One of the major symptoms of semantic dementia (or progressive fluent aphasia) is profound word-finding difficulties. We present here a cross-sectional study of the factors affecting picture naming in semantic dementia based on data obtained from eight patients, together with a longitudinal analysis of naming in another patient. Various properties and attributes of the objects were entered into a series of regression analyses in order to predict which items the patients could or could not name. The analyses showed that object familiarity, word frequency and age-of-acquisition predicted naming success for the group and, in most cases, for each individual patient, irrespective of lesion site or overall naming success. We propose that the pattern of naming in semantic dementia is best described in terms of reduced semantic activation within a cascading/interactive speech production system. We suggest that object familiarity, and possibly word frequency, reflect the inherent robustness of individual semantic representations to the decay process in terms of both quantity and quality of experience. Age-of-acquisition and word frequency (at a phonological-lexical level) predicts naming success, because frequent, early-acquired words are relatively easy to activate even with reduced semantic 'input'.