international intrigue

Israel Had Some Trouble Figuring Out Its Top Baby Boy Name

Photo: Stacey Newman/Getty Images

It was a bit of a mix-up, you see: In announcing this year’s most popular baby names on Sunday, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority didn’t count clearly Arab names, making the winner Yosef instead of the actual winner, Mohammed. (It seems there wasn’t a similar controversy with the female winner, Tamar.)

According to a government spokeswoman, the reason for the confusion is that the agency released the same list they’re usually asked for: a ranking of Hebrew names. A full list, including the Arabic ones, was released as soon as it was requested by Haaretz, so there’s no reason to doubt her story. (And why make the announcement in mid-September rather than after January 1, as we do? Well, the Jewish New Year starts tonight — Shana Tova, readers!)

But what the incident does reveal is some long-standing anxiety about birth rates. Israeli Arabs — that’s citizens of the state, not those living in the West Bank or Gaza — make up 21 percent of Israel’s population. Though they’re still substantially smaller than the Jewish majority, it’s not surprising that Mohammed’s victory makes some Israelis antsy about a potential future demographic shift. On the other hand, the fear may still be overstated: Mohammed is simply a much more favored name in Muslim cultures than, say, Abraham is in Jewish ones.

Israel Can’t Decide What Its Top Baby Name Is