While Muhammad is considered the single most common male name in the world, this year, for the first time ever, a single spelling of “Muhammad” broke the top-10 for most popular baby boy names in the UK.
While citing Wikipedia is frowned upon, the data on religion in the UK seems to be largely uncontested, though always take anything on the internet with a grain of salt. The percent of Muslims in the 2015 BSA survey was approximately five percent of the population, making it the third largest religious association, just behind Christianity at 42 percent, which was recently overtaken as the most common response by “Unaffiliated,” at 49 percent.
The fact that the spelling variations of Muhammad, when combined, have been the most common baby boy name since 2013 does make that particular aspect a bit less timely, unless the news cycle’s extended by a couple years. What’s particularly fascinating is that this is the first time in which any single spelling broke into the top 10 most popular, where “Muhammad” was number eight per the last survey. What’s more, the name that lost its top-10 honor was “William,” although “Oliver” continues to absolutely dominate the single-spelling rankings.
2012 data had the name “Oliver” at #2, but from 2013-2016, it kept the top rank by an enormous margin, on the order of 20 percent to around 40 percent above the second place name. That oddity aside, there are a ton of factors that play into this data, of course, and the increasing Muslim population is certainly playing a role, but only five percent of the population can’t reasonably produce that many babies. Realistically, the diversity of cultural names is the most likely culprit here, as variations of Muhammad are considered the single most common name in the world, and the country behind the word “Worcestershire” is certainly not lacking in naming variety.
While the apparent dominance of the Muslim-favored name in UK births may seem suggestive, broad data like this isn’t always helpful in drawing meaningful conclusions. Some additional granularity is provided, however, specifically providing local data for common names. For example, “West Midlands” shows “Muhammad” as the most popular name, and “Mohammed” as the fifth most popular. “Yorkshire and The Humber” listed “Muhammad” at #2, and “Mohammed” at #9. Additionally, “Muhammad” is the most common name in the “London” section, above UK’s most favoritest name ever, “Oliver,” which was most popular in seven of the ten areas listed, and also nationwide for the last four years. Wales, on the other hand, has virtually no presence of the name on its regional list.
There’s a good chance you’ll encounter these statistics somewhere else, and an equally good chance that they’ll be trying to frame it to suit some established narrative. But you know that already, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Let this be a reminder that numbers without context are meaningless. As much as I hoped this data would be some breakthrough revelation, this isn’t Rolling Stone, so I’m expected to check my information before publishing it.
In the immortal words of the greatest everyman of the 20th century:
Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.
-Homer J. Simpson