The release of the latest official data on baby names is likely to raise the subject of the popularity of the name Muhammad once more.
The latest data shows that Muhammad was the 12th most popular name given to baby boys in 2015.
It also shows that Mohammed and Mohammad were in the top 100 as well – standing at 29 and 68 respectively, while Muhammed was just outside the top 100, at 121.
Combining spelling variations changes the name at the top
The ONS treats all names separately by publishing the names of babies as they are written on their birth certificates and ranking them accordingly. This has been our longstanding approach and it is consistent with international practice.
In the past it has been reported that Muhammad is the most popular name for baby boys – however this is often because people have combined the various spellings of Muhammad.
But combining spellings of one particular name distorts the list – for example combining Sophie, Sophia and Sofia on the 2015 girls list would knock Amelia off the top spot.
Number of baby girls named Amelia, Sophie, Sofia or Sophia and Sophie, Sofia and Sophia combined, England and Wales, 2015
So to make a fair comparison either all names should be treated separately or all names on the list should be combined with names that have a similar spelling. For example, Martin should be combined with Martyn and Isobelle with Isobel and Isabelle and Ollie with Olly and Oli and Olli etc.
If the latter approach was taken it would make the lists look very different. But it would also require subjective decision-making about whether certain names are distinctive or not – for example it would raise issues such as whether or not we should combine Sara with Sarah and Anna with Ana - some people pronounce these names the same way, but other people do not.
The task would be a complex and enormous one – using 2015 data it would involve over 27,000 different boys' names and over 35,000 different girls' names.
The name Mohammed ranked at 91 in 1924
The appearance of Mohammed in the top 100 is not such a new phenomenon – the first time this name entered the top 100 was in 1924 when it ranked as the 91st most popular name for baby boys. This was not a blip as the name has featured in the top 100 most popular names for baby boys every ten years from 1924 to 1994 and every year since 1996.
Different spellings have joined it in the top 100 in more recent years, but three spellings of the name were also in the top 100 in 1954.
Rank of Mohammed, Mohammad, Muhammad and Mohamed in England and Wales for every ten years between 1904 and 1994 and for every year from 1996 onwards
Why are Muhammad/Mohammed/Mohammad rising up the rankings?
We do not have a definitive answer for why the variations of the name Muhammad have generally risen up the rankings over time, but there are some possible explanations.
1. The increasing size of the Muslim community in England and Wales
The number of people identifying as Muslim on the Census for England and Wales increased from 1.5 million (3% of the population) in 2001 to 2.7 million people (5% of the population) in 2011.
2. The dominance of the name in the Muslim community combined with increased diversity in names for baby boys
Between 1996 and 2015 there was a 66% increase in the number of different names given to baby boys, from 16,817 different names to 27,870 different names.
But in the Muslim community the name Muhammad or one of its variations is very dominant as it is traditional to name baby boys after the prophet of Islam out of respect and honour for him.
The combination of these two things is likely to be part of the reason we have seen Muhammad/Mohammed/Mohammad rise up the rankings.
3. The possible increased dominance of the name in the Muslim community
It is possible that an increasing number of Muslims living in England and Wales are naming their baby boys Muhammad/Mohammed/Mohammad.
This may be to remind them of their heritage as they grow up in a non-Muslim country.
4. The possible effect of popular sporting figures with the names Muhammad and Mohamed
Muhammad Ali and Mohamed (Mo) Farah may have played a role in increasing the popularity of the name.
Other visual.ONS articles:
How religion has changed in England and Wales
Baby names since 1904: How has yours performed?
You can download the top 100 names given to baby boys and girls for every ten years from 1904 to 1994.
You can also download the count and rank of the names given to three or more baby boys and girls from 1996 to 2015.
You can also access the data from the statistical bulletins on baby names given to boys and girls from 1996 to 2015.
For more information on baby names data, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org