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)

    Eh....I like the more unusual ones like Eli and Avi...Jacob is so hard sounding, like Frank. Hahaha.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  2. Yevgeniya

    Would you prefer it to be Mohamed? Thanks God people are using jewish and not muslim names.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  3. Kieran

    We can talk about Judaism taking over the crib when my distant grandfathers' names "Morris" and "Lazar" break the top 10.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  4. kris krajnovich

    Shocking newsflash people.....Jesus and all 12 disciples were JEWISH!!! I will wait will you all pick your jaws up off the floor. There is therefore no such thing as a "Christian" name, they are all Judeo-Christian. One more quick mindblower then I'm outtie. The last supper was a....PASSOVER SEDER!!!!

    January 27, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  5. Danzon

    uhhh Christian names????
    Those "Christian names" would be the same as Hebrew names

    January 27, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  6. jonathan hanemann

    A Christian 'stranglehold' on Congress? Does this guy EVER speak of Christianity in anything but negative terms? Would he say that Islam has a 'stranglehold' on Middle Eastern politics? No. Why? Because he's an anti-western liberal.

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

      I Agree!!! I found the term "stranglehold" offensive, negative, biast, opinionatesd and prejudice, if the article is on baby names why is he inserting his political view / slant....... because he can? Maybe he shouldnt be? A regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.....Ha.....Who oversees this stuff anyways? And all it does is show ignorance from Stephen and CNN... sorry no sale here

      January 27, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  7. John K

    Last I checked, these names come from a religious text that is used by BOTH Christians and Jews. Claiming that these names are exclusively Jewish is like claiming that Christians are actually Jews because they worship a Jewish carpenter.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  8. Brian

    Considering that Christianity was born out of Judaism your statement is a bit ignorant for a supposed "expert" on world religions.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  9. Sam Goldbergsteinman

    All we can really say to this is "Oy Vey!"

    January 27, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  10. Abbas

    Abraham, Issac, and Jacob are not jewish. They are Muslims.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • John K

      Islam existed when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive? These three names are shared by all three major faiths.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  11. Princess of Purgatory

    Most, if not all the people I know, have no clue of the origins of their child's name. They go with what they like (usually popularity) and uniqueness. To be frank I don't know the different between hebrew/greek/christian names and I'm 42!

    January 27, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  12. George

    He has a weird pimple at the end of his nose. LOL loser

    January 27, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  13. Commentor on this article

    This article is ridiculous. Christianity stemmed from Judaism. Jesus and his apostles were Jewish including Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew, John, James (2 of them), Simon, Jude, and Matthias. So are these names Christian or Jewish? What's in a name? People choose names for their children for a variety of reasons. It doesn't have to be a faith-based reason. We named our children the names they have because we liked the way they sound, not for religious reasons.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  14. Mariam

    Jacob, Issac, Zachariah, Noah, Gabriel, David and Joseph are all names that are used by all of the Abrahamic faiths including Muslims.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  15. Kieran

    This is like saying that Muslims named Ibrahim must somehow be Jewish because Abraham founded the Jewish religion. He is also a patriarch for Christians and Muslims – Jews don't have a monopoly on the name.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  16. Kieran

    More like Twilight names topping the list. Also, Christians have been picking up names from the Old Testament for a while. That means that the list is still all or nearly all Christian-based.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  17. CharityM

    Wake up and smell the toast buddy. You have this all wrong. Biblical names ARE Christian names. Just because they are in the Old Testament does not nullify the fact that they are in the Christian Bible. Even the name Jesus is a version of the Hebrew Joshua. At that period of time, Jesus or Jeshua was actually a common name.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  18. Terry

    Wake up since when are the above names not Christian, they come from a Jewish begining but do not all
    Christians follow a Jewish carpenter. Christians can not throw out their Jewish bengings.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  19. snowbob

    we worship a jewish man, Jesus. If it wasn't for him, we'd alll still be jewish. and that's ok too. These old biblical names were used by Jewish families way before Christ was around

    January 27, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  20. Jane

    I am SO glad that none of my children have ANY of these names.

    January 27, 2011 at 9:27 am |
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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.