heart. Choosing names can be tough. You don't want to do it unless you really have to.