Name Calling

July 20, 2004 | 37 comments
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I am a pretty informal guy. With few exceptions, I address everyone I know by first name. Two of the exceptions are in the Church: “Bishop” for the bishop, and “President” for the stake president … unless I know them really well, in which case I tend to use their titles only at Church functions.

Those who read closely will remember that I live in a ward that is somewhat fanatical about white shirts.* This formality seems to extend to titles. I have noticed that the Young Men’s President and the Elder’s Quorum President are referred to as “President.” Given that I currently occupy one of those callings, I may be in a position to effect some change. In the meantime, it annoys me immensely. (Just call me Gordon, please.) Especially since the Relief Society President is not called “President,” but “Sister.”

And what is one supposed to call the High Priest Group Leader or Ward Mission Leader? Surely not “Leader,” but perhaps “Elder”? Strangely, they seem to be mere “Brothers.” The Bishop’s counselors pose a similar problem, and the solution (“Brother”) is the same. I address other members as “Brother” or “Sister” only when I am not yet acquainted with them. This is a bit odd, however, because “Brother” and “Sister” suggest familiarity, and I am using the words where familiarity is lacking. Moreover, when did we start calling people “Brother [Last Name]” rather than “Brother [First Name]” (like “Brother Brigham”)? Of course, if we used this older convention, I would be writing a post about how we should just drop the “Brother” altogether and just call each other by our first names. There’s no pleasing some people.

* As a side note on the white shirts, last Sunday I was the only male in PEC with a non-white shirt. Our ward mission leader mentioned that one of our investigators was nervous about coming to Church because he didn’t own a white shirt and tie. I blurted, “Tell him that I don’t either!” This brought nervous laughter from some and scowls from others. I suspect that it won’t be long now before I am called to repentance.

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37 Responses to Name Calling

  1. Chad too on July 20, 2004 at 9:25 am

    This has been one of my biggest struggles since being called into church leadership. No one ever calls me by my first name anymore, it’s always “Brother Redacted.” Even at the church picnic. It’s as though suddenly any familiarity we had is gone because now I’m a leader.

    I do make a point, though, of referring to my Teachers Quorum President and and Deacons Quorum president as “President” when we are in church. In those cases, though, I really am trying to set them apart as the leader of the quorum since they are basically working with the same group of guys they’ve been with since Sunbeams. When they wear the mantle, they are different.

  2. Last_lemming on July 20, 2004 at 10:18 am

    As I understand it, only those holding keys are properly referred to as “President”. That would exclude the YM President, so if you hold that calling, you can invoke that rule to spare yourself the discomfort. (Why counselors in the Stake Presidency warrant the title, I cannot explain.)

    When I was EQ President, I hated being called “President”. People I regarded as friends continued to call me by my first name, so by calling me “President”, others were effectively reminding me that I was not their friend. That didn’t bother me when I was just “Brother”, but once I had some responsibility for them, I didn’t like being reminded that I was respected solely because of my position.

  3. Mardell on July 20, 2004 at 10:25 am

    I remeber when I was first called Sis. Wenger. I turned aroung expecting to see my mother-in-law to be there.

    What is up with men having to wear a white shirt anyways. I sounds like some dress code thought up in the 1950′s. The other thing that bothers me is women have to wear dresses. If you wear pants of any kind it is bad. Why can women not wear nice suits like the men? I have personally worn nice slacks to church and I go some pretty mean stares.

    I understand that you need to be neat and clean. You also need to be wearing nice close. You do not want to come in you jeans and t-shirt. But what is up with all of the little rules? Men have to wear a white shirt and women have to wear a skirt or dress. If you look nice who cares what you are wearing? Of course modesty is a must but the other rules I am not so sure about.

  4. Bob Caswell on July 20, 2004 at 10:58 am

    I like where this discussion has gone… When I first read the title “Name Calling” with the first sentence “I’m a pretty informal guy”… my first thought was that Gordon called his friends s.o.b.’s or bastards, but don’t mind my warped little mind…

  5. greenfrog on July 20, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Gordon,

    As a missionary did you think it unusual to be called Elder (or whatever the geography’s linguistic equivalent was)?

  6. Logan on July 20, 2004 at 11:03 am

    What’s interesting for me is being in a ward in which I served as a missionary. I get called “Elder” pretty often, even by people who never knew me as a missionary. Go figure.

    Sometimes I laugh and remind people that I’m not a missionary anymore, but often I don’t. I’m happy to be called by my first name, but I try to remember that for whatever reason members of the ward often just feel more comfortable using “Brother” (even if I think the reasons might not be *good* ones), so I don’t make a big deal of it. I always introduce myself using only my name (no “Brother” and certainly no “Elder”), hoping that that will clue people in to what they should call me, but if not it’s okay. As people get to know me better, they usually come around to “Logan”.

    After having a few professors in college say “Don’t ever call me ‘professor’, ‘doctor’ or anything other than my first name” and thinking “whoa dude, calm down”, I decided that people can call me whatever they’re comfortable with. I prefer my first name at Church, but not to the extent of wanting others to feel uncomfortable. Not everyone gets as much delight out of nonconformity as I do, and I try to respect that.

  7. danithew on July 20, 2004 at 11:04 am

    Since this post is about formality and informality, I thought I’d point you all to an article I just read in the NY Times, titled: “Flying Shirttails, , the New Pennants of Rebellion.” I had to wonder if this new trend keep your shirt untucked will be the next little Church controversy. Here’s the link:

    http://nytimes.com/2004/07/20/fashion/20DRES.html?hp

    It can be a little disconcerting to have someone suddenly start referring to you as “president” all the time. If an elders quorum president wants people to be more buddy-buddy with him and not refer to him always as “president” all he needs to do is have more PPIs. :) I suggest doing them in the elders quorum president’s home or the home of the member, on a weekday or weeknight, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Let the person know ahead of time that the PPI will be in the form of a short informal chat, that they should wear comfortable clothes but that there will be a (kneeling?) prayer at the end. It always is easier to establish friendship and camaraderie in less-formal settings (while still inviting the Spirit).

    By the way, the “short informal chat” should still be meaningful and about the member and the member’s family.

    These are just some thoughts about an approach that worked for me. They are not based on any authoritative doctrine or statements by church leaders and might be downright heretical (in which case I would retract them). Hope no one minds.

  8. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Chad too: “I do make a point, though, of referring to my Teachers Quorum President and and Deacons Quorum president as ‘President’ when we are in church. In those cases, though, I really am trying to set them apart as the leader of the quorum since they are basically working with the same group of guys they’ve been with since Sunbeams. When they wear the mantle, they are different.” I assume that you do not call the Laurel President “President,” right? Given your reference to “mantle,” this seems to be a Priesthood issue, but why is more important to make this distinction in the quorums?

    Last_lemming: “As I understand it, only those holding keys are properly referred to as ‘President.’” This is related to the first comment, and I don’t understand it. As you note, the YM President does not have keys, nor does the YW President, the Primary President, the Laurel President, etc. So you are suggesting that we can give someone the title of “President” when they don’t have keys, but they are called “President [Last Name]” only if they have keys? This sounds like someone trying to make sense of the practice ex post.

    Bob, LOL, that title was written for you!

    greenfrog, Yes. “Elder” always provoked a good laugh in Austria, at least for those who spoke English. When we translated it for those who asked, they always looked shocked. Is there any reason male missionaries need to be called “Elder [Last Name]“? In the old days, when Seventies used to be in charge of missionary word, I don’t remember ever hearing anyone called “Seventy [Last Name].” If we want young missionaries to feel that they are in a different position than they were before, we could call them “Brother” and “Sister” (nice symmetry to that) or “Mr.” and “Ms.”

  9. john fowles on July 20, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    Gordon: I agree with you on the use of “Elder” for missionaries in a German speaking country. It just seemed absurd, since it was an English word. The reason for it is obvious though, to prevent missionaries from simply becoming buddies with people they are supposed to be teaching, even if the effectiveness of that is itself questionable.

    The solution in Spanish has been exactly what you suggested. An elder is called “hermano” and a sister “hermana,” which simply mean brother and sister respectively. Supposedly, this is done to avoid any confusion with the Catholic Church and their titles, since that is the dominant religious force in much of the Spanish speaking world.

  10. Frank McIntyre on July 20, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    In Portugal there is the rather unfortunate problem that “Elder” sounds identical to the Portuguese first name “Helder”. This is sort of a problem; it is like having a church where everyone takes the first name “Greg”. I think it was the source of endless amusement for the locals.

    Add the common name thing to the uniform dress code for missionaries and we probably looked pretty cultish to the average citizen.

  11. Kaimi on July 20, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    John,

    It has?

    I was “Elder Wenger” on my mission, not “Hermano Wenger.”

    And yes, it was a little strange. No one called us “ancianos.” I don’t believe that Elder is a word in spanish, but it was used.

    (See also, e.g., http://www.lds.org/languages/additionalmanuals/gospelprinciples/PrinDelEvan31110002_Lecciones/PrinDelEvan31110002_17.pdf ).

    It always struck me as a little odd. Using an untranslated term is a little wierd. Could you imagine if all the High Priests (in English speaking wards) were referred to as Sumo Sacerdotes?

    (Also, why do that for just one term — “Elder”?).

  12. Chad Too on July 20, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    Fair question. To be honest, we haven’t had Mia Maids or Beehives in almost a year (a MIA Maid’s family just moved in and dear little Cassie-from-down-the-street just turned twelve) so I guess we have two new soon-to-be Presidents!

    I do, however, refer to our Laurel class president as “President Jones.” Same reason, I was amiss not to include it.

    You are right, though, in that I don’t so that as much for the Primary President, the YM or YW presidents, the Relief Society President nor the EQ President. He’s not talking to me much since finding out I’m a registered Democrat, so no harm no foul.

    As to the term “Elder” in Japanese, the characters used give the impression of the “Ancient-of-days” connotation of the word. I always thought it strange that I was a 19-year-old running around with the title “really old person” on my name badge.

    And you can come join our PEC any time you want.

  13. gst on July 20, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    John, in my South American mission in the mid 1990s we were designated Elder on our name tags, and we introduced ourselves to people that way. I did not understand why we used elder and missionaries in Italy used Anziano. Our mission field was equally Catholic, and the translation from elder was essentially identical, yet we used the english title.

  14. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    John, If the purpose of using “Elder” in German-speaking countries is to “prevent missionaries from simply becoming buddies with people they are supposed to be teaching,” don’t “Brother” and “Sister” (Bruder und Schwester) or “Mr.” and “Ms.” (Herr und Frau) accomplish the same purpose? Or does that just work in Spanish-speaking countries?

  15. Frank McIntyre on July 20, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Gordon,

    Obviously the term “Elder” sets them apart as not just being formal (like a Mr. or Ms.), but also being, literally, “set apart”, as in “called of God”. This ties in nicely with the fact that we need to teach people about the importance of priesthood authority to perform ordinances. Of course there are other options, but I don’t think Brother cuts it, and Mr. and Ms. would also not work.

    There’s no reason for female (non-priesthood holding) missionaries not to go by sister, though, and what do you know, they do!

  16. Jim F. on July 20, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    I suspect that whether an area uses the English “elder” or the translated equivalent is mostly an historical question. When the translations were being made, someone made decisions based on their personal understanding and preferences, and those decisions have become binding. Now we look for explanations of them. Thus, “ward” and “stake” are transliterated directly in to Korean “because their ‘stake’ makes no sense in Korean” (as if it did in English without the scriptural connection), but “elder” is translated: “chango.” But in France, “ward” and “stake” are translated but “elder” is used instead of ‘ancien’ “because it makes no sense to call someone so young “ancien”–as if it does make sense in English.”

    If you’re looking for a consistent rationale behind the translations of ecclesiastical terms, I doubt that you’re going to find one.

  17. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    Frank, This is a reason — and it may be the reason — but I don’t know that it makes much sense. In my experience, most non-members nowadays think “Elder” is just odd, especially when attached to a young man. It does not connote “priesthood authority” to them because they have largely lost the idea that priesthood authority is relevant. The connection just never occurs to them.

    There is a very easy way of teaching the importance of priesthood authority, and that is by explaining it to people. I do this with my children. And when they are baptized, we tell them that I am performing the baptism because I hold the priesthood. They seem to get it just fine without calling me Elder.

    By the way, what are the other options that convey the idea of priesthood authority?

  18. Gerald on July 20, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    Two points -

    The first, dealing with mission titles, I found it odd that in spanish speaking countries they referred to missionaries as “Elder” as noted above, while in Italy, where I served, we were referred to and called “Anziano.” It always seemed inconsistent to me. Elder works in our culture because the term is used in protestant churches. To be an elder in the church denotes a level of activity and belief in protestant circles. Catholic cultures do not use the term elder in church settings. It is an indicator of wisdom and age in the community. We were always viewed strangely since we showed neither wisdom nor age yet carried the title of both.

    Secondly on the white shirts – when I was a deacon our bishop proclaimed that we would not be allowed to pass the sacrament without a white shirt and tie. He was wearing a blue shirt at the time. As my mother was the Relief Society President, and I was an arrogant brat, I stared at him and finally said, “I’ll wear one when you do.” He looked as if he was ready to explode.

    I recently ran into him twenty years later and he still remembers that conversation. He noted that as long as he was bishop, he always had a white shirt on thanks to our conversation. The day he was released, he went back to blue.

  19. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    Sorry, back again. A few little add-ons. First, Frank’s rationale especially doesn’t make sense when Elder goes untranslated into a non-English speaking country. Unless the person who needs to be reminded is the person wearing the nametag, but I think all of the other trappings of missionary work do a fine job of reminding elders that they are on a mission.

    Second, I think Jim’s historical explanation has traction here, too, as Elder probably had a more meaningful impact 100 or 150 years ago.

    Finally, this is the interesting entry on “Elder” in Wikipedia:

    A religious or political elder is valued for his (it is usually, but with exceptions, a man) wisdom, by the logic that the older you are the more you know. The concept of an elder was common in parts of the world where what is now called civilization had taken over. The elders in the Bible were also called Scribes or Pharisees.

    Elder is a title for a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormon, no matter the age of the member.

    In some Protestant churches, an elder is a senior member of an individual church who has not been ordained as a minister. This is a defining characteristic of a Presbyterian church, which draws its name from the Greek language for ‘elder’. The elders provide either an advisory or a ruling role in the decision process of local issues; though most modern churches now emphasize the participation of all confirmed members.

  20. Ken Jacobsen on July 20, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    What a great topic…..

    As as active duty member of the US Navy. I have spent almost 20 year with the formality of titles and chain of command structure. Consequently I have grown pretty tired of the formality of our church names and titles. I agree with Gordan in that I refer to the Stake Presidency and Bishop by their respecitve titles. Even as a EQP I prefer the brethren to call me by my first name or my nic-name of “Jake” (US Navy way to shorten the constant use of only your last name by all your superiors for every funciton you preform).

    I would also add that after attending a hike last week with the YM of the ward I noticed the YM referred to some of the leaders by their first name and some by the customary “Brother….” Normally, it’s “Brother” by the YM, while the Scoutmaster has been called by his first name. He is younger than me and is closer in age to them. He has not made a big deal about the name thing, however, when it comes to issues of discipline and correction when the YM get out of line the YM view the adult leader not as a leader but as a friend and don’t like it when they’re corrected. I believe the youth should understand that adult leaders are leaders and not co-equals or non-alcoholic drinking buddies.

    Just another perspective on this subject….

  21. BTD Greg on July 20, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    In Japan, the “Elder” thing is very confusing. “Elder” is translated into the Japanese word Chourou. Chourou has a very odd connotation: a very old, very respected member of a group. (Those very familiar with the anime Dragonball Z might know of the character Sai Chourou, or “Ultimate Elder,” a wizened and wrinkled fellow with esoteric knowledge of fighting skills and the ability to see into the future. Or something like that. But I digress.)

    Most people who took time to look at my name tag became very confused. “Chourou”! But you’re not a Chourou! Like many other things in the church, they just thought it was very odd. I would have preferred if missionaries were referred to with the English word “Elder.”

  22. danithew on July 20, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    When we were tracting in Saudi Arabia, the potential investigators used to get very confused by our use of the term sheikh to refer to such young men. “Sheikh Kimball?”, they’d say…

    Actually I should know the Arabic term for elder but I admit I’m just making this nonsense up for my own amusement.

  23. Sam B. on July 20, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Frank,
    But sister missionaries in Brazil (and, I assume, Portugual) go by “Sister,” not “Irmã.” Even though it’s not a priesthood thing, it’s a title that sets sister missionaries apart from the culture.

    And did you know many people named Helder? I think I only ever met one in Brazil.

  24. Last_lemming on July 20, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    If missionaries in Germany are now being called “Elder”, it is not because of any historical precedent. I was always a “Bruder” in the mid-70s.

  25. Frank McIntyre on July 20, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    My comments about Elder vs. Brother or Mister were not language specific. The ensuing comment by Gordon and Sam B. emphasize the language aspect of Elder, so I though I should try to clarify my ramblings.

    I’m fine with the idea that Elder gets used in Portugal largely based on a historical precedent that is difficult to change now. I would be fine with some portuguese term that also denoted priesthood authority. I think it would make sense for the sisters to be irmas or hermanas instead of “sisters”. But look, Elder is a funny title even in English. One can translate it into another funny title, but this doesn’t change the basic issue. When asked why we are called “Elder”, regardless of the language, the missionary has an opening to explain a little about being called and ordained.

    And I think there is real value in shoving the priesthood thing out front. It is central and it matters. The disconnect between being a 19-year old and being called an elder is obvious, but just because there is a disconnect doesn’t mean there is a problem. We are, after all, all for disconnect if it means the person gets shoved out of complacency and moves to baptism. Gordon notes that there are other ways to emphasize priesthood authority. This is surely true. But the name is one way. Note how much attention it gets! Some will be turned off or weirded out by it. This is not the question; the question is does it weird out more people than it brings in. I don’t know.

    Sam B., I only knew a few Helders, but more than the one you met. The problem is actually worse if the name is a somewhat rare one but still known. “The Church of Johns” would be bad enough, but “The Church of Franks” would be downright cultish. And yes, the Church was referred to as the “Church of the [H]elders”.

    Actually, now that I roll it around a little bit, “Church of Franks” sounds sort of cool. Maybe that could be my band…

  26. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    Last_lemming: That is an interesting tidbit about being called Bruder in the 1970s. By the time I went to Austria in the early 1980s, we were all “Elders,” and I am pretty sure that Germany was the same. This suggests that someone decided to change things.

    By the way, I think Frank makes some good arguments about the effect of “Elder” in promoting teaching opportunities. I am not sure how many people are “wierded out” by the title, but it does contribute to the sense that “Mormons are really different from me.” I am not sure about anyone else, but I felt that it was important in the early stages to emphasize commonality, not difference. Otherwise, you are dead in the starting gate.

  27. Angela W. F. on July 20, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    In the Teaching, No Greater Call manual it says:

    “Show proper respect for General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, members of general auxiliary presidencies, and local priesthood and auxiliary leaders. Always use their titles, such as “president,” “Elder,” “Bishop” or “Sister,” when addressing them and talking about them. Address and refer to other adults in the Church as “Brother” and “Sister.” (Lesson 23, “Reverence,” pg. 82).

    Our Teaching the Gospel teacher suggested that when we call on people during our lessons we should address them as “Brother Smith, Sister Johnson, Brother so-and-so, etc.” She tried to do this in our class (she hadn’t done it until that lesson), but the effect was a bit comical, because it seemed odd. I think she just did it that one week. Nonetheless, her lesson made me start thinking about the issue.

    I have a bad habit of referring to people my age (30ish) and younger by their names and people older as “Sister” (or “Brother”). The exception is people that I feel comfortable with. Ironically, (I think it is because she does her job so well), the RS president is one of the older sisters I feel most comfortable with and so I usually address her by her first name. The problem is that calling only the women older than I am “Sister” seems childish—as though I don’t yet recognize myself as an adult (no doubt this is some carryover from graduate school where my rather traditional advisor preferred to be called Professor So and So).

    After hearing the lesson on addressing all adult Church members as sister or brother, I began to think. Some of the older sisters that I call “Sister” might feel old or on less intimate terms with me when I address the younger sister sitting next to them by her first name. Further, I worried that unintended distinctions might creep unbidden into my usage. Am I more likely to call a single sister by her given name rather than “Sister Surname”? I didn’t like that thought at all.

    One way for me to overcome these challenges is to call everyone in Relief Society by her first name. However, I reasoned that it would be equally effective to call everyone “Sister.” Given that that was what the manual had recommended (and having a bit of a formal streak myself), I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I have found this idea difficult to implement. It turns out that in the split second before I call on someone, I think of either “Sister Smith” or “Sally.” I don’t think of both. When I pause to try to think of the name I want to call them, the person is already talking.

    More to the point, I don’t think this works in our culture unless the Church is prepared to make a big deal of it. (I don’t think most of us would say that addressing adult Church members as Brother or Sister So and So in our lessons is policy.) The reason that I want to call women older than I am “Sister,” is because that is what I was taught as a child. But when I try to introduce my little daughter to someone in the ward now (especially someone my age or younger, even if she is an adult) she is very likely to say “Call me Mary” in response to my counsel “Call her Sister Smith.” In addition, when thirty somethings call other thirty somethings Sister So-and-So (especially friends) it is comical. And it will continue to be unless a lot of us begin to think of it as a reverence issue. I don’t think most people my age think of it that way now.

  28. Kingsley on July 20, 2004 at 6:23 pm

    I sort of like the Brother/Sister followed by first names tradition, e.g. Brother Brigham, Brother Joseph, Sister Eliza. It’s cozy.

  29. Jim F. on July 20, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    Calling a 19-year-old kid “elder” in English isn’t a lot weirder than calling him the equivalent in another language. We are used to “elder,” so it sounds natural. Perhaps I was odd, but it didn’t seem natural to me when we joined the Church. The only thing that helped is that we did have elders in the church of which I was a member–but they were universally older men.

  30. Gordon Smith on July 20, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    Angela, Thank you for that thoughtful comment. I obviously flunked reverence, but I passed congeniality with flying colors. I agree that calling some people Brother/Sister and others by their first name makes the closeness of the relationship apparent to everyone, and that is usually not a nice feeling if you are the one being called Brother or Sister. On the other hand, we have a fellow in our ward who consistently uses Brother/Sister, and frankly, he feels more like a work-mate than soul-mate to me. He is a great guy, but I find his unwillingness to call me by my first name a real barrier. Come to think of it, I am just going to tell him that.

    You also hit a chord with the observations about age. I am making a special effort to call the older members of my ward by their first names. In my experience, these people feel separated in many ways from other members of the ward, and this is one way to signal that they are inside the tent.

    Finally, you quote from the teaching manual, which positions this as an issue of respect. There is a small residual of that feeling in me — which is why I still use Bishop and President (for the Stake President) — but I do not see Brother/Sister as a respect issue. Indeed, quite the opposite. I sometimes use Brother/Sister when I have forgotten or haven’t yet learned someone’s first name. For me, getting to know someone well enough to feel comfortable using their first name is a way of showing that I care.

  31. john fowles on July 20, 2004 at 11:04 pm

    Jim: I liked your comment about your perception of the term Elder as you were investigating and converting. It was the most natural thing in the world for me to call a missionary Elder ____, since I grew up in an LDS home. It wasn’t until I was in Germany and trying to implement directives of the Area Presidency to focus on teaching youth and college students/young adults that I realized how peculiar the title was. First of all, it was the English term. The reason for that was clear enough: Aeltester was an office in the Protestant churches in Germany, so we wanted to avoid confusion with that. But I quickly learned that since it was an English word, followed by a last name, everyone just thought that it was our first name.

    German missionary name tags also use “Sister” instead of “Schwester“. That’s because Schwester can mean “nurse,” so another attempt to avoid confusion. I think it would have been better if our nametags simply had our full name on them–”John Fowles” instead of Elder Fowles. That would have been more personable for people with whom we spoke, and less pretentious, in a way. Also, looking back, I’m not convinced that having the title Elder or Sister on the nametag really did much to prevent missionaries from just hanging out with youth and college-aged students, or eternal investigators of any age. Those missionaries who wanted to do that did so regardless of the fact that their nametags said Elder. In fact, their “friends” often called them by their first names anyway, which made other missionaries who were abiding by the rules a little uncomfortable.

    Maybe the most important reason for the policy is the effect that it has on the young missionaries themselves. Particularly for Elders, putting the title on forces them to be serious or to take their position seriously and to be business-like. Perhaps that is the reason? I wonder how effective it has really been. That is, I wonder if the missionaries who are going to be serious would do so anyway and those who are going to waste time and act immature are not dissuaded from doing so just because of the title.

    Kaimi: I was interested to hear that the Spanish missionaries are called “Elder” after all. I thought that “Hermano” was on Spanish nametags. Are there different nametags for different Spanish-speaking countries? I admit that I might just be completely wrong about that.

  32. Jim F. on July 21, 2004 at 1:57 am

    John Fowles: I wonder why we don’t worry about confusing our missionaries with Protestant elders in English-speaking countries? I doubt that we have fewer Protestants in North American, Britain, Australia, etc. I suspect it has partly to do with the fact that when you are learning a foreign language you are much more cognizant of such parallels than you are when the language is your own. In England we could have the same confusion with “Sister” that German has with “Schwester,” but no one seems to think it is a problem, so I don’t think the explanation is sufficient.

    I continue to suspect that there will be different histories and, so, different explanations in each mission or group of related missions.

    However, I think that you are right to wonder just how effective using the title “Elder” and its equivalents has been in making missionaries take their callings seriously. My experience has been that most do and some don’t, but the title doesn’t have much to do with whether they do.

    Nevertheless, I would prefer to have some formal title for missionaries because it is a formal position and our relations to the missionaries are formal. As Angela points out, however, figuring out how to make one’s way through formality and informality in the Church (probably in other places too) can be tricky.

  33. Jordan Fowles on July 21, 2004 at 11:05 am

    If someone has already mentioned this, I am sorry. My philosophy is that I call everyone brother/sister at church, especially in formal settings like class, and that I call them by their first names in more casual settings, like when I see them in th grocery store,etc.

    However, I think I will always have a hard time calling my close friends “brother” or “sister”. Some of them would probably freak out.

  34. Justin H on July 21, 2004 at 9:38 pm

    I was a Span-Am (another fun name) in the mid-’90s and though the name of the Church was in Spanish on my nametag, my title was Elder, not Hermano. But the sister missionaries were Hermana ______ (not Sister). This was the case with all the elders/sisters in my MTC district, even though we were headed to various and sundry destinations (Chile, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain, and the US).

    The most common assumption this strange word (to Spanish speakers) inspired was that companions were biological brothers–I never figured that one out.

  35. john fowles on July 21, 2004 at 10:45 pm

    I stand corrected as to “Hermano” on Spanish-speaking missionaries’ nametags. I can’t say exactly how I came to that idea, but it seems to be universal that English “Elder” was used in Spanish as it was in German. And despite Jim’s doubt that confusion with the protestant office was any reason for the English usage of that word in German, I suggest that it makes even less sense in a Spanish-speaking country to use the English word “Elder” when it won’t likely be confused with the protestant office because of the Catholic cultural heritage that predominates in those areas.

  36. Jim F. on July 21, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    John Fowles: I don’t doubt that the possible confusion of “Aeltester” with German Presbyterian or other Protestant leaders could have been the cause of the decision to use English. I just doubt that the decision (assuming it happened) made any sense.

  37. Anonymous on November 2, 2004 at 12:58 pm