Playing the name game

I’m really interested in naming practices and name popularity around the world because one can learn so much about a country’s culture or a person’s background just from names. That’s why I’ve constructed a comprehensive look at naming practices around the globe with a special emphasis on the position in the UK – you can check it out here.
Given my interest, I could not help but notice how much of the British media today carries a feature on the most popular boys and girls names of 2008. The media really struggles for news at this time of year and we all love lists of things. Lists of names have a special interest because we all have names and many of us are parents and we all like to check out the relative popularity of different names.
But something’s not right about the lists published today. How do I know? Well, take the name Mohammed – in its various spellings – which is a name given to a growing proportion of baby boys in Britain. According to the Office of National Statistics, in England & Wales in 2006, the 17th most popular boys’ name was Mohammed and the 38th was Muhammad – see details here. Yet the name simply doesn’t occur on any of the lists published in today’s media stories.
So let’s go to the prime source – always a good idea in critical thinking (see my advice here). It turns out that the source is a web site called If one looks at the top 100 boys’ names for 2008 as compiled by Bounty, there is no reference to any version of Mohammed.
So what’s going on? Well, usually about this time of year the Office of National Statistics put out a media release on the most popular boys’ and girls’ names of the past year and this release understandably gets a lot of publicity. For some reason, so far the official statistics have not been issued. I’m guessing that saw an opportunity to beat the official body to the punch and get lots of free publicity for its commercial web site in the bargain.
I don’t know what method of compilation uses – they don’t explain on their site – but I’m assuming that it’s a less comprehensive and authoritative method that that used by the ONS which is why Mohammed does not appear.


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