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Individuality: The New Conformity

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.”

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