My name is Mohamed

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 13 February 2017

What is it like living with the world's most common name?

Mohamed Hassan sets out to meet others in Auckland who share his name - and there are a lot of them.

Subscribe to Voices for free on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

My name is Mohamed/Mohammed/Muhammad

Photo: RNZ Mohamed Hassan

Back in 2000, the Columbia Encyclopaedia estimated at least 150 million men and boys around the world were born with the name Mohamed.

Most studies indicate the Arabic name is the most common in the world, but it's impossible to know for sure just how many there are. In 2016, it topped the list of popular baby names in the UK.

So what are the origins of the name?

The earliest reference of it is the name of the Muslim prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (peace be upon him). Born circa 570 AD in the city of Mecca, he would become the central figure for more than 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.

Today, millions of parents pay homage to the prophet by naming their first born after him, in the hopes their child will one day take after the characteristics of Islam's holiest figure. But for some it's family tradition.

Mohamed Jaballah was born in the seaside tourist village of Sousse, Tunisia. He's the proud heir of two centuries of men in his family with his first name.

"My full name is actually Mohamed Ali Mohamed Ali Mohamed Ali Mohamed Jaballah," he said, struggling to contain a chuckle.

"Can you guess what my son's name is going to be?"

Mr Jaballah was named after his grandfather, who was named after his grandfather. His dad, in turn, was named after Mr Jaballah's great-grandfather, Ali Jaballah. Because legal Arabic names carry both the names of the father and grandfather, it can provide for some comical combinations in families dedicated to honouring their own.

"I hope it's not some obsessive-compulsive behaviour," he said.

"I'd like to think that my dad loved his dad, and my granddad loved his dad, as well."

Mr Jaballah grew up in Hamilton, but spent his high school years in the United Arab Emirates, where he was one of a sea of other Mohameds.

When he returned to New Zealand, he suddenly became nervous when mentioning his name to others, particularly following the September 11 attacks.

"There was a lot of pressure, and at the beginning because I wasn't comfortable with my identity, I used to like people calling me 'Mo'."

He said if he was in class and a lecturer called his name out, he felt people around him tense up.

"I just feel like there were a lot of judgements being passed on who I am before getting to know who I really was, a specific lens that goes into place when a name like Mohamed is said."

19-year-old medical student Mohammed Al-Diery wasn't named after anyone in his family, but the prophet himself.

"When my dad moved to New Zealand, he mixed in with a really good crowd of Muslims, and it was a time when he felt most religious."

He said while it can be a struggle facing preconceptions based on his name, he would never consider changing it.

"That would completely and utterly take away from my identity."

"If you can't accept your own name that means labels mean something to you."

He said his name served as a constant reminder to him to remember the actions of the prophet and try to emulate them in his daily life, whether at work or at home.

You may have noticed Mohammed Al-Diery spells his first name differently to Mohamed Jaballah. Because it's an Arabic name, meaning 'praised one', there is no true way of spelling it in English.

The most common spellings are Mohamed, Mohammed, Mohammad and Muhammad, but each varies depending on region and practice.

There are also several variations of the name itself; in Turkey it's commonly written as 'Mehmet' whereas in West Africa it's 'Mamadou'.

Whatever the spelling, what brings the millions of Mohamed / Mohammed / Muhammads together is a common link to a figure who lived and died 1400 years ago, whose life and teachings still impacts their lives each day.

The challenge comes in trying to stand out among the crowd.