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The Schmooze

How Popular Are Jewish Baby Names In New York City?

What’s in a name? Well, if you’re a baby who was born in New York City in 2016, chances are the answer is “a lot of biblical significance.”

The New York City Department of Health has released the top ten most popular baby names of that year, and the list is fascinating.

Of the top ten names for baby girls in New York City, only two out of ten have discernibly Jewish derivations: Leah and Sarah, which clock in at numbers eight and nine respectively, originate in the Torah.

But of the top names for baby boys, six out of ten names — Jacob, Ethan, Noah, Matthew, Daniel and Michael — are derived from the Torah. Additionally Aiden, as the fifth most popular name, is sometimes chosen by Jewish parents as a variation on “Eden” or the biblical name “Adin,” though most people likely take it from the Gaelic or Irish.

Of course, names derived from the Old Testament are also popular with people who like the original but prefer its sequel, otherwise known as Christians. Certainly names like Michael and especially Matthew, though originating in the Torah, owe most of their popularity to their significance in Christianity. David, another biblical name, fell out of the top ten this year in favor of Dylan (claiming a Jewish connection via Bob Dylan feels tenuous) and Leah dropped down three slots from number five. Daniel ascended, but only to seventh place.

Image by Courtesy of the New York City Department of Health

Looking at names controlled by race and ethnicity, however, tells a story so different as to almost be written in Hebrew. Though many Jewish people are not white, one person out of every three non-Hispanic white people living in New York City is Jewish. Rather than opening the are-Jewish-people-white can of worms, let’s examine the fact that six out of ten top names for white baby girls in New York City this year — Rachel, Esther, Sarah, Chaya, Leah, and Chana — are either characters in the Tanach or Hebrew words. The boys list — Joseph, Michael, David, Moshe, Jacob, Benjamin, Daniel and Adam — is also exceedingly biblical, though of course, far from exclusively Jewish.

Image by Courtesy of the New York City Department of Health

Image by Courtesy of the New York City Department of Health

Jewish celebrities and public figures were also recognized by parents, with Scarlett (as in, “Johansson”) coming out as the 33rd most popular name for girls, and Ruth (as in the Supreme Court justice or the Moabite) at number 120. May all the babies named for her live that long!

Of the 120,376 babies born in New York City in 2016, exactly one was named Ori, which means “my light” in Hebrew.) No babies, as far as we know, were named Gal. We’ll have to wait for the 2017 data to see if that’s changed.

Welcome to the world, Jewish babies and non-Jewish babies alike! We especially look forward to meeting all the baby Moshes.

Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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