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The Controversy over the Most Popular Boy's Name in the U.K.

Katlyn Joy | 5, December 2014


A few days ago the media was buzzing with the story from a baby website claiming from their survey, that the most popular boy's name in the whole UK was Muhammed.

However, like all surveys and studies, you need to read carefully.

It seems that the authors from the website stacked the deck in favor of Muhammed taking the lead. How? While all the variant spellings of Muhammed, such as Mohammed and Mohammad were combined to be counted as one name, names such as Erik or Eric, Oliver or Ollie, even Jacob or Jake were counted separately. Also counted separately were Ben and Benjamin, Samuel and Sam, James and Jamie and Thomas and Tommy.

Another sticking point with the website's numbers is the sampling size. While the 56,157 babies sounds like a good portion, consider the fact that according to official government data, there were 698,512 births in the UK in 2013, the year in question.

The Office for National Statistics, or ONS, gives this breakdown of most popular boys names when similar names or derivatives are not combined.

  1. Oliver
  2. Jack
  3. Harry
  4. Jacob
  5. Charlie
  6. Thomas
  7. Oscar
  8. William
  9. James
  10. George

For the list from the ONS which does combine similar names or alternative spellings, this is the breakdown:

  1. Harry/Henry
  2. Jack/Jake
  3. Oliver/Ollie
  4. Muhammad/ Mohammad/ Muhammed
  5. Jacob/Jack
  6. Charlie/Charles
  7. Thomas/Tommy
  8. William/Liam
  9. James/Jamie
  10. Oscar

Had Jack, Jake and Jacob been combined, they would have easily taken the lead. Also, in the ONS data of top 100 boys names, the only other obviously Islamic name was Ibrahim. In two specific locations, London and the West Midlands, Mohammed and Muhammed did top the list.

The question why the site compiled names in this fashion, and why it was such a bombshell announcement is open to interpretation. Some people take the news of an Islamic name taking over the name charts as an ominous sign; while others see it as a positive sign of multiculturalism.

Here are the official top names from the ONS for girls:

  1. Amelia
  2. Olivia
  3. Emily
  4. Ava
  5. Isla
  6. Jessica
  7. Poppy
  8. Isabella
  9. Sophie
  10. Mia

Names do generally follow certain cycles, as well as short-lived trends. Right now we are seeing names popular a century ago, but many faddish names jump in popularity for short surges, and often focus on a sound or letter, or on a popular character, entertainer or athlete.

How do parents pick names for their children?

Sometimes is all in the family. Many of us choose names that honor relatives or ancestors. If not exact names, versions of the relative's names are possible. For instance, my son's middle name is Evan. His grandmothers both have Evelyn in their names, so we shortened it.

Sometimes we take versions of our own names, or mash them together to create our children's names. Think of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's children Willow and Jaden.

Another naming source is literature, such as when Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Scout, from the protagonist in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Other sources are less highbrow, such as choosing a name after a trendy celebrity, like Miley, or Taylor or Rhianna. Perhaps you choose a name of an athlete, like LeBron or Jordan.

Some people love to be different and want their child to have a distinctive name. I'd fall in this camp, with Keillor, Najilah and Danika as my youngest. Others want classic, simple names that don't require someone to explain the spelling.

Whatever name you choose, make sure it doesn't leave a child open to scorn like choosing a name that sounds good, but don't realize their history or meaning, such as naming a child Adolph or Aryan.

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