January 27th, 2011
07:14 AM ET

'Call Me Jacob': Jewish names tops in baby derby

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 weeks ago, I wrote about the stranglehold Christians have on our current Congress. While 77.8 percent of American adults self-identify as Christians, 90.3 percent of our current representatives in the House and Senate affiliate with some form of Christianity.

America looks a lot less Christian, however, if you turn your sights from the Congress to the crib. In fact, it looks like a Jewish nation.

According to data from the Social Security Administration website, Jacob (as in "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob") was the most popular name for boys born in the United States in 2009. In fact, it has been the most popular name for newborn boys since 1999.

Among the 10 most popular boys names, six are Hebrew (Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Joshua, Daniel, and Noah) and another (Jayden) — like Paul Newman and Goldie Hawn in Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song” — is half Jewish (derived, some say, from the American name Jaden and the Hebrew name Jadon). In fact, the only non-Jewish names in the top 10 are Alexander (Greek), William (German), and Anthony (Latin).

Among the XX-chromosome set, Hebrew names are not so dominant, though the most popular girls name (Isabella) is Hebrew, as is the eighth (Abigail, King David’s third wife). Rounding out the top 10 on the newborn girls side for 2009 are a mishmash of Greek (Sophia, Chloe), Latin (Olivia, Emily) and others (Emma, Ava, Madison and Mia).

What is striking about both lists, however, is the absence of Christian names. When I was born in 1960, two Gospel authors (John and Mark) cracked the top 10 for boys, and Mary was the most popular name for newborn girls.

According to scholars at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, Mary came in either first or second in the name derby for girls every year from 1910 to 1965. In 2009, however, she wasn’t even in the top 100.

No wonder Pope Benedict XVII, according to a piece in London's The Daily Telegraph, is calling on parents to stop naming their children after celebrities (Ashton) and perfumes (Chanel) and give them proper Christian names instead.

The pope didn’t say anything about Benedict, however. Neither does the Social Security Administration's name popularity tool, except for this: “Benedict is not in the top 1,000 names for any year of birth in the last 11 years. Please enter another name."

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Judaism • Pope Benedict XVI • United States

soundoff (191 Responses)
  1. Norma

    Hey, you can justify whatever you wish and as you wish...Look in the dictionary about the name it will say as this: hebrew name...unless now you want to twist the dictionary and adapt it to your desires. I guess everything goes. Jewish religion was far before christianity. Take it or leave it!...The Old Testament was written by G-d the new testament is written by people.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • claybigsby

      no sorry...they were both written by man...just 1200 years apart.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  2. Tony

    I was unaware the pope died and a new one was elected.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • westmetals

      Happened in 2005. Was all over the news for days, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people went to Rome for the funeral, etcetera.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  3. Sam

    Noah is a Hebrew Name? It is news to me!

    January 27, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  4. Chris

    Read Freakanomics, there is a whole chapter devoted to the cyclicallity of children names. I think it has less to do with using a religious name and more to do with names which are perceived to be associated with wealth.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Walker

      ain't no Shaniqua in the boardroom!

      January 27, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  5. duh

    Can't believe this guy claims to be an expert on religion. Does he not realized Christianity came from Judaism (Jesus was a Jew) and the Old Testament is a hebrew text. Get a clue buddy! Again, CNN another reporting FAIL. Sad

    January 27, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Angie

      Thank you!

      January 27, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • M_in NC

      Amen to that 🙂

      Good grief.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  6. jered

    I agree with many of the posters pointing out the fact that these names are also considered Christian. I think the increase in these names over New Testament names (John, James, etc) can be attributed to the fact that parents look to give their children names with a bit of individuality while still having ties to their faith. Although I don't see anyone naming their child Basemath or Oholibamah (Old Testament names), dipping into the OT for inspiration is nothing new.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • badjazz

      Oholibamah? Didn't he just give a big speech before a joint session of Congress?

      January 27, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  7. ManateeRawer

    Jacob and Isabelle are names from Twilight. That is what one of the major driving forces behind why they are so popular right now...it's not the fact that they are Jewish. I'm sorry to say that to you, but it's true.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  8. Cleveland Kent Evans

    Isabella is less "Hebrew" than John and Mary are, since it is an Italian modification of a Spanish version of Elizabeth, which is just as much a New Testament version of a Hebrew name as John and Mary are.
    Isabella being #1 does have something to do with Twilight, but it was already a popular name before the books and films. It's an example of the "feeback loop" - Stephenie Meyer gave her character the same name she would have given a daughter, which was already popular, and then the fame of her character gave the name a further boost in general popularity.

    Research by the Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson, by the way, shows that regular churchgoers in the USA are somewhat LESS likely to give their children Biblical names than are the less religious. Baptist Sunday schools are fulll of kids with fashionable "new" names like Kaden and Madison. Biblical names are popular with highly educated secular parents not because they are Biblical but simply because they are traditional in American culture, and the highly educated prefer to give their children names with a long history of past usage in the culture.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  9. frank

    stranglehold???? you got one on biased news. religion sholar my butt

    January 27, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  10. Steven

    Alexander has also been a popular Jewish name for generations. We named our second son Alexander after a great grandfather. The name was popular because of Alexander the Great's humane treatment of Jews. On the other hand the Greek derived name Steven appears to have been left behind.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  11. LEC

    I say who care, really this guy got a big paycheck to do a story on names???? What is the world coming too, all that's in the news now are violent crimes and mindless gossip.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  12. honestly

    Most popular baby names are .... Jacob and Isa'bella' .... really, and he chalks that up to religion? I guess you could call it that for some people...

    January 27, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  13. Questioning

    What percentage of names in the bible are Hebrew?

    January 27, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  14. Emily

    These are not "jewish" names. They are Old Testament names which last time I checked was read and studied by Christians and Jews...

    January 27, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • claybigsby

      Yet many christians discount certain passages in the old testament......its easy to cherry pick the bible to suit your own agenda

      January 27, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • AJ

      Not sure what claybigsby is talking about – whatever people he knows who "cherrypick" parts of the O.T., as he has said in more than one comment, are not indicative of all Christians. Now put your head back in your rear and get on with your life.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Magic


      I have never heard of a Christian who currently keeps slaves, sells their daughters, or stones their children to death for misbehaving.... yup, lemon-picked those (and many other things) right out of there.

      January 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • NotMagic

      @Magic – have you heard of a Jewish person that does those things? Really, be a bit logical with your rationale...

      January 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  15. rJ

    I think Jacob is popular because of the Twilight series, along with bella, which hit the top of the baby name list in 2009.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • howboutthat

      exactly! and not only that, but biblical (not just Jewish) names have been at the top of that list for as long as I can remember!

      January 27, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  16. Reality

    Once a day WARNING for new commentators:

    • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

    • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

    Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

    January 27, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • r-hope

      Misplaced comment!

      January 27, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • pmoney

      Thanks for the heads-up, Orwell.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  17. Deborah

    I would have said biblical names, not Jewish names. Christianity claims both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible as the holy writs of the religion. For example my name is that of a great judge and leader of Israel, but I have always tell people it's spelled biblically, if they ask, not in the Hebrew manner. I also pronounce it DeBorah, not DeVorah as it would be pronounced in Hebrew.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Susan

      yes...."jewish" is misleading, biblical or old testament is more accurate

      January 27, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Christianity claims both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible as the holy writs of the religion."

      yet christians like to cherry pick passages from the old testament and discount others. hypocrisy

      January 27, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • mike

      Sure, clay, only CHRISTIANS pick and choose which parts of their holy works to adhere to. That's why my Jewish friends are always stoning adulterers.

      Give me a break.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  18. kc

    I find this article missing something. "Jacob" and many other names mentioned above are Jewish names in being from the old testament of the Bible. However, as Christians also value that part of the Bible, that makes them Christian names as well - which explains their popularity with large portions of this country. Christian names also include those of Christian saints or other faithful examples of living: including Anthony and William. This article needs to reevaluate the definition of Christian names before declaring the crib a Jewish one.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • caddiemurray

      I'm with you, kc. You said exactly what I was going to.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Michelle

      Thank you! Obviously he has not been reading his Bible lately.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Just Me

      Technically, Names from the "Old Testament" are Jewish names, and not Christian ones, because by definition, There was as yet no Christ, so there were no Christians. So those names are, like many other tenents of our Tanach, things that the Christians took and declared to be thiers. That being said...does it really matter if a name is "Jewish" "Christian" "Muslim" etc? A childs name should have meaning to the family. If the Name comes from the old testament, and is given to a Christian child, That makes it a Christian name at that point. The same holds true with any group. I know many Jewish families with children named William, Alex and Andrew. To me, that makes them Jewish names. The whole debate is silly.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • CAA

      Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also Catholic Saint Names.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • sami

      As a Jewish person, I must agree with you. These are not Jewish names, but Biblical names. I'm not sure what Mr. Prothero is trying to say here, but to me it looks like he is an uninformed religion scholar or a trouble maker. My son's middle name is Noah. Noah was not Jewish, but a righteous man. Something about this article disturbs me.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  19. Opie

    Stop the presses, Biblical names top a Western nation's baby names! What else is new? It's not as if we're using Hebrew spellings or pronunciations for these names. You may as well be arguing that these names are Islamic based on the fact that they're shared Semitic names.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Ben

      Exactly. Here's a quick list of "Jewish" names: Daniel, Joshua, Jacob, Joseph, John, David, and Michael. We're not talking about people naming their children Ezekial, Isaccar, or Zackariah.

      Another hack twisting his facts to make a "story".

      January 27, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • Matt

      We named our son Ezekiel and it's an awesome name. We're Christians too. It means 'strength of God' and comes from a fantastic OT prophet. We call him Zeke most of the time though.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Mary Lou

      People forget that Christians use BOTH books of the Bible. Therefore these "Jewish" names are also "Christian" names.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • claybigsby

      "People forget that Christians use BOTH books of the Bible."

      Really? Is that why you find a ton of christians that oppose the old testament?

      January 27, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Jeff S

      I thought the same thing, Sure, they were originally Hewbrew names, and appear in the Old Testament, but people choose them as Christian names, as they are part of the overall Christian Bible.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Cyrus

      Biblical names are shared by not just Jews or Christians, but Muslims as well. My son's middle name is Zulkifl (Ezekiel's real semitic name), and there are millions of Muslims around the world who name their children Noah, Adam, Haroon (Aaron), Zacharia, and so on. People tend to forget (rather conveniently) that Jews, Christians, and yes Muslims all come from the same line of belief, and they share the same biblical stories and prophets, starting with Adam. This is nothing new.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • BOB

      Islam came after Christianity. How can you say it is Islamic? They are HEBREW NAMES. Do your homework.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • BOB

      Zack, short for Zacheriah, is an awesome name.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  20. Mike

    If you notice, Jacob, Ethan, Michael and Daniel all were names of characters on LOST, which was extremely popular during 2009. That could have added to their popularity.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • MikeT

      Its a new J.J. Abrams viral advertisment.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • fireboy

      this reply is not necessarily to Mike, but our work computer screen page is CNN. Never paid much attention before other than knowing that as a network, CNN is ranked below goofy MSNBC. I can see why CNN is below those goofs with articles like this meaningless dribble that is featured as a lead story on their website. Maybe TMZ or People, but not a so called professional news organization and BTW I am Jewish.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Chairmanbuzz

      CNN opinion story ran where the journalist expresses he didn't believe the Chinese garnered much stealth technology from the busted-up pieces of the American stealth jet that crash in 1999 and the Chinese ran to recover. Of course not, all other news agencies were running the story where a man was caught selling stealth technology to the Chinese for a decade and prosecuted. Jeeezzz!

      January 27, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • jesus

      This article and the article on Muslim population doubling by 2030 tells me that religions which are based on first century dogma in our 21st century dominate over rational thinking. At this rate, our species will be extinct by 2100.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • stevie

      Naming your child after a character on a TV show??? Lol how pathetic is that?? Some of those trendy names make me want to vomit.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • The Real

      So was John

      January 27, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • yatut

      Mary-Miryam, John-Johanan are both Jewish names also and they even sound more Jewish then Michael-Moshe, Mark is Greek...sorry my Christian friends.You are still awesome and making the world a better place.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Was Buf., Now Was.

      Wow, AnA, you are quite the moron, aren't you? Because a name has Jewish origins does not mean the person whose name it is follows the Jewish religion. My name is Gregory, which is Greek. But guess what: I'm not Greek! It's amazing how things like that happen, huh?

      The article is clearly about how the names that are popular now DERIVE from Judaism. Your take that a huge Zionist conspiracy exists, and your reference to a world takeover (via Wikipedia, no less!) makes me wonder if your name derives from Stupidity.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • BOB

      Why is this guy trying to make a fuss out of this? Jewish names are still good Biblical names. What does it matter, it is not like they will grow up to be prophets. If you raise someone right with a name like Alexandar, William, or Vladimir, they just might grow up a good person anyway.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Mark

      Wow! Didn't realize that. Interesting.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Gorilla Guerilla

      @Article NOT accurate: The author, though it wasn't stated specifically, was using the ROOT of the names, not the current modern day usage and validations. This can be seen in such examples as Anthony (Latin) and William (German). Quite frankly William is more commonly used in the UK now than it is in Gremany, but that does not mean the name isn't rooted in German, nor does it mean the name is now a UK advent. And pure Latin is a little used, almost dead, language... That does not mean that the root of the name is any different. Another example, though not mentioned in this article, is the name Cleo, short for Cleopatra, which is a named deeply rooted in Egypt, but is in actuallity a Greek name. Does this mean that Cleopatra was Greek? No. It just means the name was Greek in origin. The article is far more accurate that you give it credit for, and despite the reasoning for the naming of children, the names are still rooted in the cultures and nationalities in which they were created.
      For example, my childrens names are Charles (German) and Edward (Olde English). This does not mean I am either English or Greman (I'm native American). They are named in homage recent ancestors that had huge impacts on my life. Does this mean their names aren't rooted in English or German? No.
      As for the "zionist conspiricy" to make everyone Jewish, it's time to take off your foil hat and face reality. The only people who are convinced that there is a conspiracy to destroy their beliefs and way of life, are those that are doing it themselves and trying to find someone else to blame.
      As for wikipedia, as it can be modified and changed by ANYONE, it is not considered a reutable source by ANYONE other than those to lazy to do the research themselves. If you try to use wikipedia as a source for any formal education your statements autmatically come into question. As a matter of fact most college professors will not even allow a paper with wikipedia as a source to be submitted.

      And for those talking about "christian" names, like almost every other "christian advent" most (if not all) of them were stolen. Most of the "christian" names are rooted in either jewish, hebrew or greek. Get over it. It doesn't make you Jewish, Hebrew or Greek to use the names, but to try to lay claim to them as soley to property of "christianity" is rediculous in the extreme.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • reply to this

      In response to 'Article NOT accurate' before you go all conspiracy theory try reading a history book. If you take 'famous people' to be the hollywood type, it isn't some 'Zionist' conspiracy. Alternative religious views were persecuted in Europe throughout history: Jews (as a religion) and other religious minority groups were probably run out of town at one point. While the other groups would move where they could find land and be farmers, Jews at different times were barred from owning land and many of them entered professions. Some became actors, among other things. So when hollywood got started may actors came from families (Jewish as an ethnic group) that already had a history of stage acting in Europe.

      All of which has very little to do with baby names. As Christians the Old Testament is part of our Bible- we don't think of it as 'Jewish'; even thought it based on the Torah and Jesus was Jewish. There are more names to pick from in the Old Testament. Names like Isabella sound more Spanish to me. (Like Gabrella) Very pasty mid-westerns also have names like Kim and Lee, which are Asian names. Parents like the sound of the name and probably don't care where it originates from.

      January 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • guest

      gorilla guerilla: Cleopatra was actually Greek so that wasn't the best example but I get your point.

      January 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Dougy

      Benedict may not be a popular name, but it is one of the most popular egg dishes - a fact almost as important as the fact that people seem to prefer names like Jacob, Michael and Norman (wait, is that on there?). By the way aren't Christians just the jews who believe the Messiah has come?

      January 27, 2011 at 2:09 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.