Thursday, 28 October 2010

Spelling mistake

Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry
So screams the headline in today's Mail, inviting you to draw your own conclusions about how the dreaded Muslims are taking over. The comments at the foot of the article contain the usual predictable rants about immigration and "English" culture and so on.

The problem is, the Mail has had to fix the facts in order to make the story fit its readers' prejudices. As they admit halfway down the story, Mohammed is actually the 16th most popular name in Britain. But Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle has taken the liberty of including various other spellings of the same name - Muhammad, Mohammad, Muhammed and so on - and added them all together in order to give the "true picture". The Office for National Statistics didn't feel the need to do this, but who are they to argue with the Mail's methodology?

Of course, Mohammed is the only name to get this treatment from the Mail. Alexs are not bundled in with Alexanders, Alixs and Alecksanders. Charlie and Charles are kept distinct. Thomas and Tom apparently have nothing in common at all.

The paper also fails to mention that naming your firstborn son after the prophet is a standard thing for Muslims, so there is always going to be a bias towards it - after all, if there was an English tradition, followed by almost everyone in the country, to call your first son "Methusula", it would comfortably top the chart year after year. Likewise, the lack of a similar tradition for female Muslim children gives parents much more flexibility on names, so there are no "Muslim" names anywhere near the top of the girls' list.

There's also a distinct lack of context - add together all of the spellings of Mohammed and you get 7,549 babies, which sounds a lot. But 362,135 male births were registered in England and Wales last year, so the massed ranks of Mohammeds make up just over two per cent of 2009's baby boys, or around one per cent of all births.

What's the story here? I think we should be far more worried that three couples chose to call their sons Zoltan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Zoltan is a pretty ordinary Hungarian name.