‘Mohammed is now the third most popular boy’s name in England. So why this shabby effort to conceal it?’

Max HastingsMax Hastings poses the question, in the Daily Mail. He writes:

“This week, the Office of National Statistics published a list of the most popular boys’ names in Britain: Jack, Oliver, Thomas, Harry, Joshua, Alfie, Charlie, Daniel. They reflect a cultural tradition as old as the nation’s history, and would provoke approving nods from Jack the Ripper, Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Becket and Harry Hotspur.

“There is just one small problem: the list is deceitful. In reality, the third most popular choice for boy children born last year in England and Wales was not Thomas, but Mohammed. The ONS explains blithely that it had no intent to deceive. Its normal practice is to catalogue different spellings separately, as in Mohammed, Muhammed and so on. But if you add these variants together, as surely seems logical, then Mohammed is right up there, near the top of the list.”

If the ONS has indeed manipulated the list, which I very much doubt, it would be because the popularity of the name Mohammed is regularly misrepresented as evidence that, as Hastings puts it, “a host of migrants is here, most of whom espouse an entirely different cultural tradition from our own”. According to Hastings, unless Britain can reclaim the inner cities from these “huge immigrant communities which may live in this country, but are tragically not of it”, then “we shall become a divided society, no longer recognisably British, of which a host of young Mohammeds and Muhammeds will be the symbols”.

In reality, as Alex Massie recently pointed out in the Spectator: “Muslims are much more likely to name their sons Mohammed than Christians are to call their son any single name. That is, there’s much greater variance amongst non-muslim families. In other words, unless you’re wanting to stoke panic and resentment what kids are called is not a terribly useful metric.”

Update:  See Mehdi Hasan’s comments on his New Statesman blog, 10 September 2009