On a long plane journey from the US to the UK a couple of days ago, I was presented with copies of two newspapers - The Daily Mail and The Independent. I browsed through them, and noticed the same story in each, about the most popular girls and boys names in the UK in the past year.
In the Independent, the story ran under the headline: "Oliver, meet Olivia: poll shows favourite names". The top five boys names were:
In the Daily Mail, there was a different slant, under the headline "Now Mohammed topples Jack as No. 1 boy's name". Their list was:
Hang on a minute. The list is produced by the Office of National Statistics. How come they sent different lists to The Mail and The Independent? The answer of course, is that they didn't. The official list is the one printed in The Independent. The Daily Mail decided to add several variants of Mohammed together, including Mahamed and Mohmmed. For some reason, they didn't combine variants of John, such as Jon, Johnny and Jonny. They also fail to mention that it's long been a popular custom to give male Muslim children the name of their prophet.
Obviously, the Mail is creating a story by playing around with the figures (Mohammed was actually ranked 16th in the official list). But why? Could it be to feed the prejudices of their readers? I hope not. However, I wonder how many pub conversations are now beginning with the phrase "Do you realise that Mohammed is now the most popular UK name....?"