Upon learning that in the UK last year, Mohammed (including its variant spellings) was the most popular name for baby boys, this was the reaction of comedian Bill Maher:
Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that? Because I am. And it’s not because of the race, it’s because of the religion. I don’t have to apologize, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?
Maybe Maher thinks that as an expression of cultural integration Muslim parents in Britain should be naming their boys after English football stars like Wayne Rooney or David Beckham (and I dare say some do) but he should hardly be surprised that the name of the Prophet remains a favorite. The racist thought that he dared not utter but surely thought was this: at the rate they’re reproducing, it’s just a matter of time before the Muslims take over.
But Bill Maher — like Pastor Terry Jones — thinks the way to avoid being branded a racist when it comes to expressing ones Islamophobia is to suggest that you have nothing against Muslims, you just don’t like their religion. Thus Maher doesn’t express concern about the size of Britain’s Muslim population — simply the way they are choosing to name their babies.
Maher’s parochiality is most evident however, not simply in the focus of his alarm but because of the context he places it in: the condition of the Western world 300 years from now.
If 300 years ago any of the leading figures of the Enlightenment could have been given a glimpse of the West as it is now, I doubt that any would have felt reassured that Western Civilization had been preserved — least of all when they saw the jokers who have assumed the role of its defenders.
If 300 years hence, civilization exists in any form, humanity will have advanced in ways hard to anticipate. On its current trajectory, the West and the rest of the world is heading in a direction where the names parents choose for their babies should be the least of our concerns.
As for how that parenting task is being engaged now in America, what is striking about the popular choices is not so much the cultural sources of the names as the difference between genders: Old Testament and/or grandiose names for boys and mostly secular names for girls — Jacob, Isabella, Ethan, Emma, Michael, Olivia, Alexander, Sophia, William, Ava, Joshua, Emily, Daniel, Madison, Jayden, Abigail, Noah, Chloe, Anthony, Mia.
I don’t imagine that Bill Maher will be too concerned that among these 2009 top ten names for boys and girls not one of them is a New Testament Christian name, but it’s certainly curious that in a country whose population so strongly identify themselves as Christian, the apostles, their disciples and other prominent figures from Christian scripture have apparently gone out of style. Don’t blame the Muslims.
But here’s what will come as the biggest shock to the Islamophobes: the most popular name for girls in Iran in 2009 turns out to be Maryam — the Arabic and Farsi equivalent of Mary, mother of Jesus. What do you make of that, Bill?