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MiserereNobis

The Social Conventions of Mormon Names

33 posts in this topic

There are two conventions concerning naming/addressing I'd like to discuss.

First, the convention of using an authority's 3 names, but with one an abbreviation. Why are almost all of the general authorities referred to with the abbreviation of their middle name, and the others with the abbreviation of their first name? This is an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's names (and maybe other earlier leaders) do not follow this convention.

Secondly, why the use of brother and sister in addressing each other? And further, why the use of the last name in this? How was Joseph Smith addressed? Brother Smith? President Smith? Brother Joseph?

This is obviously not a doctrinal issue nor a issue of contention; I'm just curious if there is a reason for the convention.

Thanks!

ETA: We could add the use of titles to this, if you'd like (like Elder, President, etc), but that's not as interesting to me as the two points I brought up. In Catholicism we have lots and lots of titles :)

 

Edited by MiserereNobis
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3 minutes ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I find it curious that you seem to think this is a custom limited to Mormon  leaders. I note from a list of the past presidents of the United States that many of them also used a middle initial in their formal identities.

Good point. I guess I'm just thinking about what I read here and didn't connect it to a greater cultural phenomenon. But it does seem more pronounced in Mormonism than in, say, the presidency.

And thank you for your thorough answer. I appreciate the time you spent answering! On the other hand, your answer was probably too thorough, so no one else will respond and you killed the thread ;)

 

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26 minutes ago, MiserereNobis said:

Good point. I guess I'm just thinking about what I read here and didn't connect it to a greater cultural phenomenon. But it does seem more pronounced in Mormonism than in, say, the presidency.

And thank you for your thorough answer. I appreciate the time you spent answering! On the other hand, your answer was probably too thorough, so no one else will respond and you killed the thread ;)

 

Well, if there are any other questions that occur to you along this line, please don't hesitate to ask me.

And don't be surprised if some of my brothers and sisters [wink, wink, nudge, nudge] on this message board challenge some of what I've said here. I'm pretty confident in what I have stated above, however. Given my profession, it is essential for me to be knowledegable about  naming conventions in the Church and to apply them correctly.

 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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I have argued in the past that the use of middle initials was an Anglican convention and the Brethren in missions adopted that convention. 

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3 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I can only guess that the custom seems to lend an air of formality and dignity to the office held.

I find it curious that you seem to think this is a custom limited to Mormon  leaders. I note from a list of the past presidents of the United States that many of them also used a middle initial in their formal identities.

I think it a fairly safe bet that the ones who use an abbreviation of their first name do so because they go by their middle name. I'm like that. My parents named me Ruel Scott Lloyd but designated that I be called Scott. For that reason, in my by-line and often times in my signature, I am R. Scott Lloyd.
 

Joseph and Brigham were in a different time period than most of their successors. The first five presidents of the Church were known by first and last name: Joseph Smith Jr., Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. It wasn't until Joseph F. Smith that it became customary to include a middle initial: Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, David O. McKay, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson.

The eighth, 10th and 13th presidents used all three of their names: George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith and Ezra Taft Benson. There is a clear reason for this. Each of these men was named after his father (or, in the case of President Benson, his grandfather), who was a luminary in his own right in earlier Church leadership. George Albert Smith was the son of George A. Smith, a pioneer-era apostle during the presidency of Brigham Young. Joseph F. Smith was an earlier Church president and the nephew of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Ezra T. Benson was also an apostle during the presidency of Brigham Young. Each of the younger men used all three of his names to differentiate himself from his father (or grandfather).

This custom emerged very early on in the history of the Church. We believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, that we are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father. But more particularly, those who are baptized members of the Church are regarded as brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Using the title Brother or Sister reminds us of this fact and of our covenantal obligation to bear one another's burdens.

That probably stems from the broader custom of using last names after other courtesy titles such as Mr. or Mrs.

My understanding from my reading of Church history is that he was nearly always addressed as "Brother Joseph." The convention of using the last name after "Brother" appears to have come about later.

Same with "Brother Brigham," although my sense is that it was more common for the early Church members to call him President Young than it was for them to refer to Joseph Smith as President Smith.

No, it's not a doctrinal issue, but these are some rather deeply entrenched practices.

I think this is more obligatory in the Church than is the use of Brother or Sister. Those who hold priesthood offices, particularly those who are on the General Authority or area seventy level of Church leadership are nearly always addressed by the titles you mentioned (except for members of the Presiding Bishopric, who are addressed with the title Bishop). This is to show respect for, deference to and recognition of their offices.

Interestingly, the guidelines are that those who hold leadership positions on a general level in the auxiliary organizations of the Church -- Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, Young Men and Sunday School -- are to be addressed as Brother or Sister such-and-such, not President. That's also the case on a stake and ward (local) level.

Ergo, when Elder Tad R. Callister, a General Authority Seventy, received emeritus status and thereupon was immediately appointed as Sunday School general president, he went from being called Elder Callister to Brother Callister. It took some getting used to for me, because I cover the Sunday School auxiliary for the LDS Church News.

To my knowledge, this is the first and only time such a thing has happened in the Church -- that a man went from being a General Authority to a general auxiliary leader.

One more thing that occurs to me to tell you. It is proper to always refer to the wife of a general Church leader or mission president as Sister such-and-such. Full-time missionaries in the Church are to be addressed with the titles Elder or Sister, regardless of their ages, except for mission presidents, who are called President such-and-such.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions on this, I can probably answer them for you.

Edited to add: The president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is to be addressed with the title President, not Elder. Hence, the current man who holds that position is to be addressed as President Russell M. Nelson.

This is something that even many seasoned Church members neglect.

And all three members of the First Presidency are addressed with the title President.

 

 

If someone is younger than me I always call them by their first name, regardless of who they are-unless they are missionaries of course. Just a neat tidbit of info. Carl W. Buehner was in the Presiding Bishopric and when he got released he was put into the General YM's organization as a 2nd Councillour.

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3 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

...I personally prefer the early LDS habit of referring to "Brother Joseph" and "Brother Brigham."  That folksy form of address brings them closer to us, and emphasizes the egalitarian LDS notion that those in high office/callings are not in any way better than the common members.  We are too much governed by style sheets and social conventions.  Most of us go along to get along under the guise of civility -- until it becomes a habit.

I also prefer first name instead of last.

And I then take the egalitarianism a  bit further, and introduce myself in church and other settings simply as John. My mother gave me that name, and it suits me just fine. And I don't appreciate the extra artificial barrier. 

In the home, I didn't use the distance-creating title "Brother" or "Sister" when referring to or directly addressing my natural siblings - and neither did any of you growing up. So I have no reason to do so among children of God. We are family.

I call pastors I meet by their first name. When I teach an occasional class, I'm not Mr. Nelson, I'm John. I have encouraged nephews and nieces to call my John, not Uncle whatever. 

But tradition is what it is. Fiddler on the Roof. Some people figuratively still like to cut the ends off of the roast before popping it in the oven...without ever asking grandma why we're supposed to do that.  Out of respect and/or habit, we sometimes do what our parents did, and pass it down to our children, without questioning, improving it a wee bit, or giving it a moment's thought. 

I don't need or want the artificial respect associated with a title. Also, the constitution says we don't and are not to accept/grant any such things any more. Too many died to flatten mountains and raise valleys, So I don't use titles.

If some choose to take offense, you may take it up with the Founding Fathers..and their families who sacrificed alongside them.

I won't look down my nose at you if you call me Brother "whaterver" or Mr. "whatever." But I will gently ask you to please just call me John. To be frank, (you  may call me frank, or shirley...if you really prefer) but given a choice, I would much prefer being called "hey you" or "Yoohoo" over Mr. or Brother whatever. My name please. Just my name.

Edited by hagoth7
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2 hours ago, Bob Crockett said:

I have argued in the past that the use of middle initials was an Anglican convention and the Brethren in missions adopted that convention. 

In some of the things I've published, I've used that middle initial to avoid confusion. (My first and last names are both among the most frequent ones used, which means there are several thousand of me out there.) But perhaps I *should* drop the middle initial. That way, if someone hates or rants about something I co-created, I can simply shrug, point to the guy next to me, and say "he did it." :0)

Gonna give that some thought, actually. 

Edited by hagoth7
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7 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

First, the convention of using an authority's 3 names, but with one an abbreviation. Why are almost all of the general authorities referred to with the abbreviation of their middle name, and the others with the abbreviation of their first name? This is an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's names (and maybe other earlier leaders) do not follow this convention.

(Hippo)

In the early years it was convention to name kids after relatives / early leaders.  Just as one example: After Joseph Smith you have Joseph F. Smith came along (son of Hyrum / nephew of Joseph Smith Jr).  Then Joseph F. Smith had a son Joseph Fielding Smith.  To distinguish between all of these nearly-identically-named people it became social convention in the early 1900's to include initials in people's names.  Obviously leaders before this time weren't part of this convention. 

7 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

Secondly, why the use of brother and sister in addressing each other?

Because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  

7 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

And further, why the use of the last name in this? How was Joseph Smith addressed? Brother Smith? President Smith? Brother Joseph?

That one is just another social convention.  I admittedly don't know the origin of it.  I imagine it's the same as calling people "Mr. Thompson" or "Mr. Brown".  

It's noteworthy that calling people "Sister Clark" is a thing for more formal settings and not for intimate/peer ones.   For example, a child refers to their teachers as "Sister Clark", which shows respect and reinforces the "I'm the teacher, listen to me".  If you were being introduced formally (like before giving a talk in a different ward) setting you'd be "Sister Ruth Clark".  But in a familiar situation (like chatting in women's meetings) it's just "Ruth".  

7 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

ETA: We could add the use of titles to this, if you'd like (like Elder, President, etc), but that's not as interesting to me as the two points I brought up. In Catholicism we have lots and lots of titles :)

 

Titles follow the same conventions typically.  

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4 hours ago, Bob Crockett said:

I have argued in the past that the use of middle initials was an Anglican convention and the Brethren in missions adopted that convention. 

Did Alexander W. Doniphan and Thomas L. Kane pick it up from Mormons, then?

And what are we to make of avowed enemies of Mormons such as Lilburn W. Boggs and Thomas C. Sharp?

 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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3 hours ago, Duncan said:

If someone is younger than me I always call them by their first name, regardless of who they are-unless they are missionaries of course. Just a neat tidbit of info. Carl W. Buehner was in the Presiding Bishopric and when he got released he was put into the General YM's organization as a 2nd Councillour.

If I were to do that there would be a number of General Authorities these days whom I would be addressing by their first names. 

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31 minutes ago, Jane_Doe said:

(Hippo)

In the early years it was convention to name kids after relatives / early leaders.  Just as one example: After Joseph Smith you have Joseph F. Smith came along (son of Hyrum / nephew of Joseph Smith Jr).  Then Joseph F. Smith had a son Joseph Fielding Smith.  To distinguish between all of these nearly-identically-named people it became social convention in the early 1900's to include initials in people's names.  Obviously leaders before this time weren't part of this convention. 

Because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  

That one is just another social convention.  I admittedly don't know the origin of it.  I imagine it's the same as calling people "Mr. Thompson" or "Mr. Brown".  

It's noteworthy that calling people "Sister Clark" is a thing for more formal settings and not for intimate/peer ones.   For example, a child refers to their teachers as "Sister Clark", which shows respect and reinforces the "I'm the teacher, listen to me".  If you were being introduced formally (like before giving a talk in a different ward) setting you'd be "Sister Ruth Clark".  But in a familiar situation (like chatting in women's meetings) it's just "Ruth".  

Titles follow the same conventions typically.  

I doubt that naming sons after their fathers is either a Mormon or a 19th century invention. 

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5 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Not everyone follows the current social norm in reference to apostles, some preferring to describe a member of the Twelve as Apostle such-and-such, where "Elder" is more common. 

But that must be characterized as a colloquialism as it is non-standard in Church usage. If I were to refer to, say, Apostle Ballard in the correlated Church publication for which I write, I should expect to have my copy corrected.

At any rate, I don't hear or see that usage so much anymore as I used to. It seems to be a generational thing.

On a peripheral note, some in the past have used the word patriarch as a courtesy title, as in "Patriarch Nelson is seated with us on the stand today for our stake conference." I have been given to understand in the course of my profession that the Church discourages such usage. The patriarch is simply Brother Nelson.

 

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34 minutes ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I doubt that naming sons after their fathers is either a Mormon or a 19th century invention. 

Oh no- I was not implying that at all.  Just pointing out the pattern that existed early on.

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42 minutes ago, Scott Lloyd said:

If I were to do that there would be a number of General Authorities these days whom I would be addressing by their first names. 

Al, Ted and Nick?

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31 minutes ago, Jane_Doe said:

Oh no- I was not implying that at all.  Just pointing out the pattern that existed early on.

Got it. 

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In my parish, we refer to each other using regular American naming conventions -- Mr./Mrs. for those you don't really know or who are older than you, first names for familiar people. I'm in a traditional parish, so we use the priest's last name when we refer to him: Father Hernandez. Most Catholics refer to their priests by his first name, though. The first name is more of an informal recent thing and I don't really agree with it.

The formal way to address a bishop is "Your Excellency" though again, usually only traditional Catholics tend to do this, along with such things like standing when he enters the room, kneeling to kiss his ring, etc. If he's your bishop, you kneel on your right knee. If he's not, you kneel on your left.

Oh, we've got all sorts of conventions from Old Europe, ha.

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17 hours ago, MiserereNobis said:

There are two conventions concerning naming/addressing I'd like to discuss.

First, the convention of using an authority's 3 names, but with one an abbreviation. Why are almost all of the general authorities referred to with the abbreviation of their middle name, and the others with the abbreviation of their first name? This is an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's names (and maybe other earlier leaders) do not follow this convention.

Secondly, why the use of brother and sister in addressing each other? And further, why the use of the last name in this? How was Joseph Smith addressed? Brother Smith? President Smith? Brother Joseph?

This is obviously not a doctrinal issue nor a issue of contention; I'm just curious if there is a reason for the convention.

Thanks!

ETA: We could add the use of titles to this, if you'd like (like Elder, President, etc), but that's not as interesting to me as the two points I brought up. In Catholicism we have lots and lots of titles :)

 

:PRight off the bat..maybe...some are related to former apostles and prophets and just keeping them straight.  But I dunno.

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1 hour ago, 6EQUJ5 said:

These are all instances from history. The context of my comment (and the context I understood this thread to be in) was current naming conventions. 

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9 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

But that must be characterized as a colloquialism as it is non-standard in Church usage. If I were to refer to, say, Apostle Ballard in the correlated Church publication for which I write, I should expect to have my copy corrected.

At any rate, I don't hear or see that usage so much anymore as I used to. It seems to be a generational thing.

On a peripheral note, some in the past have used the word patriarch as a courtesy title, as in "Patriarch Nelson is seated with us on the stand today for our stake conference." I have been given to understand in the course of my profession that the Church discourages such usage. The patriarch is simply Brother Nelson.

Yes, social norms do change through time, and even official titles have been altered (as in the change from Sunday School Superintendent to SS President).  To my way of thinking, such modes of reference are neither good nor bad, but are merely the most recent.  If one closely examines Christian and Jewish history, one will find a variety of titles used.  However, the formalities are less important than the substance.  Indeed, we might as easily refer to a ward as a "parish" or "synagogue," and a stake as a "diocese."  Sometimes the choices are arbitrary, and at other times they seem to make sense.

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27 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Yes, social norms do change through time, and even official titles have been altered (as in the change from Sunday School Superintendent to SS President).  To my way of thinking, such modes of reference are neither good nor bad, but are merely the most recent.  If one closely examines Christian and Jewish history, one will find a variety of titles used.  However, the formalities are less important than the substance.  Indeed, we might as easily refer to a ward as a "parish" or "synagogue," and a stake as a "diocese."  Sometimes the choices are arbitrary, and at other times they seem to make sense.

True.

Probably what matters more than the specific forms used is consistency.

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This is a side note, but as a staff writer for the LDS Church News, I with surprising frequency receive communications addressed to "Mr. Scott."
 

I look on these occurrences with bemusement. Aren't we all "brother" or "sister" in the gospel, and don't the letter writers suppose that I am in all likelihood, considering my position, a member of the Church? Maybe they figure that it is not businesslike to refer to the writer of a publication without the more formal courtesy title.

But in that case, why call me "Mr. Scott"? If the letter writer is formal enough to use the "Mr.", why not use my last name instead of my first name? And if he is being informal enough to use my first name, why tack "Mr." on the front of it?

I chalk it up to lack of alertness on the letter writer's part. I have two names that each could be either a first or last name, and when it comes time to address me by name, the writer seizes upon the name that most readily occurs in his or her memory that sounds like a last name.

Or something like that. :huh::rolleyes:

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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As missionaries in Central America many moons ago, my companion and I were invited to the embassy for a Christmas do. We were introduced to the ambassador and when asked our names we said " Elder Smith and Elder Jones " ( names have been changed to protect the guilty) . A newspaper reporter there called us aside later and remarked ," How interesting, you both have the same first name ! "

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