WASHINGTON – With news this week that the name Muhammad, with one spelling or another, ranks as 2016’s second most popular boy’s name in Britain after Oliver, what’s the trend in the U.S.?
Quite a contrast.
While the population of Muslims in the U.S. is growing fast, due to both a high birth rate and immigration, the perhaps surprising news in the states is that seven of the most popular boys’ names this year are of Hebrew origin.
They include Noah, Michael, Elijah, Jacob, Ethan, James and Benjamin.
In fact, of the top boys’ names in the U.S. in 2016, 35 are of Hebrew origin.
Muhammad is not among the top 100, though the most common alternate spellings of the name of Islam’s founder include Mohammed, Muhammed, Mohammad or Mohamed. Oliver doesn’t make the list in the U.S., either.
The trend in popularity of Hebrew names for both boys and girls in the U.S. is not altogether new. In 2015, the top boy’s name was Jacob, according to the Social Security Administration, followed closely by Ethan, Michael, Noah and Daniel – all in the top 10.
The most popular girls names in 2016 also had a strong Hebrew influence. Among the top 10 this year were Ava (3), Isabella, which is a Spanish version of Elizabeth, (5), Abigail, (7), and Amelia (10). The English name, Elizabeth, was 14th.
What accounts for the overwhelmingly popularity of Hebrew names in the U.S.?
WorldJewishDaily.com addressed the question at the end of 2015, saying, “while Israel sometimes gets bad press in the United States, when it comes to naming our children, Hebrew names top the list.”
In 2011, Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor, CNN contributor and author of “God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World,” looked at the trend and asked the question: Where are the Christian names?
“It’s sort of a silly question,” said Joseph Farah, founder of WND.com and author of the new book “The Restitution of All Things: Israel, Christians and the End of the Age.”
“American evangelicals in particular rightly see little distinction between traditional ‘Christian’ names like Mary and Joseph and ‘Hebrew’ names, since they are of the same origin. Christianity itself is of Hebrew origin – as are the names Mary and Joseph or Miriam and Yosef.”
Farah says American Christians are simply going back to the Bible, which is a completely Hebrew or Jewish-authored holy book – both Old and New Testament – and selecting names for their children that inspire them.
“It’s all part of the trend I write about in ‘The Restitution of All Things,’” said Farah. “Christians are rediscovering the Hebrew roots of their faith. But Hebrew isn’t just in the roots of Christianity. It’s in the trunk, the branches and the leaves. It’s in the very DNA of the faith – and there is a growing recognition and understanding of that fact within an Israel-centric component of Christianity.”
Farah adds that every single so-called “Christian” name is actually or Hebrew origin.
“What’s the ultimate Christian name?” he asks rhetorically. “Would it be ‘Jesus’? That’s simply a Greek version of Yeshua, the Messiah’s real Hebrew name, usually rendered ‘Joshua’ in English. How about the name ‘Christian’? Again, ‘Christ’ is simply derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew title ‘Messiah,’ so that the name ‘Christian’ would literally mean ‘follower of Messiah.’”
Most of America’s presidents, with the notable exception of George Washington, had some form of biblical name. In addition to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, there was James Madison. James comes from the Hebrew name Ya’akov by way of the English translation of the New Testament. Ya’akov is otherwise known as Jacob, which means “he will impede or hold up.” Abraham Lincoln’s name was a direct biblical name: “father of a multitude.” John Kennedy was another Yohanan; James Buchanan and James Carter both had names that came from the Old Testament. How well known is the fact that President Warren G. Harding was really Warren Gamaliel, which in Hebrew is Gamliel or “God has granted to me”? Of course, the well-liked Dwight Eisenhower was Dwight David. David in Hebrew means “beloved.”
In the U.S., almost half of the most popular girls’ Hebrew names are either directly from Hebrew or derived from the Bible.
- Mary from the Hebrew name Miriam or “bitter, bitterness.”
- Elizabeth from the Hebrew Elisheva, “an oath to G-d.”
- Maria, also derived from Miriam.
- Susan from Shoshanah, which means “lily or rose.”
- Margaret from Margalit, which is a pearl.
- Ruth connotes “appearance”; she was the famous convert to Judaism and ancestor of King David.
- Sharon, the name of a fertile plain in Israel.
- Sarah means “princess”; she was the wife of Abraham.
- Deborah is a honeybee (Hebrew Devorah), a judge in ancient Israel.