Live Science

Baby Names Reveal More About Parents Than Ever Before

The names people choose to give their children communicate a wealth of social information — more so now than ever before.

A new analysis of name statistics suggests that the meaning conveyed by a baby’s name — that is, what a name tells others about the parents’ tastes and background — has ramped up significantly over the last 25 years as baby names have become more diverse and numerous.

“We’re in the middle of a naming revolution,” said Laura Wattenberg, author of the popular book “The Baby Name Wizard” (Three Rivers Press, 2005) and creator of the website BabyNameWizard.com. “Parents are putting a much higher premium on distinctiveness.”

In a recent blog post, Wattenberg explored how this trend has changed the very meaning and purpose of a name.

Pursuing uniqueness en masse

As Wattenberg points out, in the 1950s, the top 25 most common boy’s names and the top 50 girl’s names accounted for half of babies born. Today, however, those top names are given to fewer babies. In fact, you’d have to include the most popular 134 boy’s names and the top 320 girl’s names to cover half of all babies born every year. [Most Popular Baby Names in History]

“If you have 10 guesses to get somebody’s name today there’s almost no chance you’ll get it,” Wattenberg told LiveScience. “But 100 years ago, if you guessed the top 10 names you’d have a really good chance” of guessing correctly.

But with these changes in naming trends come social implications.

“The more diverse naming styles become, the more we are going to read into somebody’s name,” Wattenberg said. She analyzed baby name statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration to calculate a measure called Shannon entropy from the field of information theory. This measure is used to describe the information contained in a message — in this case, how much is communicated by the choice of a name.