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http://www.newoxfordreview.org/note.jsp?...conformity

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commenta...w.facebook


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Individuality: The New Conformity

April 2013

By now it has become common knowledge that Catholics, by and large, have lost or abandoned most of their cultural markers, those outward signs of a faith at once public and private that identify them as a people set apart. While there are scattered pockets of resistance to this unhappy trend, the growing body of evidence points overwhelmingly to Catholics’ long slide into the amorphous mass of Americana.

Here is yet more proof: At one parochial grammar school in the San Francisco Bay Area, the first-grade class is home to Colin, Kayden, Aidan, Jayden, Justin, Logan, Evan, Brendan, Peyton, Mason, and another Aidan. Do you detect a pattern here? The same class also hosts Isabella, Daniella, Gabriella, Sophia, Sabrina, Olivia, Callista, Marissa, and Makena. The morning roll call must sound like some sort of rhyming game. (Yes, these are real names at a real school.)

Now, the kids in the latter group are undoubtedly all girls (we hope), but there’s some weird unisex thing going on with some of the names in the former group. Is Kayden a boy or a girl? How about Jayden? Or Mason? Or Peyton? We’ve known of both boys and girls with those names. Frankly, we don’t understand the appeal of unisex names. Is androgyny something to which the parents at this Catholic school wouldn’t mind their kids aspiring? What gives?

Yes, we suppose we could be reading too much into this odd confluence of like-sounding names. Obviously, the parents know their children’s sex, and maybe they weren’t aware of, or didn’t care about, the androgynous nature of the names they chose. Perhaps their aspirations for their offspring had nothing to do with it. The simplest and most likely explanation is that this group of parents prefers the trendy over the traditional, that what we are witnessing here is but one more example of what has been termed the modernization theory of name trends. “People value names that are uncommon,” writes Philip Cohen in a recent article at the website of The Atlantic (Dec. 4, 2012). And the prevalence of uncommon names is a reflection of “the growing cultural value of individuality.”

Indeed, there seems to be a sense among today’s parents that the old familiar names are just that: too old and familiar. (Though we were relieved to find a Paul, a Michael, a Joseph, and a Justin in that first-grade class.) By and large, those names from years past no longer fit in a culture that has witnessed the weakening and breakdown of traditional roles and institutions, a culture that prizes uniqueness and individuality above all else. Cohen quotes sociologist Stanley Lieberson, the author of A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change (2000) and one of the prominent theorists of modern name trends, to this effect: “As the role of the extended family, religious rules, and other institutional pressures declines, choices are increasingly free to be a matter of taste.” As that first-grade roll call demonstrates, tastes today favor the unique, the uncommon.

In the larger arc of child-naming, Cohen writes, “Conformity to tradition has been replaced by conformity to individuality.” And here Cohen has hit on an old conundrum: All brave new quests for individuality invariably collide with an old adversary, the comfort of conformity.

The blurring of individuality and conformity was the subject of Hal Niedzviecki’s 2008 book Hello, I’m Special. In today’s pop-influenced, market-driven cultural milieu, Niedzviecki writes, “Conformity is no longer about adhering to strict social practices meant to preserve and uphold the sanctity of the family, the church, the nation-state. Today, conformity is about doing whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like, so long as what you are doing is all about the new you…. Institutions take a back seat to our personal quest to be ourselves. Religion has lost meaning, family is fragmented, and nations are judged on their ability to foster an environment in which the individual has the opportunity to attain the kind of revered status once held in reserve for monarchs, religious leaders, and the rare genius. Nonconformity is now the accepted norm of society…. Individuality is the new conformity.”

Now free from the old institutions — family, religion — that once largely determined how we define ourselves and our place in the world, how are we supposed to shape our mandatorily “unique” identities? “Most of us turn to pre-established signs and symbols that can project a sense of our individuality,” writes Niedzviecki. Hence the enduring popularity of such “uncommon” names like Aidan and its derivatives Kayden, Jayden, and Hayden. But this grasping after the trappings of outer individuality, Niedzviecki argues, is indicative of a need for interior conformity. Conformity to what? To our culture’s prefabricated patterns of nonconformity. As the expected and socially accepted expressions of nonconformity were slowly co-opted by consumerist culture, the very concept of nonconformity was emptied of meaning. Why? Because, as Niedzviecki puts it, “if everyone is a free-thinking, deepening-the-self-understanding rebel, then I’m just like everyone else. A nonconformist conforming to nonconformity.”

Nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in the tattoo trend of the past ten years. Go to virtually any beach (at least in California) and it seems like half the adult population, including moms and dads, sports some type of “body art.” And so what was once an emblem of initiation into some creepy subculture — motorcycle gangs, sailors, punk rockers — has become the de rigueur form of self-expression for the middle class. Here again we’re confronted with the old conundrum: When a form of individual expression metastasizes to the point that everyone is expressing his individuality in the same way, that form of expression becomes inert, void of all significance or “shock value.” (Perhaps this helps explain why nascent subcultures tend to detest the middle class: Nobody wants his thunder stolen, rendered safe for mass consumption, and resold to the bloated masses.)

In like manner, if some of the currently trendy kids’ names were once avatars of the unique, they’ve since lost that cachet. It’s tough for, say, a Jayden to stand apart from the crowd when there’s a Peyton, a Mason, a Kayden, and two Aidans in his class. The same goes for Isabella, Olivia, Sophia, and Sabrina. It’s as if parents are saying, “I want my child to be different, to be unique — just like everybody else.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that, according to the Social Security Administration, Mason, Jayden, and Aiden ranked among the top 10 most popular boys’ names in 2011 (coming in at nos. 2, 4, and 9, respectively), while Sophia, Isabella, and Olivia all made the top five for girls (nos. 1, 2, and 4, respectively). So the “uncommon” names Cohen writes about are actually quite common, giving credence to Hal Niedzviecki’s theory that the “cultural value of individuality” conceals a more highly valued, newly conceptualized type of conformity, or what he calls “herd-like individuality.”

Charles Helms, an attorney from Dallas, writing way back in the September 1994 NOR, pointed out some of the problems from a Catholic perspective with the proliferation of the “trendy names” of that decade, like Hunter, Logan, and Tyler for boys, and Chandler, Brooke, and McKenzie for girls. Such names, he wrote — and he might well have been writing about today’s trendy names — “are not Judeo-Christian. They are not the names of martyrs, angels, or saints. Nor are they biblical. Parents do not aspire for their children to have the bravery of young David, the loyalty of Ruth, the patient love of Rachel, or the passionate faith of St. Paul.”

Helms has fingered the unfortunate flipside of the rise of trendy kids’ names: the correlative decline of traditional names — especially traditional Christian names. Cohen, in his Atlantic article, underscores this turn away from tradition with a prime example. Perhaps the most meaningful of Christian names, not to mention the most obviously Christian name, is Mary. As Cohen reports, Mary was the most common name given to newborn girls for every year dating back to the beginning of baby-name record-keeping, from around 1800 until 1961, the last year in which it held the top spot. In the year 2011, according to the Social Security Administration, Mary fell to 112th place. “In absolute numbers,” Cohen writes, “the number of girls given the name Mary at birth has fallen 94 percent” over the past fifty years. “In the history of recorded names,” he tells us, “nothing this catastrophic has ever happened before.”

“America’s Christian family standard-bearers are not standing up for Mary anymore,” he writes.

We orthodox Catholics like to talk about being “countercultural.” This is our insider code for proudly displaying the cultural markers of our ancient faith. And there’s really something to this, as reclaiming religious traditions has become an act of real nonconformity these days, one that cuts across all currently dominant cultural grains. Niedzviecki — who, let’s be clear, is no Christian apologist — realizes this. “There are still those,” he writes, “who find succor and meaning in tradition. Though fewer and fewer in number, those who seek out tradition in the new world order of individualist conformity adopt the code with an intensity and fervor that seems jarring…. They [are] not instilled, as most of their peers are, with the triumphant greatness of the individual as preached through a million pop-culture products. They follow a leader, a code, a god, and they give their lives meaning not by seeking to attain control of their narrative and reshaping it as pop fodder, but through the opposite: by relinquishing it.” Religious orthodoxy that rejects both radical individualism and nonconformist conformity “thrives on the collective post-millennial sense that something is missing in contemporary technological society — some purpose and connection that our ancestors had, but we most obviously lack.”

Why is the act of naming important? Since the dawn of creation and throughout salvation history, it has been a task laden with religious significance. God’s first act after placing Adam in the Garden of Eden was to bring the beasts of the field and the birds of the air before him “to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 2:19). Later, when God established the covenant of circumcision with Abram and promised him a son, the first thing He stipulated was that Abram be renamed Abraham. He also ordered Abraham’s wife Sarai to become Sarah and the son of promise to be named Isaac (Gen. 17:5, 15, 19). In like manner, an angel of the Lord instructed Zechariah to name his son John (as in John the Baptist, Lk. 1:13), and Joseph to name his son Jesus (Mt. 1:21). Jesus renames Peter, Saul becomes Paul, and so on, to this very day, when the Church requires that every baptized child be given a Christian name.

It’s time we recovered a sense of the great responsibility involved in naming a child, and an appreciation of the aspirations each name signifies. Bestowing traditional Christian names on our children — meaningful names from our Church’s glorious past — is a truly counter­cultural act.

We’re content to let Philip Cohen have the last word: “I’m not here to give advice to people who want to restore the ‘traditional family.’ But if I were I would recommend putting your names where your tradition is — and producing some more Marys.”


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Why on earth do parents want to give their
children silly names?

We should return to the days when children were named after saints rather than following the
example of celebrities.


I do about 40 baptisms a year, and oddly I have never ever had to baptise a Kylie, or even a Jason. I have not been keeping a record, but the most popular girls names seem to be Olivia and Grace, and the boys names are all what you would expect, traditional names, with a few ‘comeback’ names from the past, like Joseph.

The opening of the baptismal rite is the question put to the parents: “What name have you given your child?” Baptism is not a naming ceremony. And that is good news. Otherwise one might be left with the difficult choices facing registrars in New Zealand, who have the power to refuse to register certain names if they are deemed offensive. There is no list of banned names, so the discretion rests with the registrars, who, according to this report are all following the same playbook.

Why on earth, though, do some parents want to give their children silly names? It may have something to do with our celebrity obsessed culture, in which case the blame lies with the initiators of the fad, Mr and Mrs Bob Geldof, and Mr and Mrs David Beckham, among others.

The sad truth remains that once upon a time we were all named after saints, or heroes from antiquity, as was once a legal requirement in France. And in having a saint’s name, we had roots of a sort. It is still common in Italy to find that Christian names are linked to a certain region. Everyone called Calogero, in my experience, is from Sicily, though I find to my surprise that Saint Calocerus was a second century martyr from Brescia in the north of Italy, at least according to Wikipedia. However, recourse to Italian Wiki brings one face to face with San Calogero the sixth century hermit much venerated in Sicily.

Sicily is of course a great place for saints, but the localism of Christian names is common to the rest of Italy as well. Maurizio (Maurice) is a Piedmontese name (after another martyr of Roman times), and Gennaro (Januarius) is still common in Naples, though it has spread to Kenya, thanks to Italian missionaries, as has Consolata, the Madonna venerated in Turin.

It is rather sad that we English do not have this custom. True, a few of us are called George and Edward after our national patron saints, but it is simply impossible to go up to someone and say “So tell me, Wilfred (or Cuthman, perhaps,) where exactly do you come from in West Sussex?” Are there any people in the north east, perhaps, called Bede? Not many, I fear. Are people from Chertsey often called Erconwald? Come off it! But it is a sad reflection on our rootless existence.

Once in Africa, I met a priest who had a Scottish surname, and an unusual Christian name. “So,” I said, “You come from Floriana?” He ought not to have been surprised. Everyone ought to recognise the name of Saint Publius, Malta’s first bishop, and patron saint of the parish Church of Floriana. He was thrown to the lions, which always fascinated me as a child, and which his statue graphically illustrates.

Being named after a saint gives you a patron saint. Having a name from classical antiquity, as I do, leaves you a little adrift. My three elder brothers are all named after saints, but I have to do with an Empire-builder. Frankly, I feel cheated. But not as cheated, I suspect, as some children in contemporary Britain (but not New Zealand) will one day feel.
I am convinced that some parents just take a copy of the latest Pottery Barn catalog and just name their kids after furniture collections.

These are the names for some of the local children we encounter at the playground, the municipal pool.

Boys:

Arlo
Otto
Owen
Ethan
Truman
Jayden
Jonah
Peyton
Holden (there are many Holdens and Holdons)
Duncan (America Runs On)
Declan
Sebastian (I actually love this name)
Luke, Lucas
Liam
Hunter
Max
Tyler


I still see some boys named John, Joseph, Thomas.  No Peters, no Pauls.

Girls:

Bailey
Finley
Millie
Lily
Larkin
Delilah
Tallulah
Maya
Emily, Emma, Emmy
Ava x100
Layla
Lila
Lola
Caelee
Colette
Sophia x100
Olivia x10
Isabella/Bella x1000
Elena, Ilana, Iliana
Peyton
Heyden

Some of these names are real, respectable names but sometimes it's hard not to cringe at what I hear when I ask, "What's his/her name?"  When I was growing up the most popular names were Jessica, Melissa, Marissa, Alyssa, Jennifer, Heather, Katie, and most boys were named something normal like John, James, Matt, Peter....  Maybe a few trendy names like Brendan (although that's a saint), Taylor, etc. 
We named our daughter Genevieve. At first we never met anyone under the age of 70 with that name.  LOL But I have seen the name floating around more. I didn't realize when we named our daughter that St Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.
If God blessed me with kiddies I shall name them 'Moonshine Star Dance' (boy) or "Elderberry Flowerpot" (girl). Though I must say I don't believe in names because it implies ownership - I would rather my children chose their own names or perhaps were nameless and merely expresed their "Who-ness" through their virtues. So if someone said to them "Hello my name is Edward and you are?" they would respond, "I am love, hugs and happiness". Isn't that nice?
(05-09-2013, 06:56 AM)catquilt Wrote: [ -> ]We named our daughter Genevieve. At first we never met anyone under the age of 70 with that name.  LOL But I have seen the name floating around more. I didn't realize when we named our daughter that St Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.

That's a great name! I like it (and I have never met anybody over 30 with that name, seriously I knew of two or three Genevieve's in University).
I named my rifle Natalia, but her nickname is Kindness.

Does this count?
Will we have a St. Jayden in our lifetime?
This is why i stopped subscribing to "Catholic" magazines, because of their constant complaining about trivial crap like what a child is named.  The thing i usually think is funny is that the folks who complain about names actually don't realize that the names they are complaining about really aren't that "un-traditional".

Take Ethan.  I see it is on the list of "crazy weird" names per New Oxford review article.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble NewOxford review, but Ethan is a variation of Abraham.  Its actually Hebrew and is in the old testament making it a very old and very traditional and a saintly name.

Lily is another one.  Lily is short for Lilian which my great great aunt was named.  Lilian was a very popular name about 150 years ago.  So it isn't some wackadoodle name out of the blue.

Audrey is another.  I got alot of crap once from someone because I named my daughter Audrey and she is "not a saint" per this person's opinion.  Audrey is actually an ancient saint from the early days of England and was an incorruptable.

Here are the other names New Oxford Review seems to think is weird (which just goes to show their ignorance) ...
1) Sophia -  (The name is greek for "wisdom", ever heard of the Hagia Sophia? - There is actually a saint sophia, the greek Orthodox cathedral in DC is named after her)
2) Isabella - (The great Portugese saint.  Seriously, why is she on NewOx's shit list?)
3) Ava - (There is a saint Ava.  Variation of Eve who is a saint, mother of the human race)

Regarding the Jayden's, Aidens, Kaydens and Masons, but sorry New Oxford Review, those are old Irish / Gaelic names.  So there not really new unrooted names, but old names resurrected
(05-09-2013, 07:18 AM)Felix E Wrote: [ -> ]If God blessed me with kiddies I shall name them 'Moonshine Star Dance' (boy) or "Elderberry Flowerpot" (girl). Though I must say I don't believe in names because it implies ownership - I would rather my children chose their own names or perhaps were nameless and merely expresed their "Who-ness" through their virtues. So if someone said to them "Hello my name is Edward and you are?" they would respond, "I am love, hugs and happiness". Isn't that nice?

LOL

I will mention this to my wife if we have #5. We might have to borrow them, although they could be in heavy use if this idiotic trend continues.

Aaron (saint)
Samuel (saint)
Mercedes (blessed)
Adelaide (saint)

My kids' names..

Nothing really 'goes' with my last name though.
(05-09-2013, 09:09 AM)Armor of Light Wrote: [ -> ]
(05-09-2013, 07:18 AM)Felix E Wrote: [ -> ]If God blessed me with kiddies I shall name them 'Moonshine Star Dance' (boy) or "Elderberry Flowerpot" (girl). Though I must say I don't believe in names because it implies ownership - I would rather my children chose their own names or perhaps were nameless and merely expresed their "Who-ness" through their virtues. So if someone said to them "Hello my name is Edward and you are?" they would respond, "I am love, hugs and happiness". Isn't that nice?

LOL

I will mention this to my wife if we have #5. We might have to borrow them, although they could be in heavy use if this idiotic trend continues.

Aaron (saint)
Samuel (saint)
Mercedes (blessed)
Adelaide (saint)

My kids' names..

Nothing really 'goes' with my last name though.

..at least the trendy names are not 'Luther' or 'Calvin'..
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