We already know this is happening in London and Paris. But St. Cloud, Minnesota?
St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota, came out with its annual list of top 10 most popular baby names for 2017, and No. 3 on the list of boys’ names was a bit of a surprise.
No. 1 – Henry
No. 2 – Liam
No. 3 – Mohamed
No. 4 – Jack
No. 5 – Nolan
No. 6 – William
No. 7 – Jackson
No. 8 – Logan
No. 9 – Wyatt
No. 10 – Grayson
The hospital has been publicizing its top baby names for boys and girls for as long as anyone can remember, but this is the first time the namesake of the Islamic prophet ended up in the top five.
In fact, as recently as 2013 the hospital published a list of its “Top 20” most popular baby names, and Mohamed was nowhere to be found.
But in 2015, the name Mohamed showed up for the first time, coming in at No. 6 on the list of boy’s names.
The vast majority of Muslims in Minnesota are refugees from Somalia, and the Somalis have large families. Just since 2002, the U.S. State Department, in cooperation with the United Nations, has distributed more than 54,000 Somali refugees into Minnesota cities and towns.
Refugees qualify for full U.S. citizenship within five years of their arrival on U.S. soil, but the babies they birth are immediately granted citizenship.
The name Mohammed, spelled one of various ways in English, has been among the most popular names for baby boys born in London, England, for more than a decade, and was No. 1 on London’s list last year.
But St. Cloud, Minnesota? Yes, indeed.
About 12 to 14 percent of St. Cloud’s total population of 67,000 is Somali.
In fact, the St. Cloud Hospital has been struggling to keep up with heavy translator costs due to the large number of Somali men, women and children receiving medical attention. In 2010, the translation costs were about $400,000, but by fiscal 2017 those costs soared to $1.7 million. The city started getting large numbers of refugees in 2008, and 10 years later the demographics of the city have been completely transformed.
St. Cloud Hospital serves three counties: Stearns, Benton and Sherburne.
“These are big, big numbers, these numbers are huge,” said area resident Ron Branstner. “I have complained about these translation costs at schools, medical facilities, courts and 911 center to our local councils to no avail.
“It’s just one right after another, Somali, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Branstner said of the popularity of the name Mohamed.
He said he reads the weekly birth announcements in the local newspaper, the St. Cloud Times.
“One week we had 96 babies born, and 48 of them were Somalis based on the names. You go through and count them in the births section, and there is just one after the other named Mohamed, or Abdi [Abdullah], or Ali.”
The U.S. government has been resettling East African refugees into Minnesota for more than 30 years, starting in the late 1980s, bringing them from Somalia, a country in a perpetual state of civil war.
“It’s been three decades of resettlements, so you have a whole generation now that’s been born there in Minnesota,” said Ann Corcoran, who follows the global migration of migrants for Refugee Resettlement Watch.
But other large Somali communities have sprung up in Columbus, Ohio; San Diego; Atlanta; Seattle; Fargo, North Dakota; and in Lewiston, Maine.
St. Cloud has also received a significant amount of “secondary migration,” meaning Somalis who were originally resettled elsewhere and then migrated to the city for jobs in the meatpacking industry or to be closer to family.
Gold N’ Plump, a chicken-processing plant owned by Pilgrim’s Pride near St. Cloud, got sued by a group of Somali workers several years ago when the company refused to provide prayer breaks. The Somalis won a settlement of more than $1 million.
The Somali community has become so strong politically that it controls one whole ward in Minneapolis with a seat held by a Somali politician. And last year the state elected its first Somali refugee to the State Legislature, Ilhan Omar.
The presence of the meatpacking industry and chain migration can be cited as the main reasons for the demographic transformation of St. Cloud.
The State Demographer’s Office estimates that there were between 40,200 and 52,400 Somalis in Minnesota as of January 2015.
Andi Egbert, assistant director of the state demographer’s office, acknowledged that their estimate is lower than others from the Somali community that have put the number as high as 80,000 Somalis living in Minnesota.
The state Office of Refugee Resettlement says that about 34,800 refugees arrived in Minnesota between 2003-2014 alone. Of those, 1,306 came to Stearns County and 20 to Sherburne County.