IS THAT A MORMON NAME?

Guest post from BCC’s friend Elouise

Noticing the title of a book in my hands, friend Nancy asked, “Fernet Branca: is that a Mormon name?”

“Yes,” I said. “Fernet is the daughter of Fernell Young, one of BYU’s great quarterback’s, and Annette Oldham Young, erstwhile Pom-Pom Princess, now CEO of Lighthouse Romance Publishers, Inc.”

“Thought as much,” Nancy said.

Of course, BCC readers will recognize Cooking with Fernet Branca as the very successful comic novel by James Hamilton-Patterson, and Fernet Branca as a popular aperitif. But despite my flippant answer, the question Nancy raised about “Mormon names” is a provocative one. Certainly most Mormons have names indistinguishable from those of their non-member neighbors, whether in Taiwan or Tucson, Calgary or Costa Mesa. But every now and then a moniker does raise the question, “Is that a Mormon name?”

A superb feature actor in countless Hollywood films was named Moroni Olsen (1889-1954). Theoretically, he could have been Greek Orthodox or Lutheran, but his biographers confirm that he was indeed “born of Mormon parents” in Ogden, and he never changed his distinctive first name to Morton or Ronnie or anything else. During the 2000 Summer Olympics, TV viewers watched two very beefy men stand toe to toe, arms locked around each other, seemingly motionless for quite a long time, until finally a referee made a decision and proclaimed the younger man the gold-medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling. When the champion was identified as Rulon Gardner, I said excitedly, ”That has to be a Mormon name.” No, it really didn’t have to be, but it sure sounded Mormon to me, and indeed it was. A twelve-year old Salvadoran boy I met in Provo had the name Abinadai; he was a Mormon, sure enough, but chose to go by “Abby.” I am currently perplexed by another athlete: Neifi Perez, third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. The fellow’s name is pronounced “Nay-fee,” which is how “Nephi” sounds in Spanish. Is “Neifi” a “Mormon name” in this case? Anyone know?

Years ago, I learned a lesson about “Mormon names,” and had to eat a large dish of crow as a result. In 1972, BYU Professor Donald R. Marshall publilshed a collection of wonderful short pieces called The Rummage Sale. Delightfully original, dealing with themes and characters familiar to most Mormons, the book was a gem. Asked to write a review, I was hard put to find anything to criticize. Not wanting the review to sound like press agent puffery, I finally chided Marshall for being a little extreme in his creation of bizarre character names, which were, I wrote, comical but overdone. (“La Rena Homer,” “Rilla Foy,” “Orlo J. Dastrup,” “Reula Fay,” “Ernadene,””Rell,” “Floydene Wallup,” et al). By the way, my Word Perfect spelling monitor has crankily underlined in red every one of the names just listed.

The day after my review appeared in print, I found in my faculty mail box a copy of the previous week’s Garfield County News. No note, no penciled comments, just the newspaper. But on page one alone, I found more, um, unusual names than Marshall had used in his entire book.

I hope there are still distinctively Mormon names out there, but I fear they may have gone the way of bread-and-milk suppers and “Beehive Honor.”

Comments

  1. I never met a Cahoon that was a Catholic.

  2. Elouise, delightful post, as per usual. I always thought the odd names (“Floydene”) were a part of Idaho/Utah culture, whereas the BoM names were more from the Mormon Diaspora. I have no data on this, however.

    I seem to recall that H.L. Mencken wrote something related to this in a supplement to his The American Language maybe? Or was that a more general collection of names or slang? Can’t remember.

  3. “Hyrum” is experiencing a little resurgency, I think. And “Spencer,” I’ve found, is pretty reliably Mormon, as is “Dallin”. I have a brother Brigham, and have always wondered why that name isn’t more popular among Saints. And Ephraim, that seems like a likely-but-underused candidate, too, given its similarity to Ethan.

    Not too many distinctively Mormon girls’ names out in my neck of the woods, though. I’ve known a few little Elizas recently—and Emmas, of course, but since Friends they’re everywhere.

    I’ve also gotten to know a number of evangelical Christians out here in the midwest, and many of them give unusual Biblical names to their children: Manna, Eden, Galilee.

  4. And, pray tell, what is Beehive honor?

  5. Obligatory link:

    http://wesclark.com/ubn/

  6. Rosalynde (#4),

    Well, now we all know what kind of Beehive you were. . .

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Lovely post.

    I know an LDS guy named “Alma.” As a male name, that’s pretty distinctively LDS, although not absolutely so, as one might think.

    There’s also the matter of General Authority-envy name formations (kind of like how everyone has a porn name), by using the first initial of your first name and going by your middle name.

    I can just hear it now, in some future General Conference, when the presiding authority introduces me: “We will now be pleased to hear from Elder K. LeRoy Barney.”

  8. I had a friend named Ammon, who had the nickname Salmon, (yes, like the fish). I’m not sure if he used the nickname to avoid the connection to Mormonism or not.

    I tend to think that Brigham isn’t commonly used because it is most easily recognized by anti-mormons as Mormon. Most anti’s haven’t read the book of Mormon and don’t readily connect names like Ammon, Nephi etc with being LDS.

    The thing that I could never get over is that Alma is a feminine name to most non-LDS people, and is masculine to most LDS people. If I had a set of male and female paternal twins I’d name them Alma, and Alma the Younger. Confusion all around!

  9. Elisabeth says:

    My favorite Mormon name is “Liahona”. She went by “Lia”. My brothers and sisters all have Bible names as their first names. (REAL Bible names, not the ones like Rosalynde mentioned :)

  10. #7…. “Assistant Secretary to the 18th Quorum of the Seventy”

  11. Capt Jack says:

    Kevin:

    How’s this for initial madness: C Scott Grow. He’s part of an area presidency in Mexico.

  12. My parents did a good, sound job of naming all of my brothers but did the double name thing for me and my sister. Anamarie and JoEllen. Anamarie (pronounced with an a like father) is Scandinavian and from her genealogy. I’m always a little embarrassed by the double names.

    I had a roommate in college named Tonette (a combo of her parents name Tom and Annette) and I’ve heard other weird name combos which I find to be creepy.
    A friend (male) from Idaho named Verdonn.

    When you mix Mormonism with Oklahoma (which is not quite the South, not quite the plains, not quite the Midwest) you get even more atrocious names.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, I have no idea whether Neifi Perez is Mormon (a quick google search didn’t disclose any hints that he was), but his middle name is Neftali, if that helps at all.

  14. After the first few dates with my now husband, Nephi, I told my parents about this wonderful guy I was dating. Apparently afterwards, my Dad, who is not Mormon and has very little interest in anything Mormon, said to my Mom, “Nephi… do you think that is a black name?” It still cracks me up.

  15. I think that the combination of parent’s names was a fad for a while, which is is responsible for many anomilies. My mom wrote a Mormon Musical some time ago, which was quite nice. One of the songs was, You Can Sometimes Tell a Mormon by Their Name.

    I’ll appologize in advance, but I like the segment so much that I will include it:
    _____________

    JERRI: (Uncomfortable so breaks in) Speaking of names, Raydean, I’ll bet your mother’s name is Rayanne and your father’s name is Dean, isn’t it?

    RAYDEAN: No, dad’s name is Raymond and mother’s name is Deanne.

    LIZ: Is that typical? Do Mormons name their children a certain way?

    BETH: Not really, but we do have some peculiarities.

    (Song: You Can Sometimes Tell a Mormon by Their Name).

      You can sometimes tell a Mormon by their name
      Other people don’t do naming quite the same.
      Any roster, roll or list,
      Any ship or bus or plane,
      In a book or in the news
      Do you need me to explain, that
      You can sometimes tell a Mormon by their name.

    JOAN: (Spoken) There I was in the middle of Chicago Institute of Art, when someone took my purse. I was left without a dime and no one seemed to want to help. Finally, I stood up on a bench and yelled as loud as I dared, “Is there anyone here whose name is Brigham”? Sure enough within five minutes two men and a mother whose son was Brigham were there to help.

    (JOAN sings the REFRAIN with others taking parts as before.)

    SHIRLEY: I decided to attend an Eastern College. I was more lonely than I would have imagined. Then when the registrar saw my papers, she said, “Oh, you’re from Utah, a Mormon. Did you know there was another Mormon here?”. He had a funny first name but his last name was Jones. My heart sank when I saw 547 Jones’. I wearily scanned the list, and there he was! MORONI LEHI JONES! And that’s how I met my husband.

    (ALL sing the REFRAIN)

      There might be Ezra Taft Schwartz
      Or Josephina Brighamine.

    MARIKO: How about Gordon B. Fukamoto?

    JERRI: Well, some people take this name thing too seriously. When I was at the “Y”, I had roommates with “power” names. Names fairly drenched in Church History and authority. Everyone was a general authority’s daughter, on the general board, or at least a bishop’s kid. My Sunday School teacher dad just didn’t give me the status to fit in. I never felt accepted.

  16. My favorite baby name website is

    http://babynamewizard.com/namevoyager/lnv0105.html

    You can type in a name and see its popularity over the years. If you’re anything like us, any names that sound sort of original and interesting to you will be experiencing huge peaks in the last few years. I realized I’m much more a product of my generation than I thought.

  17. #16 Sorry. Wrong thread. Actually, it sort of fits here too.

  18. Wow! What a low of responses on a Friday afternoon!
    And such delightful comments they are, too!

    Well, as to “Spencer,” yes indeed–I’ve known a lot of little Spencers bearing that name in honor of President Kimball; some “Kimballs” also for the same reason. Know a couple of “Tanners” whose parents wanted to honor N. Eldon Tanner, but didn’t care for either “Nathan” or “Eldon.”

    “Beehive Honor,” I am told (I joined the church when I was beyond MIA age, so I take this on faith)
    was a phrase girls in the Beehive class were taught as a way of attesting to the truth of a claim. (“I dint DOO it,Mom, Beehive Honor!”)

    And Kaimi, thanks for introducing me to the wesclark link! Indeed it IS obligatory! I’ve just had a quick look at it, and it is marvelous!

    I do not know any male “Alma’s” who are not Mormon, but there are male “Carroll’s” out there. Robert Frost named one son Carroll, heaven knows why.)I can’t recall now which writer told the story on himself about going up to a librarian (when he himself was perhaps 16) and asking for,
    “More books by that lady, Evelyn [pronounced Ev-uh-lynn] Waugh [pronounced Waff].” The librarian murmured that it was quite a trick to make three mistakes in a single sentence, then directed him to “MR. Eve-lynn Wa-uh.”

    I believe there was a temple president in central Utah who carried first name of June.

    The “initials + name” pattern is interesting;
    sometimes the result sounds like a hat on a horse to me: “M. Jerry Hightop,” or “K. Billy Brown.” It’s also rather amazing how the Mormon culture insists on the exact form of the official name. Only the media ever referred to “Richard Evans.” Church members ALWAYS said “Richard L. Evans.” The initials were also omnipresent in “Spencer W. Kimball,” “S. Dilworth Young,” “N. Eldon Tanner,” etc. I tried to explain this usage to a translator once in the French Mission; he was a member, but also very Gallic, and insisted that Europeans did NOT just stick in initials everywhere. My parochial,”Trust me” did not convince him, either.

    Elisabeth, “Liahona” is indeed a beautiful name–never heard it before as a woman’s name. It is as lovely as “Leonora,” which is a great favorite of composers of operas because of the four syllables, four vowels, and liquid L–all true for “Liahona.”

    And Amri, you are SO right about Oklahoma names, or I guess I should say “panhandle” names, OK or TX. I have been putting on tape at the OK Library for the Blind a book by Annie Proulx (of “Brokeback Mountain” fame)–this one is titled
    That Old Ace in the Hole, and it has more outlandish names than a barbed wire fence has tumbleweeds!

  19. One of the middle names of our son is Nephi, and if our most recent baby was a boy, one of his middle name would have been Lamoni.

  20. Some Spencers running around Utah bear that name in honor of Daniel Spencer and not from Spencer W. Kimball.

  21. Interesting note about the initials, Elouise.

    I remember talks I had, years ago, with a non-member friend who regularly read church-related stuff. He would cite to church material in our conversations, but without the reverence for initials — he’d say “Ezra Benson said X” or “I thought Spencer Kimball said Y.” And I can still remember my surprise and discomfort as a teen, my thinking that his references were weird, and in a way _wrong_ — almost sacreligious. It’s not “Spencer Kimball” — it’s Spencer _W._ Kimball.

    I don’t think he even realized that his perfectly innocent references to Ezra Benson and Spencer Kimball created that kind of reaction.

  22. My Mission Prez was P. LaMar – Went by LaMar. I thought his first name had to be bad to go by LaMar. The P was for Preston.

  23. Kiskilili says:

    If I had a set of male and female paternal twins I’d name them Alma, and Alma the Younger.

    Starfoxy, that is hilarious! You need to swap ideas with a certain unnamed sister of mine who is hoping to name twins Michael and Mikal (nice homophonic candidates that both have biblical pedigrees!).

  24. Capt Jack says:

    Kevin:

    The Spanish for Nephi is Nefi, so if he’s LDS his parents have trouble spelling.

    I remember reading a book about the insurgency in El Salvador–one of the author’s names was José Angel Moroni Bracamonte. It came as no surprise to learn that he was in the Utah National Guard.

  25. My wife is one of seven sisters, with no brothers. Her father’s name is Stanley. Kristen (my wife) came fairly close to being Kristan, but thankfully wiser heads prevailed.

    Gina, say hi to Nephi from Bryce.

  26. Mark IV says:

    Elouise, this is wonderful. I’m glad The Rummage Sale still gets read. I remember laughing until my sides hurt when I read the exchange of letters between Floydene Wallups and elder Dunkley.

    James Arrington’s Farley Family Reunion does Mormon names just right, with Heber J. Farley, Parley P. Farley, and cousin Vonnell. The live performances sometimes have a printed reunion family tree that gets even more elaborate, with one family naming their daughters after western states – Idahoa, Wyoma, Oregona, etc. Another family is populated with VerNell, VerDell, DaVerl, DaNell, and Verdonna. The temptation I feel to laugh uproariously is tempered by the recognition that half my family and all of my wife’s carry those names.

    A few years ago Neifi Perez’s name caught my eye, and I looked into it a little. I came up with nothing conclusive, but I doubt he is mo’. Besides, with his batting average, it is clear the blood of Israel is not flowing through his veins. I know several young Abinadis who also go by Abi, and I know a young man (norteamericano) whose given name is Mahonri.

    We have recently had some baby girls blessed in the ward with names like Grace and Hope. I’m glad to see those names making a comeback.

  27. Mark IV, we named our daughter “Mercy”. I like the virtue names, too, although I don’t know that it is particularly “Mormon”.

    My grandfather’s name was Harold–he HATED it, and used his first initial and middle name, like the general authorities. Maybe it’s a generational thing rather than a general authority thing?

    There is an older gentleman in my Spanish Fork ward that has the name of June. I thought it was a typo the first time I saw it.

    But now we use it as the “name” for our baby due in late December. After all, we don’t know if it is a girl or a boy, so “June” works great. We joke that if it is twins (unlikely), their womb-names will be June and Carroll/Carol.

  28. The initial thing used to serve a purpse. When there was a lot more familial relations in the heirarchy, then you would have to disinguish people from their parents or other relatives. E.g.:

    Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith
    Ezra T. Benson, Ezra Taft Benson

  29. One of my mission companions had a girlfriend whose legal name had an apostrophe. It was quite the Mormon name.

    Then a few years ago, I was working for a software company when a coworker told me, “you know, there’s another Mormon here” — his name was of the format [First name of a ETB son] [Truman last name]. I mean, it screamed Mormon. This was one of those companies where religion was “don’t-ask-don’t-tell”, and for stupid reasons, I didn’t want to go up and directly ask him. I decided I’d try to smoke him out. I changed my email signature to contain a vaguely non-religious, sweetly inspirational quote from a general authority whose name would be obvious only to a fellow Mormon. I can’t remember the quote, but it was from “N. Eldon Tanner”. At some point, he didn’t take the bait, so I switched to “Thomas Monson”. Then “Harold Lee”. Finally I gave up and asked him if he was Mormon, and sure enough, he was. [And, he was enjoying my name progression.]

  30. I always laugh at story told of the prophet Joseph Smith blessing a baby in Nauvoo and giving it the name Mahonri Moriancumer. I can only imagine the parents of that poor lad thinking to themselves; ” Gee, thanks pres”, as the prophet left the cabin.

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