Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Olivers/Mohammeds are coming!

Is it that time of year again already? Every year, a list of the most popular names given to newborn babies in England and Wales is published by the ONS. And, every year, certain people get upset about how many of them are called Mohammed. Let's compare and contrast some coverage of the latest report:

The Guardian: Oliver and Olivia top list of most popular babies' names
The BBC: Which baby names are the most popular?
The Press Association: Oliver 'most popular name for boy'
The Daily Mail: Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry

So it's really up to your personal preferences which way you want to look at it. So why the different opinions? Why are some saying 'Oliver' and some 'Mohammed'? Well, 'Mohammed' is spelled in various different ways, with 14 recognised variations. The Mail likes to add all these together, and conclude that;
The name, when 12 different spellings were included, was given to 7,549 youngsters in 2009, official statistics revealed.

Oliver was the second most popular and it was given to 7,364 boys in England and Wales in 12 months.
The Mail is very insistent that this must be done. Last year, when Mohammed was third by their reckoning, the never knowingly understated Max Hastings railed against what he called a "shabby effort to conceal" the fact;
The ONS's hit parade of children's names, as released for publication, seemed designed to mask a simple truth which dismays millions of people, and which politicians and bureaucracies go to great lengths to bury: the Muslim population of Britain is growing extraordinarily fast.
He was so angry that the ONS felt moved to respond, saying they simply count by exact spellings.

As someone who occasionally gets a mild semi-on over statistics, this isn't actually totally unreasonable, allowing for variations like that. However, if you're going to apply statistical massaging like this, you have to be, y'know, fair about it. By 'fair', I mean simply applying the same rules to everyone. So, if you're going to add up all the various spellings of 'Mohammed', then you should do the same for other names in the list.

So, I went to the source at the ONS There I found the full list: 2009 Baby Names Statistics Boys (.xls file - 535kb). Here, we discover that there are 127 Oliviers, 104 Oliwiers, 9 Olis, 9 Oliwers, 4 Olivers' (plural!), 4 Ollivers, and most significantly, 511 Ollies (with an additional 16 Ollis). Even just adding Oliver and Ollie together, we get to 7,875, putting it back above Mohammed into first place again (and it becomes 8,148 if you add all the above variants). And that's before we get onto the more controversial stuff about how 'Jack' is historically a diminutive of the name 'John' (although of course many would argue that the former has now become a name in its own right).

Regardless, though, of whether the Mail's headline claim actually stands up (and for me it doesn't), it remains a somewhat deceptive statistic. The Mail wants you to infer that there's a scary amount of Muslims beings born, and Max Hastings' column from last year laboured this point quite a bit. Mohammed is simply, for cultural reasons, a very popular first name for Muslim boys, whereas 'British' names are a lot more varied (as, thankfully, are Polish ones, or else we'd probably be having an article about the explosion of Polish names in Britain). It has been that way for a long time, while British names have fluctuated far more with changing times and trends, and we don't tend to call our kids 'Jesus', though I am tempted to now. It's why there's no fuss made about the girls' names list; Muslim girls are not named in honour of the Prophet, therefore they're not dominated by a single name and derivations thereof. Thus the girls' list is full of good old British-sounding names like Emily and Sophie, instead of scary-sounding foreign ones.

It's just a meaningless excuse for more scaremongering. If you want to moan about the Islamification of Britain (and Christ knows the Mail wants to do that), then at least use accurate statistics about ethnicity and religious background, instead of using a cultural quirk in naming traditions as another excuse to get your Union Jack boxers in a twist.


  1. well said!
    their twisting of the stats to serve their agenda is stupid and unhelpful, but of course, that is the daily mail agenda (to be stupid and hate filled). it's so irresponsible as well as being shoddy journalism.

  2. Great post. It was obvious what the DM was going to do with this story.

  3. Excellent stuff, as soon as the list came out you could see what they were going to do. I even mentioned it on Twitter an hour before the story went up. They've missed Mehmet and Mamadou from their list so they couldn't even do proper research to come up with their leading headline.

    Worth noting that the Iranian Mohammad shouldn't be the same as the Bosnian Mehmed in the same way that Ioan isn't counted with John.

  4. I had a go at this too, but I think that you were better at it!


  5. Jack (7090) + Jackson (272) + Jac (115) + Jacques (22) + Jacky (11) + Jacson (3) + John (762) + Jonathan (468) + Jon (43) = 8786

    If anyone was interested :)

  6. I found 8272 of various spellings the on the official ONS data excluding hyphens eg Oliver-James. I only counted those beginning "OL". I found 7599 spellings of mohammad including hyphens. I used the Find function on word and a calculator using the starting letters MO, MA, ME, MU searching the official ONS document. If you know of any spelling not starting this way then they are not included. Figures do not count my failing as a human being. Whatever the exact figure Oliver seems to be the winner.

  7. This damn story has made it over to the "Huffington Post" the neo-cons are out and crazy!

  8. Well said, you've written what opinions i have in mind.

  9. Wouldn't it be easier if we all just had the same name? I'd like to propose 'Starchild Moonblossom' - fairly unisex, rolls off the tongue, should be inoffensive to everyone.

    Peace and love,
    -Starchlid Moonblossom.

  10. Weirdly the Times only puts Mohammed as 7th when combined.

  11. Why are some people so determined that Mohammed is NOT the most popular name in England and Wales?

  12. I guess because it isn't. If people didn't keep trying to pass off Mohammed as the most popular name no one would need to show them that the statistics they manipulate or perhaps don't know how to interpret (in which case perhaps they shouldn't be reporting on statistical data)do not show that at all.

  13. FYI, Muhammad is just spelled one way in Arabic. It's only when you transliterate it into foreign languages that you get the spelling variations.

  14. Excellent article exposing the irresponsible journalism that is rampant nowadays.They leaving no effort to make beleive us into thier half baked lies.

  15. Truly shocking, but not surprising. The Daily Mail is woeful especially when it comes to reporting science or mental health issues (I could go on!)

  16. The name Mohammad is very popular, because there are lots of muslims in England nowadays. You will be surprised to see in London more people originated in India and Pakistan than native Englishmen. And indeed every 3rd boy in muslim countries is called Mohammad. This explains the statistical data.