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. saddam

    Mary shut the fuk up the only religion that counts is the muslim so start kneeling for Osama King of all people

    January 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  2. saddam

    Yusef my brother I know Osama is the best of the best and he has demonstrated his leadership all over the world God bless him and his fighters americans are sht. Allah Akbar

    January 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  3. yusef

    You are right brother Saddam Osama is the most powerfull man on earth and he can do whatever he wants with these arrogant americanos our prophet said beware one of you will rise and dominate" thats Osama our king

    January 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  4. Scenario

    So if you name your son Jesus, then is it Jewish or Christian?

    January 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  5. Robert II of Navarre

    my middle name's hebrew, sort of, but my first name – literally means THE FAME

    January 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  6. Brian

    Re: "absence" of Christian names – Anthony is a saint, and Michael is granted saint status – so don't they count?

    More importantly, the current pope is Benedict XVI – i.e. the 16th – not XVII (17th). Please, cnn.com, it would be appreciated if you would uphold fact-checking/proofreading standards, even in "soft news" pieces like this. Thanks.

    January 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  7. Uncle Eccoli

    What an absurdly inane and worthless "article."

    January 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  8. Valerie

    I can't believe the ignorance here.

    Unless a person has a named Saint as their name, it is NOT considered a Christian name. "Jacob" is NOT a Christian name. Gosh how dumb people are! Either that, or you are all protestants, and do not know any better.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mary

      Valerie, I can't believe your ignorance or arrogance! Protestants are Christians and to say they "do not know any better" is just blatant intolerance. Protestant churches do not have a formal canonisation procedure like the Catholic church (and probably some others, too). Most protestants fo not believe in worshiping saints. I find your declaration very offensive!

      January 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Valerie

      Mary, Catholics DO NOT worship saints either! How IGNORANT of you to think so! Open a book and learn something! Protestants PROTEST the Catholic faith and took out 7 BOOKS of the bible they didn't like! Look THAT UP AS WELL!

      YOU ARE IGNORANT! Jesus Christ FOUNDED the Catholic Church.....all other so-called christian churches, founded by MERE MORTAL MEN. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

      January 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Mary

      Valerie, I think you may need anger management. All that yelling makes me think of a 2 yr old throwing a temper tantrum.

      Do you think Jesus is happy with the Catholic church now? Does he condone all the abuse by priests and the subsequent cover ups? And, yes, Catholics pray to (worship) saints. You may want to try opening a book and learning about tolerance and respect. It makes no difference to me if you or anyone else chooses to worship in the Catholic church. What I do take offense to is you making remarks about protestants. That is not something Jesus taught, either.

      January 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Master of Religion

      Hey Val: Jesus didn't "find" any "church," let alone the "catholic" church (which, by the way, means "universial"). The first time Christianity was recognized as a religion separate from Judaism was 112 CE when Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the Emporer Trajan. I'll let you "open a book" to find out the rest of the story.
      And incidentially, Martian Luther "protested" the notion of having to pay indulgences. Again... "open a book" and read about it. It's a fascinating story!

      January 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Kieran

      Catholics pray to Saints for intercession (help). That's very different from worshiping them – to use this term is to accuse Catholics of polytheism and is therefore extremely offensive. Also, Catholics believe that Jesus founded their Church. You can dispute it all you want but nothing you say will change their minds.

      January 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  9. Madison

    Madison as a girl's name came from a movie. It really means Matthew's son. My last name is Madison, and I think that it makes a terrible female first name. But, then people can name their children whatever they wish.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  10. AnotherJew

    Actually: Alexander is also considered a Jewish/Hebrew name. A famous story in the Talmud explains that when Alexander the Great came to conquer Jerusalem, the Jewish sage "Shimon the Righteous" met him at the gates. Alexander got off his horse and bowed down to him. He previously had a dream in which this man, Shimon the Righteous, appeared to him to warn him of danger, eventually saving his life. Thus, he bowed low upon meeting this dream-man in the flesh and spared Jerusalem not only immediate destruction, but let it remain mostly autonomous. For this generosity the sages declared that every Jewish boy born that year (I believe) would be named Alexander. Thus, it was adopted as a Jewish name and is still given among Orthodox Jewish families as a Hebrew name. It is often shorted, as a nickname, to "sender" or "sander". You can find much accurate, informative and inspiring information about authentic Judaism at aish.org or chabad.org.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Sam

    Thank you Stephen Prothero, almighty genius king of making sweeping generalizations from meaningless data (he has done this before, anybody remember the conclusions he drew from the google word search archives about a month ago?). CNN, would like you to stop shoveling out Prothero's pricey columnist rate and pay someone who knows how to write AND write with intellect?! My resume is available. Let Boston University have him all to themselves.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  12. Heann

    I named my new baby 'Hhhhhckckckckc' – its an old jewish name i remember hearing some time ago

    January 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Reynolds

    " ... the stranglehold Christians have on our current Congress."

    Actually, Jews have a stranglehold on said august body of the "people."

    January 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  14. Lulu

    Not to burst his bubble, but many Christians see those Biblical names not as being Jewish, but as being a part of their Christian heritage. In other words they are choosing names based on Christian beliefs – beliefs rooted in Judaism certainly, but not (to them) inherently Jewish.

    And stating that John & Mark are Christian names is wrong, too. After all, John & Mark (Matthew & Luke, too) were Jewish men who followed Christ. Mary was the Jewish mother of Christ. Why doesn't he count them as Jewish names as well ? "Christian" names are generally names from the Bible – Old & New Testaments – or names of Saints who came later. Given that Christians come from all corners of the globe, doesn't it stand to reason that their names would too ?

    As for the Pope's call for Catholics to give their babies Christian names – he's not defining proper/improper names, but instead trying to call us back from celebrity-crazed, materialistic mindset. Give your child a name with meaning, be it a favored saint, a great-aunt, a Biblical hero. But don't name your kids for the famous (even CA won't name their freeways after folks until they are long-dead, just for the potential embarrassment should that person implode), the infamous (do we NEED more little Jesse James' running around ?), landmarks or locations, or things that can be bought & sold.

    January 27, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Sam

      good points, thanks Lulu

      January 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • BJ Bar

      Well said, Lulu!

      January 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  15. guest

    gorilla guerilla: cleopatra actually was Greek so that wasn't the best example, but i get your point.

    January 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  16. Erik

    Michael has been a top ten name in the US since the 1950's, and has been a popular name in Europe and in Orthodox Christian countries for centuries. While it is true that this name comes from a Jewish lineage going back to the old testament, its popularity and usage probably owes more to St Michael's status in christian countries as a patron saint for the military, soldiers, and as a representation of conflict against satan – St Michael is prevalently depicted wearing armor, and often fighting, across the christian world.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  17. Chris

    Maybe this has already been said, and I just haven't been patient enough to read through all the comments. But, if this author is trying to make a religious connection to the fact lots of babies born in 2009 were named Jacob and Isabella, I look forward to his next book about the explosive growth of the Church of Twilight. Really, guy, do a LITTLE research before making your claims.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  18. Gorilla Guerilla

    OK people... Here is the bottom line:

    Name roots come from either a Nationality, a culture, or a mixture of both. By saying that the most popular names are jewish in root he is examining the names in our country from an OUTSIDE point of view. To anyone who didn't know about our culture, but was well versed in the historical roots of names, our country would appear to be HEBREW, which was one of the jewish TRIBES of Israel. As christianity came along later, and has very few exclusive names, it would appear to someone unversed in the oddities and intricasies of our culture that christianity played a very minor role and that the country was predominantly Jewish. He isn't saying that naming your kids with a name rooted in the ancient jewish cutures makes you a jew, he's saying that it would APPEAR to the unknowing that the person had a jewish heritage.
    As for the "stranglehold" christianity has on our government, 90.5% identifying with or openly biased towards christianity is a pretty convincing number. I DARE someone to walk into congress with a bill that states satanists should be exempt from animal cruelty laws so that they can properly sacrifice animas in their rites and rituals (as is their right due to freedom of religion), and I can almost guarantee that they will be kicked out and a week later more stringent laws on animal cruelty will be passed. Laws outlawing animal sacrifice in religious ceremony. That my friends is a stranglehold.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Mary

      @GG...I agree with your post and find it very logical except for one part. Your example of a satanist having the right to be exempt from animal cruelty laws due to freedom of religion sounds very extreme to me. I don't think 'freedom of religion' gives a religion the right to break basic laws. If it were, any nutjob could start a 'religion' and say they need to murder for their religion. Just like the extremist followers of Warren Jeff cannot legally abuse their children, even if their religion says it's not abuse. Murder, child abuse, animal cruelty are basic laws that have nothing to do with religion and cannot be broken in this country even for 'religious' reasons.

      January 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  19. Reality

    Professor P,

    First you start out with the statement: "A few weeks ago, I wrote about the stranglehold Christians have on our current Congress." Hmmm????

    Actually the topic was ent-itled: "My Take: U.S. is Christian nation, Congress data." Not one time was the word "stranglehold" used in your comments. The gist of your comments were based on the number of Christians in the Congress forgetting the wide diversity in this Christian group and not bothering to see if said Congresspersons were actually practicing their religion. But hey, CNN is paying you to come up with a monthly subject and apparently they don't really pay much attention to your commentary so why bother?? Your current topic is simply more evidence of that.

    January 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  20. Fruity

    My name is Chaquita Banana and I am here to say....An apple a day keeps the doctor away!

    January 27, 2011 at 11:59 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.