Why 'Keira' and 'Mohammed' are hot British baby names
These are lean times for Davids in Britain.Skip to next paragraph
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They've had their heroes in the past, from statesman Lloyd George to filmmaker Lean, and from soccer star Beckham to rock star Bowie. But now the name that means "beloved" seems to have lost the nation's affection. For the first time in more than 50 years, David no longer appears in the list of top 50 baby names.
Nowadays, a British boy is far more likely to be called Kyle or Dylan than Peter or Paul, neither of which feature in the top 100. And significantly, Mohammed, with its differently spelled variants, is now the fifth most popular given name in the country, with more than 5,000 babies named for the founder of Islam last year.
According to recent surveys, many of Britain's old favorites, names which have ruled the roost for centuries, are being supplanted by an eclectic mix of the exotic and trendy. At the same time, traditional biblical names like David and John are falling on hard times, but a new crop of scripturally inspired names - like Joshua and Joseph - are climbing the charts.
Experts point to a number of reasons for the trend. They say parents still want names that express solid moral and spiritual values, perhaps because of the uncertainty of the times. But they also want uniqueness, bringing in a whole new slate of names to challenge perennial favorites.
"Names are an insight into social trends," says Tristan Hopkinson, brand manager with Bounty, a baby-product marketing company. "They go in and out in cycles. But there are those like John, ... a constant feature since 1899, which have a fairly long life cycle. And then those which have a shorter cycle, which pop in and out."
John, like David, has fallen on hard times. In surveys released recently by Bounty and by the government Office for National Statistics, John languished in the mid-60s on the list of most-popular boys' names in 2004. Lewis and Ethan are now far more popular. Robert and Christopher occupy similarly low spots. David hovers at No. 56.
"I was shocked," said David Maund, a 34-year-old executive and one of the thousands of British Davids getting used to their new lowly status.
"Maybe it's because some celebrity Davids have fallen from grace in recent times, like David Beckham, David Blunkett, or even David Brent," the hapless protagonist in the hugely popular sitcom "The Office," he adds.
"These three have collectively given our name a bad, er, name."
The girls' lists are no less striking, with Paige and Madison now preferred to old staples like Victoria and Katherine. Jane, Mary, and Margaret don't even make the top 100. Jack and Emily topped the 2004 list. But neither name featured prominently 20 years ago.
One of the reasons for the decline in old favorites is the proliferation of names now available to parents. In Elizabethan England, parents essentially had to choose from barely a dozen names steeped in tradition, religion, and genealogy. Even by the mid-20th century the pool of names considered acceptable was significantly smaller than today.
As in America, baby names in Britain today are derived from a bewildering array of sources.
"Compared to several hundred years ago, when a large percentage of the population would have been named John or William or something like that, there is certainly a lot more diversity now," says Mike Campbell, who runs an American website that explores the etymology and history of names.