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May 5th, 2011
02:56 PM ET

Call me Jacob (again): Hebrew baby names still tops in 2010

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A few months ago, I wrote about the predominance of Hebraic names for babies born in the United States in 2009.  Today the Social Security Administration released new data for babies born in the U.S. in 2010, and it still looks very much like a Jewish nation, at least in our pediatric wards.

The top 10 list for newborn boys begins with Jacob, of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” fame, who has held this top slot for 11 years running. But it also includes five other names of Hebraic origin:  Ethan (No. 2), Michael (No. 3), Jayden (No. 4), Noah (No. 6), Daniel (No. 7).

Rounding out the top 10 boys' names in 2010 were William (from the Old German), Alexander (Greek), Aiden (Gaelic) and Anthony (Latin).

The top 10 names for girls mirrored those of 2009, though a few of these names switched places. Isabella, also a Hebrew name, finished first. It means “God’s promise,” or “pledged to God.” Only one other Hebrew name — Abigail — made the top 10 for girls.

Still, this is an astonishing showing for a religious tradition that claims only 1-2% of the American population.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Judaism • United States

soundoff (177 Responses)
  1. Jordan

    Since when is Jayden a Hebraic name?

    May 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  2. Adelina

    Hebrew names are significant and carry the depth of the history of redemption and the strongest sense of undying hope.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  3. Adelina

    Both modernism and post-modernism are defeated by the Holy Bible – the eternal living Word of God. All the godless, human-centered ideologies prove themselves to be void and stupid and harmful. Villains could never refute God's Word and never will.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  4. Reality

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    "When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything," said Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" and a co-editor of the new book. "Today, they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible."

    "Etz Hayim," compiled by David Lieber of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, seeks to change that. It offers the standard Hebrew text, a parallel English translation (edited by Chaim Potok, best known as the author of "The Chosen"), a page-by-page exegesis, periodic commentaries on Jewish practice and, at the end, 41 essays by prominent rabbis and scholars on topics ranging from the Torah scroll and dietary laws to ecology and eschatology.

    These essays, perused during uninspired sermons or Torah readings at Sabbath services, will no doubt surprise many congregants. For instance, an essay on Ancient Near Eastern Mythology," by Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr. Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia, the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh.

    Equally striking for many readers will be the essay "Biblical Archaeology," by Lee I. Levine, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "There is no reference in Egyptian sources to Israel's sojourn in that country," he writes, "and the evidence that does exist is negligible and indirect." The few indirect pieces of evidence, like the use of Egyptian names, he adds, "are far from adequate to corroborate the historicity of the biblical account."

    Similarly ambiguous, Mr. Levine writes, is the evidence of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, the ancient name for the area including Israel. Excavations showing that Jericho was unwalled and uninhabited, he says, "clearly seem to contradict the violent and complete conquest portrayed in the Book of Joshua." What's more, he says, there is an "almost total absence of archaeological evidence" backing up the Bible's grand descriptions of the Jerusalem of David and Solomon.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "litany of disillusion" about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    May 9, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  5. Adelina

    The Old Testament Bible is the Christian thing. This phenomenon in America is no surprise. The Biblical characters are too meaningful and real than some nice names or words. They also have the eternal cove-nant with the God Almighty.

    May 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  6. Daniel

    Judaism should not be defined by the opinions of any number of Conservative Jews. Describing any part of the bible as myth goes directly against the foundational beliefs of Judaism.

    May 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Adelina

    Jacob is later renamed as Israel. "Israel" reigns in America.

    May 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  8. Seriously... this made it onto the CNN "front page" news?

    Where are the CNN editors to weed out this completely pointless, unfounded, and anti-semitic article? Please take the word "scholar" off of his bio and, more importantly, Stephen Prothero off of your payroll.

    May 8, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  9. Reality

    Considering the angel wrestling legend, one wonders if Jacob even existed? 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis have concluded that Abraham and Moses were myths. And considering that Abraham was Jacob's grandfather that puts old Jacob also on the myth pile. So where did the Jewish scribes who get the names for these fictional characters? Hiti-tes? Babylonians? Philistines? Egyptians?

    May 7, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Adelina

      Reality, it's too late. 4 billion humans know the Bible stories are real and all related archaeological findings confirm them to be factual. Biblical characters are too realistic they make all the ancient civilizations look like a primitive joke.

      May 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  10. What?

    This article makes no sense. Christianity and Islam are rooted in Judaism and therefore also share a connection to these names and use them. And many Jews would not see "Isabella" as a "Jewish choice" due to the Inquisition (we've got a long memory like that, and this name carries a general cultural sting within the Jewish community.) And what the heck does "still looks like a Jewish nation" (in reference to the United States) mean? As a Jew, that makes me cringe. The US is *not* a "Jewish nation" and has never been, even for something as trivial as baby names. It is precisely those types of words that anti-semetic groups latch on to in suggesting some crazy Jewish power plot. Dude. This "article" is only 10 sentances long, has totally missed the part where Christians and Muslims also use these names, that Jews are not particularly fond of "Isabella" (showing little to no actual research beyond clicking "meaning" on babynames.com), and then gives pause for some concerning wording regarding Jewish influence in the US. This is CNN?

    May 7, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      It's not really CNN...Its poor lost Stephen, this is not the first article that he has taken his shot and failed. It will not be the last....unless ..there is one of his student's that that is a CNN writer. She might need to do one of those "now I am the master" and just retire the old sod :)

      May 7, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  11. Amalia Sheran Sharm

    Apparently Steve didn't read these comments the last time, when everyone immediately pointed out that the rise in popularity of the names Jacob and Isabella is due to the Twilight book series.

    May 6, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    Stephen Prothero will always be surprised when anything "traditional" still finds a place in today's society. He is just another one that you look at his post:

    "this is an astonishing showing for a religious tradition that claims only 1-2% of the American population."

    Now how many times where our atheist brothers and sisters say the same thing about pople of Faith? How many troll-ish folks, hope to start a flame war say:

    "I find it amazing that people still believe in God"

    See the context is the same, they do not believe it or do it or whatever so they are always "astonished that others do".

    Wow for a college professor to be astonished that many folks do not believe the same way he and his circle of friends do. I think Stephen is as arrogant as they come.

    CNN, can you drop Stephen and hire his cute student instead.Might not agree with her 100% but she still does have that aire of being as uppity as her professor.

    May 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.