UK

Is Muhammad Really The Most Popular Baby Name? It Depends How You Count

01/12/2014 11:05 GMT | Updated 02/12/2014 14:59 GMT

Is Muhammad really the most popular name for newborn boys in the UK?

That answer seems to depend on how exactly you count the names, but one thing is for sure - it isn't as clear-cut as today's newspaper stories would have you believe.

The headline news on the most popular baby names comes from the website BabyCentre, which shows that in 2014 Muhammad rose a huge 27 places from last year to claim the number one spot for boys.

multicultural baby

Is Muhammad really the most popular baby name?

But the figures from BabyCentre combine all the variations of spellings for a single name in their top 100 list - so boys named Muhammad, Mohammed and Mohammad, for example, are listed under a single name, unlike the Office for National Statistics, which lists variations on spellings.

These particular statistics released today come from the names chosen by 56,157 BabyCentre.co.uk members who gave birth in 2014.

But ONS statistics paint a very different picture. Because the official body doesn't lump together diminutives or alternative spellings, Oliver comes out on top as the most popular boys name.

There was though a surge in Arabic names generally, according to the baby website, with Nur a new entry in the girls' top 100, jumping straight to number 29, and Maryam rising 59 places to number 35 in the list. Omar, Ali, and Ibrahim are all new to the boys' top 100. The year's biggest riser within the girls' top 100 was Maryam.

Biblical,and traditional Jewish names are also high on the top boys' names list, which includes Noah, Jacob, Joshua and Ethan.

The actual ONS statistics, compiled from final annual births registration data and including all live births occurring in England and Wales, said Oliver and Amelia were the most popular names.

In that data, Muhammad comes 15th, Mohammed comes 23rd, and Mohammad comes 57th.

Added together, the names overtake the top name, 6,949 babies were named Oliver, and 7,445 named various spellings of Mohammad.

However, the name Ollie is also in the top 100, number 80 in the list.

If the 'Ollies' are added to the 'Olivers', it again becomes the most popular name, with 7,749 babies named this way.

That didn't stop many of these papers reporting the Babycentre figures as fact:

Muhammed

Though the Guardian backtracked on its own story later.

guardian

Sarah Redshaw, Managing Editor of BabyCentre UK said she stood by the data which she claimed was “an indication of naming trends across the UK, provided by our members".

"Currently this is based on 56,157 babies named this year. The top 100 boys’ and girls’ names charts combine names that sound the same but have different spellings, giving a measure of baby name popularity.

"We have found, in the past, that this is a good indicator of the ONS statistics that are released the following year.”

The popularity of the name in Britain is not surprising. Most Muslim families will name a first born son Mohammed, or some variation of that name, after the religion's most holy prophet. There is far more variety among traditional British or Christian names.

However, in practice many will use a middle name or nickname day-to-day, because of the name's popularity.

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's ousted former president, Anwar Sadat, the assassinated Egyptian leader, and Nawaz Sharif, the current prime minister of Pakistan, all have a variation on 'Mohammed' as a given name, but go by other names.

The spellings tend to be regional variations, Muhammad in Pakistan, Bangladesh and south east Asia, Muhammed in north Africa, Mohammed or Muhammad in much of the Arabic world, Mohammad in Iran and Afgahnistan, and Muhammed or Muhammet in Turkey - though these are not hard and fast rules.

Top 10 girls' names:

1. Sophia

2. Emily

3. Lily

4. Olivia

5. Amelia

6. Isla

7. Isabella

8. Ava

9. Sophie

10. Chloe

Top 10 boys' names:

1. Muhammad

2. Oliver

3. Jack

4. Noah

5. Jacob

6. Charlie

7. Harry

8. Joshua

9. James

10. Ethan