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. Ryan

    Its funny that this story is also linked on the Neo-Nazi website Stormfront, you obviously know were those idiots stand on this!

    January 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  2. BJ Bar

    Hey, uh... NEWSFLASH, Mr. Prothero! Those "Jewish" names are from... wait for it... THE BIBLE!
    Which, I might remind you, is the book for Christians. I'm not really sure why your piece here is supposed to be so profound.
    PS: My nephew, born in 2009, is named Benedict. And he's named for a family member, not the Pope.

    January 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Lynette Sorensen

    If the author wanted true "Christian" names, then everyone who is by religious persuasion a Christian would have to be named either Christian or Christine, as those are the only names that truly originate with Christianity. What a strange world we would be then!

    P.S. I am a Christian, and have named my children according to personal preference; however, most of those names just happen to have Biblical origins!

    January 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  4. Amalia Sheran Sharm

    They're Twilight names. People are naming their kids after vampires and werewolves.

    January 28, 2011 at 4:16 am |
  5. mariam but you can call me Mary if you cant prenounce Mariam :)

    a.k.a. dont look at the people when looking at religion (because you will never find a perfect person) but look at the fundamental teachings of the religion -that way you get the truth:)

    January 28, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  6. mariam but you can call me Mary if you cant prenounce Mariam :)

    lol all this over names???? i dont think so...somehow i get the feeling every1 is looking at this as a messurement to findout which religion is better than the rest....which is kinda like messuring water with a ruler....if your religion practices religious tolerance,tells you hurting people in any form is wrong -then you found a religion that is perfect

    January 28, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  7. mariam but you can call me Mary if you can prenounce Mariam :)

    that's strange....in South Africa (southern most tip of Africa)we seem to be having the same phenomenon-especially in the muslim community ,names like Jacob, Abraham, Isaac and Noah are becoming very popular ...i guess because with a name like Muhammed every1 knows you muslim and tend to isolate you -names like Jacob, Abraham, Isaac and Noah are flexible because they names of our prophet and no1 knows if you muslim/jewish/Christian....how brilliant is that!!!.

    January 28, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  8. Jeremy

    Although the observation is true, this article is poorly written and is riddled with poor logic and here is why.

    1a. Christians also use the Hebrew Scriptures, which they refer to as the Old Testament; considering that the Old Testament is about four times (rough estimate) as long as the New Testament, it makes sense that they would name a good portion of their children after Jewish names.

    1b. Some Jewish names are found in the New Testament. Michael, for instance, appears in the New Testament in the book of Revelation. Jesus mentions Jacob (as in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) when he said, "Before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, IAM". In fact, many of the "Christian" names in the New Testament are just the Greek or English forms of the Hebrew names.

    2. The author distastefully reveals his bias against Christians when he opts to use the term "stranglehold" to describe the majority of Christians in Congress.

    3. It's Benedict XVI, not Benedict XVII, unless if the author can tell the future; proofreading is a must in scholarly work.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • H. Clay

      @Jeremy. In response to your argument:

      1a: 2nd Temple Judaism is a much different world then 1st Temple Judaism. It is not a valid point to compare the names of the NT w/ the names of the OT for this reason. I complete understand that Christianity began as a sect of Judaism and for that reason the OT has an extremely important role of the NT. The diaspora of the 2nd Temple period resulted in a large portion of displaced people. There were lots of people in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus who would not have Jewish names.

      1b: It is a stretch to say that a Greek name is the same as a Hebrew name. Sure Jesus and Joshua are nearly the same name but no Jewish person would recognize Jesus as a Hebrew name because it is not. If you were to name someone Rebecca you would be giving that person a Hebrew name even though that name appears in the NT. (I'll be honest I don't really get your point here).

      2: Christianity comes in many forms. Look into more of Steven's writings they are very good and very Christian.

      3: This is not a scholarly work. It's a blog.

      January 29, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  9. Brendan

    The name Brendan is the best!

    January 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  10. Mary Colleen

    I am catholic and my former husband is jewish. We have a 21 year old son named Abraham (after his grandfather) and we had picked Jacob for our second child but we had a Rachael. I love their names but with the name of Mary Colleen there are always plenty of questions.

    January 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  11. GER

    What about Ira?

    January 27, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Kieran

    The only things this proves is that Christianity comes from Judaism. I think I already knew that; thanks.

    January 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  13. Juan

    The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament so why would it surprise Mr. Prothero that christians us Old Testament names?

    January 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  14. Al

    Hey John and Mark, the "Gospel authors" were Jewish. So wouldn't their names also be Jewish?

    January 27, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  15. God

    Thank God there are so many Jewish names.... In Europe Mohamad is the most popular name.....and you are all worried about China.....

    January 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  16. joe

    what a dolt. Jacob as in Jacob the Twilight Werewolf with a 6 pack of abs is popular. Not the old jew.

    January 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  17. cnnopedsareterrible

    I understand that these names are of Hebrew origin, but that in no way means they are "Jewish". Most of the world read and believe in sacred scriptures that utilize these names on a regular basis. "Jewish" in today's vernacular signifies a faith, or nationality, or both (depending on who you talk to), and certainly not a linguistic origin (again, that would be Hebrew). This article is inaccurate, because its author has taken tremendous liberties to spin a benign topic into something polarizing.

    January 27, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  18. saddam

    You are really an idiot maf put any stupid name on your kid no one cares the only real name you should worry is that of our king Osama so dont write any more you retard hor

    January 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  19. maf97

    The pithy discussion aside about whether its appropriate to name your kid after a character on LOST, my first impression was that giving your kid a Jewish name like Jacob probably looks a lot better on paper, on say a resume, than other flighty names like Moonrisen or Shaneequa. Talk about limiting your kid in life.

    January 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  20. saddam

    Hey valerie Jesus did not found any church you should learn a little more before saying stupidities the only thing. Agree is that mary is an ignorant btch

    January 27, 2011 at 4:03 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.