Hello, My Name Matters

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.26.19 AMWhat’s in a name? If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know that names are important. Aside from the current focus on jettisoning Mormon (so long, two years of my life spent working for the Church on the “I’m a Mormon” campaign!) in favor of the more ponderous official name of the church, we have a pretty mixed bag of focus and dismissal of names, and the preferences around those names. Take a look with me…

I went through the temple for the first time in 2008, having been a member for 6 years. There was no particular reason I waited so long after my baptism; it just didn’t feel right. When it did, I went.

One of the things that impressed me most about the temple experience was the sacredness with which we hold the names of our dead. We are careful with them, we gently fold the slips of paper holding the names attached to real human lives, and we speak them aloud. We take care to do our best to pronounce the names correctly, even trying again if we bumble words difficult for non-native speakers, and we pray the Lord makes up where we might fall short. There is something holy about softly calling out the name of a departed soul; we do it with reverence and love, if we are paying proper attention. We are honoring and remembering a life that is no more, and adding our intention to help direct that spirit, if they wish, to a new place beyond. It’s esoteric, and beautiful, and is laden with hope for eternity. Our actions and rituals teach us that names are important.

This truth then makes especially confounding the troubles that we find within our wards and church families regarding names. Ask any modern family and they probably have a frustrating story about a name. A woman who opts not to adopt her husband’s surname, a family with a divorced member, divorced parents who share equal custody after separation, children from part-member families who were not blessed, blended families from second marriages, (I would like to include LGBTQ+ couples, too) and a multitude of other possible scenarios play out in often painful ways within our congregations.

I am not and have never been a ward clerk, but from what I have been told after my own struggles with getting my church to address me as not only preferred, but legally proper, the default is to list all family members under the male head of household. I have no doubt that comments will inform me otherwise if that’s not the case (or if the handbook, to which I do not have access, says otherwise). I have been told the computer forms are narrow in their scope, and do not allow much latitude.

In my case, my name and my children’s names match. My spouse and my step-children’s names match. It’s not complicated—seven people, two surnames. We even made it easy—my kids are all redheads and his are blonde. And yet the default has been to lump everyone under my spouse’s name. I love him. His name is fine. I am not offended when people use his name to address me. However…it’s not my name. I am left with the option of correcting everyone (and the reality that some people find that offensive and label me a nasty F word, which is absolutely true, but its also true that church these days is hard enough in DC), or just letting it roll. Usually I let it roll. But I do appreciate the folks who address me properly. It’s not a hard to pronounce name. It’s even short.

But here we are.

When I was first divorced, I discovered that my children, even though my former husband’s parental rights had been terminated by the court, were listed under his name in our records. It took weeks of work on my part to get that corrected. Even then, they only transferred ONE of my children, since my former husband hadn’t blessed the other two. I spent hours at the SP’s office. And then it took additional weeks to get our names changed. I even provided the court documents to the local leadership. It shouldn’t be that hard.

A friend shares custody of her children with her remarried spouse, and despite their custody agreement, their four children are listed under his name, with his new spouse showing as their mother. My friend’s name is listed alone in her records. She has asked repeatedly to have this corrected; not only is it an annoyance and incorrect, but because their records are listed in his ward, she doesn’t get information she needs about activities, schedules, and the things pertinent to her family. There is no reason children cannot be listed with both parents, if custody is equally shared. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Another friend has remarried. Her husband is not a member, but the ward clerk will not include him in the ward list. When I was married to a non-member (back in the stone age when we had paper directories. I miss those, btw) his name was listed with mine. She wants people to know he’s a part of her household. I know we can label someone “non-member” in our records. It shouldn’t be this hard.

If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is going to be really persnickety about how our name is used, even going so far as to equate using Mormon with being pleasing to Satan (really???! What was I working on for so long??) we have got to put our actions in line with our institutional wishes. We cannot demand the world refer to us in a highly specific manner, and then refuse to acknowledge the varied and important ways family names matter to our members. When someone says what they prefer, whether is a cumbersome moniker, a family surname, or a personal pronoun, honor their dignity and wishes.

We do it in the temple. Our current church president has asked us to do it with our official name. We can do it in our wards. Change the forms, adjust the lists, listen to people. It shouldn’t be this hard. Just do it.

Comments

  1. Preach on, Tracy. This names business is a two-way street.

  2. Beautifully Framed.

  3. nobody, really says:

    We have a very hierarchical church. We love org charts with a clear chain of command and an undisputable line of authority.

    I maintain databases for a living, specializing in hierarchical databases. There are many things that seem hard on the surface but are very easy to do on the back end. But, there are many things that should be really, really easy but which are impossible in a hierarchical system. The clerk (probably) doesn’t mean to be cruel or difficult, but there are some things that just can’t be done without a massive amount of programming or spaghetti-bowl work-arounds. And to make things simple would require a bottoms-up redesign that probably couldn’t be maintained by untrained grocery store stockers who get called as ward clerks.

    I don’t mean to defend the system, because it drives me bonkers too. Salt Lake has even eliminated the ability to maintain a Do Not Contact status, and this causes us no end of complaints when some poor sister gets assigned to visit a person who releases the dogs and a string of insults that would make J. Golden Kimball ashamed. I guess what I’m trying to say is “Simple Isn’t Easy”.

  4. I am not surprised that our church is (yet again) unwilling to extend to others the thing they demand for themselves.

  5. So, for reasons I don’t want to get into, I did not change my name when I got married but have chosen not to correct that on my church records. I go by my husband’s last name at church and nowhere else, and I am fine with that. However, because some people are aware of that weirdness, I have had several priesthood leaders offer to change it for me, including my husband, who is the ward clerk. Apparently changing a name is pretty easy. You can even have a preferred name for the ward directory that is different from your legal name.

    (I wasn’t sure about the custody stuff, so I asked my husband, and the ward clerk can easily change head of household and add unblessed kids. He says it takes 20 seconds for each.)

    Anyway, it seems like (at least under the current software system), this is an issue of will rather than possibility. Or maybe we just need to call more tech savvy clerks.

  6. Most of these frustrations are the result of part time membership clerks and a cranky system.

  7. My husband who has been a ward clerk says it is very easy and anything legal can be filed in the computer. Sometimes you need to do some research to find out how, but everything he ran into was possible. Adoptions need to be documented. He says he suspects that termination of parental rights also has to have documented proof. The ward clerk just has to be willing to email in and ask how to do it. It isn’t that hard, but maintaining the records is very time consuming because ward clerks are expected to find lost members by themselves, even if they end up stalking a person. He said there were certain things that he just refused to do because it would offend the people who prefer not to be found. But he said that showing respect to people by getting their children in by the correct name and respecting a wife going by a different last name than her husband were things he would take the time for. But judging by the state of the ward records when he took over, the previous clerk was not willing to take time for respecting people’s wishes.

  8. Kristin Brown says:

    You are right. I want my children with me.

  9. From a documentary source about an 1850s Pioneer Day celebration: “[The] arrangements were punctually fulfilled, and the day passed off very agreeably and pleasantly. The orators of the day acquitted themselves creditably, and the toasts breathed the true spirit of Mormonism.”

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Great post!

  11. I hope the Church and all of its members will extend the same name courtesy to all LGBTQ individuals, everywhere.

  12. If names are so important, what are we to make of this policy:

    “A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.”

  13. I noticed that my records show me as an Elder but do not show who ordained me. I informed the ward clerk that it was my father. He said something about me needing to contact the bishop of the ward where it took place. I suppose my sworn testimony is not enough proof and my records will continue to have a mysterious blank space on where my priesthood came from. The immaculate ordination?

  14. As I am on the cusp of my 2nd marriage this is an issue that concerns me as well. I won’t be changing my last name this time so we will see what happens. I received my endowment under my former first name since apparently someone changing their name is too far beyond the understanding of some people. Wonder what Paul thinks about that.

  15. “When someone says what they prefer, whether is a cumbersome moniker, a family surname, or a personal pronoun, honor their dignity and wishes.”

    That is such an important message, Tracy! Thank you for this strong and unequivocal post!

  16. Ward and Stake leaders don’t usually solve these types of problems. Makes you all appreciate those ward clerks, doesn’t it? It only takes a year or two to seriously figure out the system. Hats off to all the gentle and savvy “Radar” O’Reilly’s in the Church.

  17. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Roy: so much for Line of Authority being taken seriously.

  18. Michael H. says:

    This kind of reminds me of all our colossal, institutional creditors who demand immediate payments, etc., but–on those rare occasions when the tables are turned–feel no obligation or urgency to reciprocate.

  19. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Michael H: see also the Parable of the Two Servants.

    Not a story that ends well, y’know?

  20. Great post! I am always excited when I see you are an author of a new post, Tracy M.

  21. Same with my being ordained a Dry Priest. Didn’t get recorded. The person who did the ordination moved so they had to find someone who witnessed the event. Not that I cared. Being an elder was sufficient for my needs.

  22. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Dry Priest

    As opposed to a Whiskey Priest, right?

  23. Ryan Mullen says:

    Great post, Tracy, and very pertinent.

    nobody, really — “a person who releases the dogs and a string of insults” is clearly a person who does not want to be on the ward list at all, with or without a DNC label.

  24. The heck is a dry priest?

  25. …dry rhymes with high.

  26. Also, dry = boring. It’s an affectionate slur.

  27. When viewed in this way, it explains much about the actions of the Q15 and the Q70. They are interested in the welfare of the organization of the Church, not the individual members of the Church. I don’t say this to be ornery but I believe it explains why they will act quickly to defend the institution it require decades to make life better for the person.

  28. So I noticed how they completely rebranded CES into “Seminaries and Institutes” after the CES Letter pretty much redefined that brand for them. Do you think that suddenly ceasing all use of the word Mormon could be connected to that? I mean, I get wanting to use the Savior’s name more often, but suddenly calling our generations-long name/identity a victory for Satan is a mighty big and fast reversal…could the church be preparing us to distance ourselves from the BOM and JS one day because of the CES letter or some other discovery that they have made? Come to think of it, did anybody even speak about the BOM or JS in conference? I am trying to remember . . .

  29. Aussie Mormon says:

    JS was mentioned by multiple speakers with multiple explicitly calling him a prophet, likewise the BoM was mentioned plenty including a talk specifically on it.

  30. Bro. Jones says:

    Took me a second to parse out “nasty F word.” :)

    I wonder if folks in non-US countries run into any issues with atypical name format. I knew some converts from South India who had some trouble–they don’t have what would be considered “traditional” last names, but local leadership insisted they had to be baptized with a first and a last name.

  31. nobody, really says:

    Ryan, you’re absolutely right. Our problem is they don’t care enough to write up a letter asking for name removal, and we’ve been told that we shouldn’t provide a pre-written letter for an angry person to simply sign and be done with us. I think we could cull our member list here locally by 30% if we were allowed to let a person write in name, address, and signature on a simple name removal request.

    On the other hand, I’ve only met one hostile person who insisted that his name be kept on the records. “If there’s a disaster, you guys will show up, so this is like a free insurance policy.”

  32. ohyeaitsme says:

    I’ve been so depressed since conference. Honestly, I was very excited to listen this year. Our family attended the Saturday morning session and were thrilled at the new 2-hour block announcement. But from there, it went downhill. President Oaks’s talk at the Women’s Meeting about the horror of women getting married later in life (a good thing in my opinion); the domination at the women’s meeting by the men; the intense focus on marriage, family, and nurturing as the sole responsibilities of women; the limited number of women allowed to participate in general; the comments by Oaks (again) about same-sex marriage and gender identity; the heavy-handed condemnation of the word “Mormon” by Nelson — it was all too much for me.

  33. Nobody, really says – Sometimes it’s not the lack of a letter. I’ve worked with two Bishops who refuse to honor letters written by ward members who ask to have their names removed. I suspect they aren’t the only two Bishops in existence :-) I’ve also met people who want no contact but don’t want their names removed because they don’t want to upset active family members (in the cases I know about it’s been active children)

  34. Bro. Jones says:

    Marcella — I was in a ward once where the bishop said, “I know some people have asked for no contact–but we’ve just got to give it one more shot! Their salvation is at stake!”

  35. Francisco Guzman says:

    Changing a name on LCR takes just a few seconds. Handbook 1 says your legal name should be on your Church Membership Record (Section 13.6.1). As a former Ward Clerk, I eliminated all the “married names” of the sisters in my ward since here in Chile your name doesn’t change when you get married and therefore, the husband’s last name is not part of the legal name of his wife.
    By the way, the reason why some sisters had “married names” is because of the effect that USA culture has in the Church. Missionaries and even local leaders started recording “married names” in Church records and it just kept going for years, even though it wasn’t in line with the instructions nor local law.
    Family History is not benefited either, from people appearing on Church records with a name that is different than their legal name, it only adds confusion, because when they die the will show up with that name on FamilySearch.
    If you have a legal document that states your legal name, this shouldn’t even be an issue and your ward clerk should fix it quickly.