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. Meghan

    The pope's real name is not Benedict. His birth name is Joseph, which sounds pretty Christian to me.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • momof4

      hmmmm...how about Yosef or Yossi...

      January 27, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  2. palintwit

    Here's some Sarah Palin baby name suggestions...Fargo, Checkvalve, Pinworm, Mudflap, Spatula, Schmegma.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Hilarious

      That is awesome...she has the most messed up names for her kids

      January 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  3. GS

    "John" is a short version of "Jonathan," a Hebrew name meaning "YHWH has given," a Biblical name. "Alexander" (and Alexandra) - pretty popular Russian Jewish name - often nicknamed "Sasha" (both male and female). The popularity of Jayden (whatever spelling) is probably because of Will Smith's daughter. As others have said, this piece confuses the language roots of the name, whether there were famous Biblical people with the name, and whether the name is popular among people of one religion or another.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  4. CatholicMom

    We named our children names from the Bible or favorite Saints or derivatives of those names…such as Katherine [with a K] or middle name as in Kay. At least having a middle name from the Bible or a Saint was good and ‘proper’, too. We only had 3 children to name and each one has a first name and middle name which both have significant meaning for us….not just sounding cute or ‘modern’.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  5. IntegralReality

    So, let them pick trite, outdated names.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  6. Billy O

    We are talking about fashion here, let's not get too excited. As some postings have suggested pop culture has a big influence on a name's popularity. Names like "Zeke" or "Chad" sound like surfer dude names from TV shows based in California. Writers for television are not naming children they are naming characters and they want the names to add clues to the characters traits as in an active or nerdy role. Outside of somewhat religious parents I doubt most new parents give much thought of the origin of a baby's name, it just has to sound cool and suggest what type of child they hope for.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  7. fireboy

    My point exactly. There must be an agenda here somewhere, but it is not worth the time to figure it out. Go on CNN, the network ranked below the Fight Channel

    January 27, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  8. tammy

    twilight twilight twilight....writer should pay attention to pop culture

    January 27, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  9. unretired05

    I am surprised at all the postings here. Yes, claim whatever you want but Christianity was founded by Christ, a Jew.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  10. Jack

    One needs to remember is that very few people are actually religious anymore (a good thing in my opinion) and don't care where the name originated. What I find funny is that many of these people think that they are being different by choosing these names, oblivious to the fact that they are really followers and not trendsetters. Thus, their kids are just going to be another Ethan, Jacob, etc. Even if you go really different, like the hippies did with their kids, all of your friends are like you so your kids will still have similar names . There were like 2000 kids named "flower" or "light" or "earth" in Berkeley, CA in the 70's.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  11. Religion not nationality

    I personally AM an American who practices the Jewish faith and am of Italian & Russian decent (ancestry nationality). It truly disturbs me that society continuously tries to portray 'Jewish' as a nationality when it IS a religious faith (biblical). My father is Catholic of Italian decent and my mother is Jewish of Russian decent. I was raised to know that I am Jewish. However, since my father celebrated all Jewish holidays with us, we in-turn celebrated all Catholic holidays with him. Actually, it was the best of both religions! My siblings and I were raised to respect all faiths and their diversities. But, I know one thing for sure, I AM Jewish, not half, not a quarter – I AM Jewish. Whenever someone says that I am half Jewish and half Italian (Catholic) I have to set the record straight.......I am 100% Jewish! I cannot be half of both, as I then state, I would have to decide whether or not I would take Jesus as my Lord & Savior on even days but not on odd days, as they would be for the Jewish faith where I am still awaiting the messiah! Although, I adore Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song, it is humorous, but I don't believe it or take it seriously. I have interviewed a rabbi and a priest in regards to this topic as I have 4 Christian god-children. It comes down to this, if someone can show me a place on the globe that is named Jewish for someone to be a descendant of, then I would concede, but there is NOT! Most people will then turn around and say Israel, but that make them Israeli, not Jewish, not all Israelis are Jewish! Ok, I am getting off my soapbox now! May everyone have a great day and may peace be with you all!

    January 27, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Kieran

      Not all Israelis are Jewish, but all Jews have the right to return to Israel. Yes, Jewish is both a religion that you can adopt and a people with a specific heritage and homeland. So you can definitely say that your ancestry is half-Jewish. I'm all Catholic, but my ancestry is half Russian Jewish.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  12. KI

    "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."

    I guess there was a point to this bit of "news" but I failed to see it except for the author's shock (and apparent dismay)
    that so many people have names that can be found in the Old Testament. I'm trying to understand how that fits
    into the purpose of this news column, with all due respect.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  13. Ariel

    Poor babies.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  14. Whatevah

    What a control freak the Pope is. It's one thing to have an opinion about what other people name their kids but to tell millions of people what you think they should be naming their kids...because God supposedly "speaks through you" or whatever Catholic people believe. Give me a break.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  15. hicupper

    I think "biblical" might be a better description than "Jewish".

    January 27, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  16. Phillip Bunn

    Would Pope S–t-head care to expand on what "he" thinks are "good Christain names?"

    January 27, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  17. Moe Smith

    Here's a strange and even radical take on this story: WHO FNCKING CARES! Let's take a look at something more interesting like the rise in use of nontraditional names like "Apple", "Moon Unit" and so forth. At least that's semi-interesting simply because of the uniqueness people are going to for names... and i dont mean the cliche, stereotypical nonsense like Shaniquanene, Yoshandrakora, Shi`Thead, LemahnGello. that's just tiresome and more like someone played Yahzee with scrabble letters.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  18. Seriously?

    These are biblical names, not "Jewish" names. The Old Testament is the bible of Christians and Jews, and many of the names pre-date Judaism, like, oh, Adam. And the name John is not particularly "Christian." It comes from the name Jonathan, which is an Old Testament name.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • momof4

      where do you yhink the old testament came from? of course most of the names have Jewish roots.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  19. Jeepers

    I'm convinced people only use the name Jacob because they want to call their kid Jake. Why not just name him Jake? That annoys me. Of course I've always thought Bible names were lame. Don't forget Dorcas is a Bible name. Dorcas. Let that roll off your tongue. Doooorrrrk...as.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • AJ

      And Gomer. Aside from Gomer Pyle (which I find odd, as the Biblical Gomer was a woman) I have not known of anyone named Gomer. What's up with people?!?! 😉

      January 27, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Steve the real one

      She was also called Lydia. The important thing is to read how she lived her life!

      January 31, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  20. Walker

    First of all, it doesn't matter. But what I find funny is how defensive people are on this thread saying "Well they are more Old Testament really" crying about how off these guys are – are you really that upset that your child's name started from the Hebrew language, thus being Jewish? To me this just points out the latent prejudice people have towards Jewish people.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • caddiemurray

      People aren't pointing out that the names are also Biblical (and thus Christian) because they don't want to associate the names with Jews. They're pointing this out because the author mentioned that there aren't as many "Christian" names on the list. Christians have traditionally been big on naming their children Biblical names (which includes Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek names), so saying that Jewish names top the list but Christian names are less popular is misleading.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:06 am |
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About this blog

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.