The UK’s national statistics office recently released the latest data on baby names in England and Wales. It says the following: “Oliver remains as the most popular first name given to baby boys in England and Wales in 2016.” But that’s not really true. In fact, the most common name by far is Muhammad.
The issue is that Muhammad is not a name native to English, so it has several spellings, or transliterations, from the original Arabic. If you just look at the top 10 baby names in the data for England and Wales, it looks like Muhammad is in eighth place, with 3,908 boys born with that name last year. Looking at the top 100, though, reveals that “Mohammed” is 31st and “Mohammad” is 68th. Add these up, and the total is 7,084, a comfortable lead over the 6,623 Olivers. And there are many, many more spelling variations out there—these are just the ones that appear in the top 100.
The Office of National Statistics further says that Oliver “has been the most popular boys name since 2013.” Also untrue; that claim belongs to Muhammad. In 2012, the top three collective M(u|o)hamm(a|e)ds fell just short of Harry, then the top single spelling of a name. After that, Jack and Oliver overtake Harry, and the Manyhammeds overtake them all.
Of course, Muhammad is not alone in having multiple spellings. There’s Eric/Erik, Hanna/Hannah, Sean/Shaun, and so on. The difference is that many spellings of Muhammad are very common, so adding them together dramatically changes the name’s popularity relative to other contenders.
Don’t be fooled by the top 10 list—in England and Wales, Muhammad is number one.