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. Loladog

    Everybody has this all wrong. Sorry to have to correct the author, (a Boston University religion scholar) – but these are real Jewish names:

    Moishe, Schmul, Ithak, Bernie, Hymie, Sol, Nathan, Mendel, Leah, Rachel, Fannie, Bessie (as in Tante Bessie – when I was a kid everyone had one).

    All other names are late adaptations and don't count. Come on – the Jaydens, Morgans and Zachs of now, or the Barrys, Lindas, and Lisas of an earlier generation – none of these would have been recognized by my Bubby!

    January 27, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  2. Sanford

    I guess this reverses a trend from the last three decades of the 20th century, where Jewish parents started giving their sons names that were traditionally Catholic such as Matthew, Gregory, and Christopher.

    January 27, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  3. Grace

    They are BOTH Jewish & Christian names as Christians kind of OBVIOUSLY believe in the Old Testament.
    Why the movement to separate people?
    Why the movement to shed a negative light on Christianity all the time.
    This guy is kind of a jerk.

    January 27, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  4. ec

    Just because a name is in the bible, doesn't make it Jewish. It makes it Judeo-Christian, technically.

    January 27, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  5. Tracie

    I can't believe this article was approved by the editors at cnn.com. Does the author not realize that these are all biblical names. Christians value both the New and Old Testaments. Just because a name originates from the Old Testament does not make a "Jewish" name. Most Christians seeking to give their child a "Christian" name choose any name from the Bible.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Mayhem

      CNN is obviously all about filling empty spaces with as much content as possible – whether it is accurate or not. As long as it generates negative or opposing comments from readers, it is acceptable.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  6. Mayhem

    Popular culture contributes to the popularity of some of these names. I think that has been forgotten in the article. It was easier for the author to cluster all the names into a "Jewish" category, which is completely incorrect, just to create a forumula that doesn't exist.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Mayhem

      I could write an article claiming Jacob and Joshua are popular because they begin with J and CNN would print it.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  7. walleye46

    Who Cares. As Herman Melville said "Call me Ishmael."

    January 27, 2011 at 10:52 am |


    January 27, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • mike

      Your grasp of world history and current events of laughable.

      No religion is without blood on its hands. Get real.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • cnnopedsareterrible

      Hold on. If the Jewish people want me to "leave them alone" and "not marry their women" then clearly they have a problem with other people's faiths.

      January 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  9. WillyRobots

    Who cares.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  10. mike

    These are not wholly Jewish names. As others have pointed out, Christians and western society in general has always used names from the old testament. Especially "Jacob". Seriously...when someone tells you their name is "Jake", do you immediately assume they're Jewish?

    What is the point that Mr. Prothero's is trying to make, here? This article is creepy in a weird way. As if he's trying to bait a fight. This guy seems like a professional troll.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • mike

      I should also add that the Old Testament is every bit as big a part of the Christian Bible as the New Testament. Thus, Old Testament names are just as much Christian as Jewish. Christianity is ROOTED in Judaism.

      Again, this article serves no purpose but to create a divisive tone. We've got enough of that in the world these days.

      Let's focus on what makes us all similar.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  11. muddiggermom

    Umm-are you all discounting the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyers-Jacob was quite the popular one over Edward- and Isabella? Bella Swan in the novels??? Does this mean all werewolves are Jewish? Is this a new anti-semitic stereotype developing? OMG this is funny stuff. Anything is better than the made up names where hooked on phonics worked 4 me so prevalent in our society. I'm just glad I'm not an elementary school teacher...Isn't there something better to discuss like the economy-oh I forgot-another Jewish stereotype-money....BTW I'm Jewish! People get real.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  12. GKz

    Ugly names, not sure why would one do that to their child...

    January 27, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  13. stevie

    I'm so sick of Jayden Cayden Hayden Ethan ect.. And don't even get me started on laquisha tamika, shaniqua, etc! Bring back Anne, Jane, John and Chris.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • frank

      agreed, as long as we don't bring back Bertha Gaylord and Egbert!

      January 27, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  14. St. Michael

    Funny, I thought Michael was a Christian name.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  15. Dawn M

    Seriously, most americans name their kids based upon names they like....I have four kids and they were named what I liked or after their father..

    January 27, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  16. Nick

    I'm pretty sure you can name your child a Jewish name and be Christian, or any other religion. This article doesn't prove anything.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  17. Joe

    What a rediculous story!

    January 27, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  18. Cindy

    Twilight. The top girl's name in 2010 is also "Isabella." Probably not a coincidence.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  19. Dev

    Seems to me that author has an agenda that he is hiding and not sharing! It might be obvious to some but not to me.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  20. sami

    Abraham Lincoln. Never really thought of that as a Jewish name.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:17 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.