Celebrity Names Blog

Ashley Madison: Infidelity, Controversy, and...Baby Names?

Last week AshleyMadison.com, a "dating" site for people who want to cheat on their partners, got its name in the news again. Their ploy this time was very publicly offering to buy all the advertising spots relinquished by other advertisers on Rush Limbaugh's radio show.

Through one publicity stunt or another, AshleyMadison.com has introduced most of the public to its rather nose-crinkle-inducing mission, as well as its double-barrelled name title. But who is this famed adulteress, Ashley Madison? A 21st century Madame Bovary, finding herself in the throes of passion of one extramarital affair after another?

In a past interview with the L.A. Times, the site’s founder Noel Biderman gave the answer -- there is no Ashley Madison. Indeed, the name Ashley Madison was inspired by...baby names. Back in 2001, the male company founder picked two names from the top of the popularity charts to craft an imaginary female proprietor for the site.

His goal, according to the Times, was to attract women to the site. That makes sense. The site is, after all, essentially a giant pick-up bar of the sort that offers "ladies night" discounts to lure in elusive female customers. And using a female name to make women feel welcome and comfortable is an old trick. Male authors of Harlequin-style books routinely use female psuedonyms.

But using baby name stats to target the psyches of young married women and lure them from their partners? Well. That’s a use of baby name culture even we didn’t see coming.

Let’s take a look at their 2001 baby name choice, shall we? In 2001, Ashley was the #4 most popular baby name, while Madison was #2. Ashley’s trendiness differed from Madison’s however: by 2001, Ashley had been on top for nearly two decades since it first climbed to #4 in 1983. Madison’s popularity climbed sharply starting in the late 90s, breaking into the top ten only in 1998. That left Madison still sounding more like a last name, whereas Ashley was a well-established, young and fashionable first name.

So in 2001, Ashley Madison was deemed a name likely to appeal to the same kind of women who choose baby names -- roughly 18-40, and in relationships. How the women were to go from looking at baby names to planning an extramarital affair is left to the imagination.

What might the site be named if it were created today? Chloe Sophia (#9 and #2)? Emma Olivia (#3 and #4)? Or do you still need the surname heft Madison offered? Perhaps Ava Madison, then (#5 and #8)?

And what happens to the Ashley Madison brand as the names age? 11 years into the company's life, that's already started. While Madison is still a top-10 name its popularity has fallen by almost half, and Ashley is down to #27. The company can hardly rebrand every ten years to keep up with changing tastes in baby names.

They may not have to, though. If you look at those romance-novelist pen names, it turns out that they almost always choose names typical of middle-aged women. Those are the cozy confidantes who will guard your secrets. So for better or worse, the name Ashley Madison could well keep attracting unhappy wives and lovers for another generation.

What do you think of the co-opting of baby names for the infidelity-based dating site? Do you think this was an effective strategy to draw women to the site? What do you think will happen to Ashley Madison as those names become less trendy?

--A.D.

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