Are Mormon naming conventions useful?

As a graduate student, I could not figure out how to address my professors. Poised somewhere between the formal address used in college and the first-name basis of the working world, I resorted to simply not using their names. But it wasn’t until I became confident enough to use first names that I felt productive and began to take myself seriously.

The mere ability to address people on a first-name basis brings with it a sense of familiarity and confidence that liberates people to collaborate and exchange ideas. It opens a pathway to productive criticism that benefits everyone as it jettisons the unfamiliarity and deference that accompanies a system of formal address. To be sure, even where first names are used there is often still a respected chain of command. But there is more freedom to express views for superiors to consider. Consequently, one could argue that young people should learn to be on a first-name basis with their elders far earlier because it is more socially productive.

Mormons use a unique system of formal address: We are Brothers, Sisters, and Elders. While we certainly call our close Mormon friends by first names, we use formal address when conducting church meetings and sometimes when speaking to Mormons we know less well.

The terms “Brother” and “Sister” suggest familiarity that “Mister,” “Doctor,” and so on lack. Thus one could argue that they create instant social cohesion rather than inject differences. But would we be more cohesive if they were not employed? At times, formal address might also prevent us from seeing people uniquely, and the cohesion the naming system brings might signal our differences from outsiders. How do our decisions about when to use formal Mormon address—at church meetings, on missions, etc.—impact our interactions with others?

Comments

  1. Starfoxy says:

    The terms “Brother” and “Sister” suggest familiarity that “Mister,” “Doctor,” and so on lack.
    I disagree with this. The actual meaning of the words may indicate familiarity, but the usage most certainly does not. Church was the first ‘formal’ space that I participated in. I learned to call authority figures “Brother and Sister” long before I learned “Mister and Missus.”

  2. Sheldon says:

    Brother and Sister were admirable 19th century attempts to avoid the formality of Mister and Mrs, which at the time came with social status implications. I think like other 19th century forms of address like Citizen or Comrade, they have outlived their usefulness at breaking down social barriers. In current Mormon usage (Brother/Sister Lastname) they strike me as no different from Mr. and Mrs. The form Brother/Sister Firstname is uncommon enough that I think it still preserves the attempt at breaking down social distinctions that were the original impetus of the form to begin with (or it might just be the cuteness factor).

  3. I am also intrigued by how long we continue to refer to former bishops as “Bishop.” I realize that since my release eight years ago I’m still technically a bishop (because of the priesthood office), but it was almost a pleasure to move away and get my first name back.

    When we returned (after 2-1/2 years) to the ward where I was bishop, I found some were confused about what to call me. Those who knew me well as bishop still refer to me that way. Others who are new often call me by my first name. (If anyone asks, I ask them to use my first name.)

  4. I think about this frequently. I suspect “Brother” and “Sister” may have provided a greater sense of social familiarity in the past, but not today. Mostly the opposite.

    At this point, I feel like we hide behind these monikers all too often, and they create awkward strangers of us. They serve as useful delineation of our group boundaries to a degree, but by and large, Christ-like love runs on a first-name basis. Just my opinion.

    One exception might be using “Brother [first name]” in which case it seems to be used as a term of endearment to a degree. (i.e. “Brother Joseph” in the context of his character and personality, but less of his prophetic mantle). I’ve never heard “Sister [first name]” used in this manner, and it would strike my ears as really strange.

  5. And the other intriguing one to me is that we refer to the counselors in the Stake Presidency also as “President”. How did this get started?

    I agree with Starfoxy and Sheldon; calling each other “brother and sister” may have begun as a nice attempt to break down social barriers and create a more egalitarian view of church members, but nowadays unfortunately it creates more distance and formality (at least to me) between members than by just calling them by their first names.

  6. Eric Russell says:

    I told a reporter here a while back — young girl, seemed nice enough. She was just tryin to be a reporter. She said: Sheriff how come you to let crime get so out of hand in your county? Sounded like a fair question I reckon. Maybe it was a fair question. Anyway I told her, I said: It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight.

  7. Re: 4

    I agree, James. My sentiments are the same.

    I have zero aspiration to be a bishop, but I’ve wondered if I ever was made one if it would be appropriate to ask the ward to call me “Brother Alan” rather than my last name.

    Interestingly, while I was dating my wife, my future F-I-L introduced himself to me as “Brother (LastName)” and I had to call him that right up until my wife and I were married.

    Right after the wedding my F-I-L told me it was okay to refer to him as his first name. Okay. Whatever.

    I realize it was an odd power play (at least, that was my interpretation) to keep the young whippersnapper in his lowly place. Were I more of a snot, I would have insisted that he, too, refer to me as “Brother (LastName).” But, I figured I had more to lose than gain by playing those games with a man I was trying to win over.

  8. Context probably helps here. It seems there are times when using Brother or Sister is entirely appropriate and necessary while in personal conversations with those you know well it would be inappropriate. The defining line is where and when is appropriate or not?

    Here are my thoughts.

    As a crutch:
    As a newly sustained member of a bishopric I’ve spent time contemplating titles and also struggling to remember every member’s name. Yes, I’ve found myself grasping at Brother or Sister as the replacement for a first name when I simply cannot remember the individual or especially child’s first name. I can place them in their family but have not nailed down the first name quite yet for every member of the Ward who regularly attends. So it’s a nice crutch to rely on while I quickly work my way through the process of memorizing all names. At some point very soon I expect to let go of that crutch and quit using it in this scenario.

    In formal situations:
    When addressing someone over the pulpit in a sustaining or release or when referring to them we always refer to individuals by their full name, “We’ve called Brother John Smith to serve as a Primary Teacher” but then I would continue with, “Would all those who can sustain Brother Smith…” It would just seem awkward to use the full name in both cases and too informal to use just his first name in such scenario.

    And for MattG, the answer is due to a push a few years ago for leaders to respect the titles of individuals who are set apart to certain callings. This means the Elders Quorum, Teachers Quorum and Deacon’s Quorum Presidents should be addressed by their titles due to the mantle they carry. As for Stake Presidencies, we address all three as President in respect to their role much as we address the three members of the 1st Presidency as President as well.

    In respect to elders:
    By elders I don’t mean priesthood ordained, I mean those who are older than us. We teach our children to refer to adults as Brother and Sister much like in normal society they would address adults as mister and mrs. It’s a show of respect. But Brother and Sister shows a recognition of the individual as a member of our Faith.

    In personal conversation:
    Here is where the formality should be set aside but the question is how well do you need to know someone before you are on a first name basis. Should it just be assumed since you both attend the same Ward? Do you need to break bread over the dinner table in your home or their home before you’re now friendly enough to use first names with each other? Where is that point? I think we all know it when we experience it and if there are those we don’t know well enough in the Ward to use a first name basis with them then it’s probably up to us to change that.

    Finally, my sense of the using Brother and Sister as titles was always more in the context of D&C 88:133

    http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/88.133?lang=eng#132

    where we are addressing those who are our brothers and sisters and who join us in fellowship in the covenants of Christ. To me it is not a formality but instead a statement of endearment to the individual and recognition of our relationship to each other both as children of the same father and children of the same covenant.

  9. I’m still not used to Utah. My ward boundaries are from the fire hydrant to the telephone pole. I go for first names at church. I also use first names in grad school, except when I need an extension. Then I stroke their egos by calling the “doctor.” Works every time.

  10. There’s an extremely nice, perhaps somewhat shy guy in my ward who always greets me with a “Hello, Sister [Lastname].” It makes me feel terribly awkward. I don’t want to reply with, “And hello to you too, Brother [Lastname],” which feels much too formal to me, but I don’t want to call him by his first name when he’s clearly not comfortable calling me by mine.

    So I don’t call him anything at all. I just say, with all the heartiness I can muster to make up for not using his name, “Uh, Hello!”

    I actually like the Brother [Firstname], Sister [Firstname] idea. It’s a nod to our conventions for those who prefer them, but it doesn’t sound quite as stuffy. Weird, maybe, and stuffy, but not quite _as_ stuffy.

  11. Jacob M says:

    Eric – :) I love me some No Country For Old Men.

  12. I find it amusing that while in the Church, women’s marital status is such a big elephant in the room, and yet our naming conventions deal with it more effectively than secular naming conventions (“Sister X” vs. “Mrs./Miss/Ms.”).

  13. I learned to call authority figures “Brother and Sister” long before I learned “Mister and Missus.”

    And to me that is exactly what made me feel included as a child — I could not have called adults by their first names; Mr. and Mrs. were too formal; but Brother and Sister were just right.

    Some might argue that this doesn’t apply since we’re no longer children, but I think we do need something between the familiarity of “Sue” and “Ralph” and the formality of Mr. and Mrs. for those people who are not intimate friends but who are certainly not strangers nor in a social or hierarchical position where more formal titles are natural — natural for my age group; maybe not for the age group of people who are comfortable with doctors and government clerks and salesmen calling you by your first name!

    The church magazines and lesson manuals still used Mr. and Mrs. until about 1960, by the way. Brother and Sister have been around for a very long time, but David O. McKay had no disconnect with calling Belle Spafford Mrs. Spafford, whether in writing or to her face or speaking of her before others.

  14. Mrmandias says:

    The mere ability to address people on a first-name basis brings with it a sense of familiarity and confidence that liberates people to collaborate and exchange ideas.

    This assertion is doing a lot of work. In fact, I’d suggest your post is basically circular.

    A world where everybody addresses everybody by their fist name (i.e., our world) is a world where first name address doesn’t mean much of anything.

  15. What Ardis said. (Except for the part about the manuals and David O. McKay and Mrs. Spafford–I wouldn’t have known any of that.)

    Personally, I like to be called “Sister J.” I don’t care if it means that they can’t remember my first name. Of course, I don’t have a problem with people calling me by my first name, either. I do mind when children call me by my first name (although I don’t mind it with a “Sister” or “Miss” or “Aunt” in front of it). I find the Brother/Sister convention sweet. I’d hate to see it disappear.

  16. Counselors in stake presidencies are called president from tradition arising from the organization of the presidency of the high priesthood. Each member of the presidency was called president (late evidence in D&C 107:21). Through a somewhat involved bit of evolution, stake presidencies in Utah had similar titling conventions (but also check out D&C 102:3). While revelation designated Rigdon and Williams as equal with JS in the key-holding, that convention never caught on in stakes, and functionally, never worked anyway.

  17. xenologue says:

    I really liked being called Sister [First Name], but only a couple of people in my first ward and the YW in my second ward did it. I wish people did that where I am now.

  18. I draw the line at calling my 15 year old son and my 13 year old son President under any circumstances

  19. Natalie B. says:

    #1: I agree with you that the words can be used in unfamiliar ways–hence the questions. But thinking about your comment, I suspect that a large part of our feelings has to do with when we first heard the terms. An adult convert might see them as much more familiar than someone who used them as a child.

  20. Funny, I was debating how to address a professor a millisecond before switching over to this page.

    Are the terms outlived? Perhaps. I feel that it is certainly an artifice of many other similar church practices that extended back to J.S.’s time.

    By far however, the most awkward part of the Brother/Sister debate is when its appropriate to make the switch to first names. I haven’t the foggiest on how to do it. To each their own, I guess. I’d definately rather avoid becoming too much like family w/ a few ward individuals, however. Hence, why I would always use “B/Sister…”

  21. PeggyKay says:

    In the South where we come from it is, “all of you all”
    What could be more in clusive than that?

  22. PeggyKay says:

    opps, inclusive

  23. Jessie T. says:

    I just turned 30 and I still have trouble addressing members of my ward who are older than me by their first names. I usually opt for the Brother or Sister route. My neighbors have asked me to use their first names, but it seems disrespectful to me.

    I thought as I got older this would get easier. It doesn’t help that 75% of our ward is over 65. The Brother and Sister form of address allows me to show proper respect for my elders, and I like it.

    I do find it interesting, however, that we don’t call the RS president or the YW president “President” [lastname], just “Sister” [lastname]. Even the Sunday School president gets the title. Is that a priesthood thing? Convention? Doctrine?

  24. Benjamin says:

    “Even the Sunday School president gets the title.”

    That’s weird. I’ve never heard the Sunday school president (or young men president) referred to by the title.

  25. Jessie T. says:

    Maybe that’s just our ward, then.

  26. Satsuki says:

    I’ve lived in wards where everyone calls everyone “Brother / Sister ___” and in wards where first names are the norm, no matter age or status (besides bishop and stake president). I highly prefer the latter.

    Using first names makes it SO much easier build friendships, especially outside one’s own age group. My husband and I enjoy playing board games and we frequently invite over ward members who are older (or younger), who have children in different stages of life, or who are otherwise different from ourselves. It would just be plain awkward to to say, “Hey, Brother and Sister Smith (or whatever), would you like to come over to our apartment tonight and play Catan or Agricola with us?” If they did come over, I’m not entirely sure I could really just be myself if I greeted them at the door with “Brother/Sister”.

    And if that wasn’t weird enough, how about navigating when to transition from “Brother/Sister Smith” to first names? I think those titles are just another barrier to overcome on the path leading from ward acquaintance to real friendship.

  27. I think the answers to these questions vary mostly by the extent to which Church life makes up our social life. When I went to large established wards in the United States, I would agree that Brother/Sister was basically the equivalent of Mr./Mrs/Miss/Ms.

    However, in our tiny branch in Italy, when people use the terms Brother and Sister it really feels like we’re family. I think it’s because people look forward so much to being together with other members, and we live so far apart that we don’t really see each other except at Church. Calling each other “Brother” and “Sister” (often without either first or last names attached) just emphasizes that Church is a special and precious thing we have in common.

  28. I call everyone Commodore.

  29. (If anyone asks, I ask them to use my first name.)

    Our former bishop, upon his release, was adamant about being called by his first name (and he’d correct you if you called him “Bishop”). Then he got called to the stake presidency…

  30. Years ago as a full-time missionary, I inadvertently referred to my mission president as “Brother Cannon,” instead of “President Cannon,” in addressing him in a group. I immediately realized I had violated the unwritten order of things and the room got quiet. I was sure I would be put in my place. And then, he puts his arm on my shoulder and gently says “in the church, the best thing we can call each other is brother or sister.” Since then, I have appreciated the bro/sis salutation very much, and often use it rather than “president,” “bishop” or whatever. I see it as a way of reminding us that we are all family as part of the body of Christ.

  31. Bishop [firstname] is bit “cool youth-pastor,” no? And I mean that in a bad way.

    Thanks for this post Natalie. I was called to be YM prez a few weeks ago, and as I was reading this post I realized the guys don’t ever address me by name…they probably don’t know what to call me. We’re definitely a first-name ward, so I think that’s how it’ll be.

  32. Michael G. says:

    Like #8 I find brother/sister useful as a crutch especially as I am bad at remembering first names. Unfortunately partway into my salutation I realize that I am terrible at last names too and I come off sounding a lot more hip than I intended.

  33. Natalie B. says:

    My most embarrassing moments using the Sister/Brother address have come when I’ve accidentally called non-members Brother or Sister so and so. Whoops.

  34. “I do find it interesting, however, that we don’t call the RS president or the YW president “President” [lastname], just “Sister” [lastname]. Even the Sunday School president gets the title. Is that a priesthood thing? Convention? Doctrine?”

    Funny, this should come up. My current bishop has always referred to me (RS Pres) as Pres ____; he addresses all auxiliary presidents in this manner. He is a convert in a ward far removed from the Intermountain West, so that may have some bearing on the situation (or not.)

  35. Starfoxy says:

    Re 33- A big moment of my childhood was in second grade when I called our substitute teacher (who I happened to know from church) “Sister J” in front of my friends. They all gasped and one of them asked “Is she a nun?!”

  36. Back in the day, the title issue came up frequently at BYU, mostly because at other universities, faculty were actually encouraging students to call them, “John” and “Elaine,” instead of “Mister” or “Professor.” I didn’t hear much of that at BYU (some, but not much).

    The bigger issue was whether you preferred a student to call you, “Sister Nibley,” “Miss Nibley,” or “Professor Nibley.”
    Interesting dynamics. “Sister” implied, for many, too MUCH connection, not enough recognition of status. “Miss,” of course, emphasized a woman’s unmarried status, and thus always knocked off a few esteem points. There were a few “Mrs.” but not many. Certainly no one at BYU used “Ms” except sarcastically. “Mister” seemed to put too much DISTANCE between a student and an instructor when both were Mormons. Some instructors (newly doctored) loved to be called “Dr. Monson” and, in time, “Professor Monson.” But I recall when Dallin H. Oaks became president of the university, he expressly asked not to be called “Dr.”
    (I believe that is a strong tradition at the U. of Chicago.) He was fine with “President” and, when appropriate, with “Elder Oaks,” but not “Doctor.”

    A colleague from the Law School offered one of the best insights on the subject: “When a student calls me ‘Brother
    Barton,’ I know he’s going to ask for something he shouldn’t get.”

    As for me and my moniker, ‘Sister Bell’ always seemed very comfortable.

  37. 36 – Elouise — you’ve brought back some memories.

    One: I had an instructor in the English dept who insisted on being call “Miss …..” and she referred to students as Mr. and Miss …. To call her Sister …. was to have the Look Of Doom come upon you.

    Two: When I was a grad student in the Theatre Dept, the prof for whom I TA-ed and with whom I shared an office shared an article with me, “Whom Call You Doctor?” in which the write opined that it was presumptuous for a PhD to insist that anyone call him or her Doctor, but rather that a student should willingly do so as a sign of respect. Ever after, I have been amused when PhDs and EdDs (mostly in secondary schools) have introduced themselves as Dr. So-and-so. (As for my office-mate professor, he invited me to call him by his first name, which I did when speaking to him. When refering to him in coverations with others, I always called him Dr. ….

  38. Natalie B. says:

    #36: Yes, at UChicago you are told to refer to professors by “Mr.” and “Ms.” But in reality, I think that most people use “Professor.”

    I do not know of any academics who go by “Dr.” That term seems reserved for medical doctors.

  39. Natalie B. says:

    More on medical doctors: Most adults who I see professionally seem to use first names. But I have noticed that I tend to use titles for medical doctors, even though I don’t for other professionals.

  40. Michelle says:

    That was super confusing at BYU. I remember being most mystified by the teachers who we knew didn’t have their doctorate, so Doctor or Professor weren’t correct. Brother and Sister seemed appropriate for religion professors, but felt wrong in any other subject area. Mr/Ms/Mrs seemed more k12 than university, I don’t remember ever hearing anyone at BYU use them for their teachers. First names only felt appropriate in certain classes with certain teachers, when they’d made it clear that they preferred first name use. And those are pretty much all the options. There were teachers I’d avoid calling by name ever, because I didn’t know how.

  41. My husband has a Ph.D. and he works with a lot of other Ph.D.s, but at his job they only call you “Dr.” when you screw up.

  42. At the Canadian universities I attended, we called our professors “Dr.” – calling someone “Professor” suggested that they didn’t have a PhD, and were just instructors.

  43. Natalie B. says:

    41: That is my sense as well. You call Ph.D.’s “doctor” when being pejorative.

  44. Another Alan,Allan or Alain says:

    I am currently serving as a bishop in Mexico and am frequently referred to as Obispo Alan, Allan or Alain, not by my last name. When I am introduced to non-members by my member friends I am always introduced as Obispo so it is amusing to be called Obispo by my new non-member friends. At first I tried to get them to call me Alan, Allan or Alain in social situations and the hardware store but they insist on Obispo. Nobody seems to think anything about it and so I just go along with it. It is very common here to refer to members as Hermana/Hermano (first name). I even do it sometimes over the pulpit when announcing prayers, speakers etc.. It is also very common to just use Hermana/Hermano. Everyone follows convention when addressing the stake presidency etc..
    Our youngest daughter was very attached to the lady next door to us and called her Sister Williams until said daughter started school and realized that not all adult women were referred to as “Sister”.

  45. Interesting–the comment that academics are not commonly addressed as doctor. The PhDs in my family (brothers & brother-in-law) have always expected to be introduced to others as Doctor_______ (which I have always refused to do, as it sounds so presumptuous).
    For many years, I have used only first names for all adults, including bishops and members of stake presidencies, and I always introduce myself by my first name. It is the only name that is uniquely mine, as my other two names were given to me by default from father and husband.

  46. Natalie B. says:

    #45: Immediately after I got married I began introducing myself only with my first name, because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to change my name. Perhaps that awkwardness left me with my decided preference for first names.

  47. StillConfused says:

    I don’t like being called Sister (Husband’s Last Name) because I never use either of those in real life. Hence, I tend not to realize that people are talking to me. Makes me seem like I am ignoring people.

  48. Whenever I hear people complain that the RS president gets called “Sister” and the EQ pres. gets called “President”, I kind of wonder where they’re from. I hated getting called “President” — I was only called that when somebody was trying to get me to do something. Otherwise, I was “Brother”. I like “Brother/Sister “, “Bishop”, and “President” for the SP when we’re in meetings.

    At my wife’s family gathering (shortly after I was married), my wife’s sister’s husband told me he didn’t know what to call my father-in-law and asked me what I thought we should use. My FIL, who happened to be walking behind him at the time answered “Sir”.

  49. Elouise says:

    Paul, about Miss Look-of-Doom: a college in the department, on the faculty for at least fifteen years, and never a student of hers, finally ASKED Miss Look if he could call now her by her first name and she said NO. Beehive honor!

    I cannot refrain from adding this bit of history. A student one day visited Miss Look in her office, which was at that time in a small corridor where sound carried from office to office all too well. As the student left her office, he said politely, “Thank you very much, Sister Look.”

    After he was out of earshot, she said to the world in general, “I’d rather be SWORN at than called Sister!”

    At which point, a colleague walked down the corridor, looked in her open door, and said, “D**N you, Lucy May!”

    As to Sarah’s point on doctor v. professor. That difference was explained to me thus: decades ago, many faculty members, especially in Southern colleges and universities,
    had reached professorial rank without having earned the then-rare Ph.D. (The Ph.D. was uncommon at BYU when I began teaching in 1959.) In Northern institutions, far more faculty had the earned doctorate but fewer were granted the professorship. So people often chose to be called by the rarer title.

    I’d be interested in another set of titles: what do you call your parents? And what do your children call the grand-parents? I delight in knowing some very prominent folks, with degrees out to there, and position titles of all sorts, who end up being called “Boo-Paw” and loving it.

  50. Elouise, you had me rolling on the floor laughing. Thanks for that!

  51. Geoff-A says:

    My grand children call me poppi- A couple of them are now bigger than me and it is getting a bit uncomfortable.

    At the school one of my grandchildren attends they have just changed from Miss and Mr to addressing the teachers by first names. The parents seem to be having more trouble with it than the kids.

    We once had a Bishop who enjoyed being called Bishop. his wife and children even called him that at home. We had visions of his wife making love with “the bishop”.

    In Aus we dont generally use middle initials like the GAs do but for a while we would have the sustainings read out with middle initials. I pointed out it was culturally inapropriate, and it seems to have stopped.

    I have a terrible memory for names (my children have numbers) so I often use brother and sister because I can’t remember, if I can remember I use first names.

  52. I have a Ph.D. and am a secondary school principal. I cannot imagine introducing myself to someone as Dr. I agree with others on this thread who feel it would be presumptuous. I always use my first name or first and last name when identifying myself to other adults.

    Nonetheless, I find that most of my adult colleagues use the term when addressing me, even though I have never insisted on it.

  53. Nate S. says:

    As a freshman in high school our bishop was also a math teacher at our high school. to compound the problem he was also out freshman football coach and then halfway through the year was called into the stake presidency. Given the context he was either “bishop,” “Mr.,” “coach” or “president” and I lived in constant dread of using the wrong title at the wrong time.

    As YM president now I ask the YM to call me by my first name. None of them do so, opting for the last name only, no title attached.

  54. Natalie B. says:

    #49: Awesome story.

  55. I wonder whether some of this is driven by the lack of the T/V distinction (familiar vs. formal second person distinction present in many other Indo-European languages).
    I think people should largely be called what they want to be called. If that feeds into someone’s delusions of grandeur now and again, there are worse fates.

  56. Elouise says:

    Geoff-A (#51): In the French Mission in the Sixties, our missionary-translator, Marcel Kahne (professional scholar, Belgian-born) explained that middle and first initials were not used in Europe as they were in the church. My inclination at the time, though, was along the lines of “When speaking of Rome, do as the Romans do.”
    “President Harold Lee” didn’t even bring to mind the same person as “President Harold B. Lee .” Richard Evans?
    Who’s he? Surely not the mellifluous “Richard L. Evans.”

    [Apologies, by the way, for my typo in comment #49. He who presumed upon Miss Look was not a college, but a colleague."]

  57. For the record, I prefer first names. Still, I try to go with the other’s preference. If s/he introduces her/himself as ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ I try to remember and go with it. My default is first names though.

    I don’t have a problem using titles at church or in church settings; it seems appropriate there. My sore spot with titles is using the ‘brother/sister’ conventions in other situations. Example 1: BYU, as previously mentioned. I flat-out refused to refer to any professor as ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ except maybe in a religion class. It just seemed weird. This person was an instructor for my university courses, not someone I go to church with.

    Example 2: The landlady for the last house I lived in while a student at BYU referred to herself as “Sister B” and to us by first names. As a 25-year old female, returned missionary, fully self-supporting, almost college graduate, I was wondering when the “adults” around me would start treating me as an adult. (I think it had a lot to do with still being single, but that’s another topic.) I had a hard time referring to my landlady as “Sister B” when I felt she was treating me unfairly as a tenant. Our relationship was business, professional, not personal or religious. I stubbornly referred to and addressed her by her first name, just like she did to me.

    In essence, my opinion is this: Let’s delineate the nature of our relationships and keep the church stuff at church.

  58. When our high priest group leader calls for my husband, he always says, “This is Brother So and So, is Fred at home.” I have wondered why he gets to be “brother” but Fred just gets to be Fred.

  59. People use titles as distance-ing adjectives. It used to be said that when a man was made bishop that the blue suit was needed. I was amused when the bishop got up in sacrament meeting and introduced himself by saying, “My name is Bishop P….”

    My colleague and friend in our new start-up has a hard time with titles. He is a Syrian Christian who spent time in Iran as a youth and came to the US later in his adolescence. He refers to me as “Dr. W…” even in casual conversation in our small office. I have told him I am uncomfortable with that but he says that he is uncomfortable any other way. I try not to let it go to my head. (He is very religious. He wants to pray over the food at lunch and so far I have been the prayer.)

    In German, du, is the familiar. Anciently people would be associates and friends for decades before very politely deciding to address each other with du. Today it is common that most people, who are only casually related, are on familiar terms. I think it is in the Zeitgeist of the modern world. The Church may be one of the last bastions of formal speech, addressing people as president and bishop long after their release and worrying about too much informality and fraternization between the ranks. This OP seems to be a symptom of that concern.

  60. when I got my PhD one of my advisors told me a story that I will always remember. “When I was a newly minted PhD I had to take flight, and clicked Dr. on the online form when registering for my ticket. During the flight a flight attendant came back and needed my help with a passeenger who was suffering from pain. I replied, Oh I am not a real doctor and have never used the title since.” I love that story and only let my students call me by my first name. I think that this is mainly out of an insecurity with the title, and a feeling that I enjoyed my program so much that I didn’t suffer sufficiently to earn the title of Dr.

  61. I think that the doctor/professor titles are regional. I teach at a midwestern university, where Dr. is used for faculty with PhDs. My brother-in-law teaches at an eastern university and tells me that everyone uses Professor there. I never call myself Dr. when I introduce myself, although almost all of my students use it. What really throws people is when one of my students calls me Dr. at church (since it’s not something that I advertise…) If they ask, I just tell them that I’m not the useful type of doctor.

  62. John Mansfield says:

    Dirac turned down a knighthood because he didn’t want anyone to be able to call him “Sir Paul.” That’s how much he preferred “Mr. Dirac.” (For the Mormon connection, the same book where I read that also quotes Dirac insulting the satellite antenna at an LDS building in Tallahassee.)

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