The name Muhammad has broken into a parenting website’s top 10 list of most popular baby boy names for the very first time.
The name, which honors Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, crawled from 14th place in 2018 to 10th place in 2019, according to data collected from U.S. parents by BabyCenter.
“Muhammad’s been rising on BabyCenter top baby name lists around the world, so we knew it would soon break into the U.S. top 10,” Linda Murray, BabyCenter’s global editor in chief, said in a press release.
Another Arabic-origin name, Aaliyah, ranked as this year’s 10th most popular name for American baby girls on BabyCenter.
Two other faith-inspired names, Noah and Elijah, remained popular for baby boys in the U.S. this year. The two religious figures are mentioned in all three Abrahamic traditions.
BabyCenter said its data comes from nearly 600,000 parents who shared their babies’ names with the site in 2019. The site noted that in order to “capture true popularity,” its list combines names that sound similar but have alternate spellings (like Muhammad and Mohammed).
Having multiple spellings helps a name get into the top 10, Murray said.
Muhammad’s rising popularity has also been documented by the Social Security Administration, which collects data based on Social Security card applications for births in the United States. Muhammad was ranked No. 620 in 2000 ― but shot up to No. 345 in 2018.
Unlike BabyCenter, the SSA does not combine data for alternate spellings of a specific name.
The name Muhammad translates to “the most praised one.” Muslims do not think of Islam’s founder as a deity but see him as the “ultimate example” of how to live a righteous life, according to Sylvia Chan-Malik, a professor at Rutgers University who studies the history of Islam in the United States.
Imitating the prophet’s good behavior and good deeds is a fundamental part of Muslims’ daily religious practice, she said. By naming a child Muhammad, parents are expressing a desire for their child to do the same, she said.
“Naming a child Muhammad is another articulation of that, another way in which parents hope that by giving their children this name, they will emulate the good qualities of the Prophet Muhammad,” Chan-Malik told HuffPost.
Muslims currently make up about 1% of America’s total population, according to the Pew Research Center. Researchers estimate that by 2050, the U.S. Muslim population will have nearly doubled in size.
Muhammads have been part of American history for a long time. A man named Bampett Muhamed fought alongside colonists during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, a Persian immigrant named Mohammed Kahn enlisted in the Union Army.
A number of famous people in modern U.S. history also bear the name of Islam’s founder ― from the boxing legend Muhammad Ali to the Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
In earlier generations, it was common for immigrants named Muhammad to modify their name to “Mo” or change it to another name altogether, such as Matt, Chan-Malik said.
She thinks the rising popularity of the name is a sign that, despite the rise of Islamophobia in the post-9/11 era and the anti-Muslim sentiment emanating from the White House today, young American Muslim parents are proudly and unapologetically embracing their religious identities.
“In the face of all these attacks on Islam and Muslims, I think you see a new generation of young Muslims who are no longer accepting the way in which Islam has been vilified or demonized in politics and culture,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘I’m going to name my child Muhammad because this is meaningful to me, for my religious identity and my faith, and I’m no longer going to shy away from that.’”
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