Mormon Baby Names

March 6, 2004 | 32 comments
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Is this an archetypal thing for a new father to be doing on a Saturday night, sneaking a post while/whenever the kid is asleep?

We just went through a nerve-wracking and overly self-conscious process to coming up with 1) lists of baby names, 2) baby naming approaches, and 3) ways to avoid blundering into some naming meta-trend we weren’t aware of.

Ultimately, we named our daughter Ada Catherine, inspired by my wife’s great great-grandmother, Ada Philena. Of course, both double names and great grandmother-era names are both trends in themselves.

So, is it a particularly Mormon trend? What is/are Mormon baby naming trends? (Brush up on the current research at Utah Baby Namer.) A mission companion was named Joseph Hyrum; someone in NC (where I grew up) assumed my first name was Elder, didn’t blink an eye.

Prof. Cleveland Evans called a Book of Mormon-naming trend a few years ago, but even though I’m a brother of Jared, I’m skeptical.

Yet when we were at church in eastern Paris a couple of years ago, we heard a Cote d’Ivoirean baby blessed as “Neffy.” It wasn’t until the new convert mother spoke later that we realized she’d named her son Nephi. For some reason, that made all the sense in the world.

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32 Responses to Mormon Baby Names

  1. Matt Grow on March 7, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    I wonder if converts around the world are more likely to name their children after Book of Mormon figures than the average American Mormon. My wife and I recently discussed how on our missions (to northern and southern Brazil) we met many Nephis, Moronis, Mormons, etc. (like the Cote d’Ivoirean baby). Have others noticed a similar trend?

    Or perhaps it’s not a question of American/non-American, but a question of convert/non-convert. After all, the first generation of members in the early days of the Church often chose Book of Mormon names for their children. Parley Pratt had sons named Nephi, Lehi, Abinadi, Alma, Mormon, Moroni (two!), Helaman, Teancum, Omner (and perhaps others) and an adopted Indian girl he named Abish.

  2. cooper on March 7, 2004 at 8:07 pm

    While I cant be certain, as all of my children were named names of ethnic origins (irsh, french), I think most parents of spencer’s, david’s, gordon’s, emma’s etc have a sincere desire to give a name of “heritage”. Noble names to live up to per se.

    Unless, of course, you’re the cruelest of the cruel: new child in our ward: Brigham Young. The poor baby! He is already the butt of every joke: after an amazingly fussy day in church: “boy did you see brigham young today? must’ve gotten up on the wrong side of the bed!” or when he passed gas in sunday school: “Brigham Young farted in church today!”

    I don’t know parents can be so cruel.

  3. Gordon Smith on March 8, 2004 at 12:27 am

    Greg, I prefer biblical names, but my wife vetoed Goliath, Cain, Pilate, Jezebel, and Lucifer. So we ultimately went with more conventional names. (By the way, I like Ada Catherine. Very pretty.)

  4. Charles on March 8, 2004 at 11:14 am

    Cooper,
    Parents can be very cruel. A freind of mine who teaches junior high had a student with the last name Minor. His parents in thier joyful glee named him “C”. No C was not a nick name or abreviation for anything. His name was simply C Minor. Now that is cruel.

  5. Kristine on March 8, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    Why C? E-flat Minor is so much more interesting :)

  6. Kaimi's Dad on March 8, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    Naming your kid is one of the many joys of parenthood. I tell people who ask me what I think about some kid being named some differnt name “What can I say I named my Son Kaimipono” and you know it has turned out to be a good name for him. Just ask Kaimi.

  7. Karen on March 8, 2004 at 4:18 pm

    Well, if you want a perfect example of Mormon naming run amok, just scan down any ward list from Utah or Idaho and I bet that a good third of the 50 to 70 somethings are named La_____. I had a group of really close friends in high school, and three of our four mothers were La___s. My mother, LaPrele, is not so thrilled at her aunt who picked out her name, presumably in an effort to sound French and sophisticated. (Incidentally, I wonder how many French sounding sophisticates in Utah and Idaho are eating freedom fries these days….) The great thing about being a La_____ is that you really can be either gender, and sometimes, it really isn’t clear which gender. I really hope that some linguist (or anthropologist) out there has done a study and documented the La____s before we lose the La_____ generation. Priceless.

  8. Nate Oman on March 8, 2004 at 4:32 pm

    I heard once that the Utah penchant for “La” names actually had its origins in Welsh rather than French. Can anyone substantiate this?

  9. cooper on March 8, 2004 at 4:48 pm

    Nate – the La isn’t Welsh. As far as I know the closest thing to the La in Welsh would be the Ll. But the Ll is an aspirated Ll pronounced like Lh rather than La. I can see how Utah Mormons could take the Ll and make it La by trying to sound it out though.

    Oh and the thought process behind the La can be used “intergender-ly” is really not correct either. In french the La refers to a female noun. Le takes the masculine.

    I didn’t know that about Utahns. I thought it was mostly Idahoans. Everyone I know from Idah has a La— in the family.

  10. Jim F. on March 8, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    As a grandparent, I’ve not found it difficult to like the names that our children have given their children. But, then, within limits, I happen to like unusual names, so I may not be a good standard by which to judge these things. C Minor isn’t just an uninteresting key, it is a terrible name, but I’m not as bothered by Brigham Young as Cooper, perhaps because I have a grandson Brigham (middle name McKay), though not Brigham Young.

    We’ve just been through this with our second son, whose second child was born about a week ago. For a while Matthew and Angela were thinking of naming him Samaritan. I kind of liked that name, though some in the family were not as positive about it as I. They eventually settled on Asa, which I also like.

  11. Renee on March 8, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    Our stake prez’s kids…

    All the boys are named for Biblical people.

    All the girls are named for church history sites… Cumorah, Liberty, Harmony (surprisingly, no Nauvoo)

    With one exception, the oldest child is “Jessica”.

  12. Ben on March 8, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    There’s the helpful Mormon baby name site, claiming a collection from Utah birth records. Pretty funny stuff.
    http://wesclark.com/ubn/

  13. Charles on March 8, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    I recall playing certain role playing games in my younger days or writing short stories where I would name characters after words that just sounded cool. Vex, Inapt, his twin brother Adept. That was all fine and dandy when its a character. Sometimes a little discression in naming children is needed. After all they are our future. Well yours not mine, I’m going to be a hermit and begin terraforming mars for my own use.

  14. Karen on March 8, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    Well, the problem with Book of Mormon names, or Mormon history names, or even Mormon site names is that it’s a lot for a kid to live up to. It’s all well and good if little Nephi grows up to be the bishop, but what if he grows up to be an alcoholic lounge singer? Or goes to prison for robbing banks (or better yet, robbing his neighbors in an illegal pyramid scheme?) (I’m sure that when Sonny and Cher named their daughter “Chastity” they didn’t mean for her to grow up to be a gay rights activist.) Maybe, just better to name your kid John or Anne and let them learn to use their free agency without the threat of irony hanging over their heads all the time.

  15. William Morris on March 8, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    I subscribe to the following criteria for baby naming:

    1. Canonical but not super common
    2. Goes well with last name
    3. Not gender neutral
    4. Nice if it can be family-related [esp. 2-3 generations back — the granny trend, Greg discusses], but not crucial
    5. If possible, a name that has no nicknames or diminutives — or if not, one that doesn’t have strong associations with a particular nickname
    6. No funny spellings
    7. No same initials for first name and last name — not such a big deal for others first, but there’ll be no M&M’s in the Morris household [Eminem, on the other hand is fine in small doses]

    This approach is perhaps too traditional for some people’s tastes, but there you have it. Ada appears to fit all of the criteria except 7.

  16. Aaron Brown on March 8, 2004 at 8:05 pm

    I don’t much care about criteria #s 1, 4 or 7. 2, 3 and 5 are moderately important to me. 6 is paramount. For those of you who don’t know the Hell firsthand, having to go through life spelling your name for everyone everywhere you go is truly excrutiating. And my name is “Aaron,” for crying out loud. You’d think that given its Biblical pedigree, the complete obscurity of “Arron,” and the presumably well-known fact that “Erin” is a girl’s name, “Aaron” wouldn’t be such a tough one to spell. But several times a week, every week, I have to explain to some moron how Aaron has two As. Ridiculous. Telling people that I have the exact same name as the CNN anchor doesn’t seem to help much either. I’ve decided that everybody still has “Erin” Grey fantasies from “Silver Spoons” that they haven’t been able to shake off.

    For the sake of your children, name them something easy to spell.

    Aaron B

  17. greg.org on March 8, 2004 at 8:06 pm

    Interesting. I hadn’t heard of the LDS place names approach.

    As we were combing back through the family history sheets for name possibilities, it occurred to us that the Church’s very focus on genealogy might predispose us–and others–to choose family names, even if that tradition didn’t exist in our own families (though it does).

    The initial search was spurred by wanting to know the name of the first person in each line to join the church. Of course, that could lead to the whole “Nephi Allen, crackhead” risk Karen mentioned.

    Inept and Adept. hah. It’s like Goofus and Gallant. No stigma there…

  18. Karen on March 8, 2004 at 8:47 pm

    Greg, by the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the link to Utah Baby Names. If I’m working late, I figure I might as well be laughing at some poor kid named Zion Anakin while I’m at it. (As are my co-workers…although it seems to have reinforced some cultural suspicions…) Also funny was the fact that I think I know some of those people whose names are on the site.

  19. Julie in Austin on March 8, 2004 at 8:53 pm

    When I tell people that I named my firstborn after Simon the leper (Mark 14:3-9), they don’t believe me. But it’s true.

    Nathan is the most cunning prophet in the OT, and no one even remembers him.

    I’d like for the next son, if we were so blessed, to be Zelophehad, but I doubt my husband would go for it.

  20. Renee on March 8, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    I find the whole last name as first and middle name strange. I recall on a trip to SLC, walking through the city cemetary and seeing headstones with names like “Kimball Fielding Grant” and “McKay Benson Hinckley”. I could understand, maybe, maybe the midlle name as the last name of an ancestor. Or maybe the first name if the middle was something else. But when the whole name is a bunch of other people’s last names, what is uniquely *yours*?

  21. Jim F. on March 9, 2004 at 2:26 am

    Renee, how is a standard first name any more uniquely mine than a last name? “James” isn’t exactly unique to me. –And you have the name of a French philosopher. I don’t see much difference.

  22. lyle on March 10, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    1. Many said something similar to the following:

    ” [X] C Minor is a terrible name”/To name a child such, parents must be cruel.”

    Yet…what makes the parent’s cruel? Are the parent’s making the jokes…or those of us who think we are wise and are trying to be back seat parents?

    2. “Nephi Allen, crackhead” risk Karen mentioned.

    Um…so, because a child might not live up to their name…you will pre-judge them and not allow them the opportunity to exercise their agency and strive towards that? Hm…didn’t a prophet of God mention something about giving kids names that they can live up to/inspire them?

    3. might as well be laughing at some poor kid named Zion Anakin while I’m at it . . . As are my co-workers…

    Hm…Again, this is great. I think this demonstrates alot more about our own maturity levels that the naming parents.

    4. Also funny was the fact that I think I know some of those people whose names are on the site.

    Yup. I was thinking nearly the same thing…that of such are cruel names created…cuz other folks would rather laugh and find the worst rather than appreciated the good intention and hope of the naming Parents. Way to take it out on the kids.

    5. the whole last name as first and middle name strange.

    …I don’t know re: those that have 3 names that are all last names, but in Latin cultures it is expected that children will carry the last names of BOTH parents [So much for judging Latin cultures as anti-Woman]. A similar tradition has strong roots in Utah history, see the names of President Bensons’ children; aka Reed Amuson [sp?]Benson.

    6. When I marry, my future spouse had better be prepared for me to take her last name; as she takes mine. Our children will follow the tradition outlined in five…although whether to put the Mom or Dad’s last name last…hm…that is a tough one.

    7. When I was younger, and more wise…I wanted to have 13 children. Dinah + 12 boys, who would be named according to: (1) a historical family name, (2) the names of the 1st twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, (3) the 1st twelve apostles of the Latter-Days, (4) a favored name from the current living apostles chosen by wife/self, (5) a personal-individual name, and the two family last (6-7) names. Of course, this would produce: William [personal-individual name] Peter [1st Apostle], Joseph [1st LDS apostle] Dallin [pos. current fav] Jazirah [personal name] Stamps-______ [yes, i’m single]? Or would that be
    William Peter Joseph Dallin Jazirah _____ – Stamps?

  23. Adam Greenwood on March 10, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    Lyle,
    If we can’t make fun of wierd names, what can we make fun of? I’d like to think that Zion Anakin will grow into a robust, hearty fellow who can laugh at himself or herself and his or her preposterous name.

  24. lyle on March 10, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Adam:
    great point…although unless you can laught “WITH” not “AT” them…I don’t think it would pass the Pres. Hinckley humor muster.

    i was only suggesting that criticizing those that give THEIR kids names that OTHERS don’t appreciate shouldn’t make it WORSE or a SELF-FULFILLING (pun intended) prophecy.

  25. greg.org on March 11, 2004 at 8:38 am

    Lyle brings up another point we’ve been dealing with which may deserve a thread of its own: last names.

    For all the thought we put into the kid’s first name, it was the last name that’s caused people the most confusion (at least at the hospital).

    My wife uses her maiden name professionally; I introduce her to people by her name; she’s known as Cottam Allen (no hyphen) socially in NY; but it’s only my grandmothers and some people at church who call her Allen (and the church record system, where the family record setup doesn’t allow for anything but my name).

    The baby was Baby Girl Cottam until we left the hospital; now she’s Allen, with Cottam as a middle name, but the insurance calls her Cottam-Allen…

    I used to half-joke about changing my name to Cottam Allen, of course now it wouldn’t match the kid.

    Personally, I blame Lucy Mack Smith.

  26. Karen on March 13, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    Hmmm, this conversation took an interesting turn…I think I’ll respond–perhaps against my better judgment.

    “I don’t think it would pass the Pres. Hinckley humor muster”

    Well…heaven forbid. I try to be a good Mormon and magnify my callings, do my visiting teaching, study the gospel, and make casseroles for the sick and the sad. I seem to have somehow dropped the ball on the humor commandment and am currently feeling retching, sickening guilt. :o) Thanks for calling it to my attention so I have something to fast for next month. (Although if I were a better Mormon, I guess I could really fast *before* next fast Sunday. I’ll have to think about it. A moral dilemma–if ever one was presented.) And incidentally, sometimes President Hinckley’s adorably cheesy jokes at general conference don’t exactly pass my humor muster, but I laugh along with the conference center audience, and then go “awww….”

    By the way, I absolutely had to call my rude and immature co-worker, read her this post, and tell her she was being immature. She, through the tears of mirth, informed me that she would only consider us Mormons a dour cult from now on. I applauded her exercise of freedom of thought. ;o)

    Lyle, my friend…to quote Sheri Dew (or perhaps Cheiko Okazaki–I really can’t remember) Lighten up! I don’t spit on babies, I am amused (and in some instances, rightly shocked) by the choices of their parents and reserve my right to express that.

    Karen

  27. lyle on March 13, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    truly, sarcasm is humorous…and as usual, the inet fails as a good comm device because it fails to convey tone, strength, etc. of course, if i obeyed inet norms such as avoiding caps…mayhap that might help at least.

    i’m not questioning anyone’s ‘right’ to be amused or judge others…just pointing out that there might be self-fulfilling consequences it what is said and/or that the exercise of rights sometimes inflicts wrongs on others.

    if you chance to meet a frown; quickly turn him upside down… ;)

  28. Kaimi on March 13, 2004 at 3:59 pm

    Lyle,

    Are you nuts? Let’s see, which of your children are you going to name Judas? As far as early LDS apostles, again you have to deal with the apostates. Which child will be named after William Smith (who left the Brigham Young faction church after Joesph Smith’s death, tried to start his own branch for a while, and eventually ended up at the Reorganization)? Ditto for William Law, David Whitmer, and Sidney Rigdon. Oliver Cowdery also apostatized. I believe all of those were among the first twelve people called as apostles. (Though I’m a little unclear about this; I’m sure that the list in D & C 124 is not the first twelve who were called).

    Also, you’re asking your wife to have 13 kids. And you think that 12 will be boys. Yep, you must be nuts. (Did you ever consider that your wife might have ideas about how to name children? Or that she might, um, want a slightly different male-female ratio of children?).

  29. Karen on March 13, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    Kaimi…I think you should be careful about calling someone “Nuts” that really might turn into a self-fulfilling consequence….

    (okay, sorry lyle, I just couldn’t resist…) :o)

    I think it’s funny Kaimi that you’re shocked by the naming and the gender ratio, but not the number, so on behalf of all the women here (me only?) I say to you…ouch.

    And back to Lyle, just a thought, (and maybe I should insert the obligatory emoticon here :o) to assure you that the tenor is meant to be provacative rather than mean-spirited….) what is the qualitative difference between me calling attention to the poor and possibly risky decision of giving your child a weird name (a phenomenon my family knows much about) and you calling attention to my “potentially uncharitable” humor? Is it judging the behavior of others you don’t approve of, or simply a problem with judging behavior that you approve of and I don’t?

  30. lyle on March 13, 2004 at 5:38 pm

    Karen: In Kaimi’s defense, he did say “you’re asking your wife to have 13 kids.” And…that was a great ringer :)

    Kaimi: Since I am not married; but have good reason to believe that I won’t ever Father any children biologically…I don’t think the ratio is too improbable. Re: the actual ratio…yeah, that is possible…’she’…whomever she might end up being; might have a different idea than I. I just think it would be cute to follow in Jacob-Israel’s footsteps. I’m just creating mine in advance…as those that are married have told me…both sides come to some type of consensus.

    re: the 12 early apostles of the Latter-days and Judas. Judas would be replaced by his replacement in the twelve; or possibly Paul. The latter-day apostates would be replaced by their faithful replacements, etc. ad infinateum. I would exempt Olivery Cowdery from this however; he repenented and returned to the folde. I good name to symbolize repentance/atonement/forgiveness.

    however…it’s all speculation after all…just a fun idea. and yes, i have spent an entire day (12+ hours), by myself, babysitting a 5 year olde hyperactive male boy (kelson) and his twin younger sibs, alaric and sierra (3yrs olde).

    i figure i’ll be too busy raising zion, literally, to worry about the Matt Evans/Clark STQ re: what is ok to spend money on.

  31. Karen on March 13, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Lyle, here’s a thought. If you are going to adopt, and wind up with your 12 boys, you could name them after the twelve tribes of Israel, and constantly have a ready made sacrament meeting talk on adoption into the house of Israel. Sort of a family object lesson on inclusion. I’m catching the vision! :o) (Plus, if you were ever on the high council, everybody in the stake would know what was coming next…just like when Elder Haight stands up, we all know we’re going to hear something about how much he loves Ruby. Quite frankly my favorite moments in GC in recent years.)

  32. Renee on March 13, 2004 at 7:42 pm

    >Renee, how is a standard first name any more uniquely mine than a last name? “James” isn’t exactly unique to me. –And you have the name of a French philosopher. I don’t see much difference.

    Jim F., Actually, his name was Rene, not Renee. Rene and Renee are common first names. However, that doesn’t negate my point. If, however, my parents named me “Freud Plato Descartes”, I see plenty of difference.