Minding our P’s and Q’s

November 5, 2007 | 77 comments
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A Evangelical classmate of mine discovered an easy tactic for bothering his Mormon classmates, that often required him only to occasionally omit the letter B or W from a sentence. In discussion about the church, he would conspicuously mention the name “Spencer Kimball,” or “Gordon Hinckley,” or “Ezra Benson.” This drove many of my Mormon classmates batty. It seemed to be a great moral wrong to refer to “Gordon Hinckley” without the intervening B.

Of course, there are identification-based reasons to be specific. “Ezra Benson” is potentially ambiguous, and adding “Taft” or “T.” clears up the confusion. (Ezra Taft Benson is _not_ the same as his ancestor Ezra T. Benson.)

But those aside, is there a reason for including initials? Is it really irreverent or unrighteous to refer to Gordon Hinckley, Boyd Packer, Spencer Kimball? It’s not that these names are inaccurate descriptions of first and last name — they aren’t — but they do clash with the person’s chosen moniker.

Church critics — from my above-mentioned classmate to various writers on the internet — seem to take bizarre glee in deliberately leaving out initials of church leaders, as well as shortening Joseph Smith’s name to Joe. (There are other common modifications, like the startlingly original and creative “Boyd KKK Packer.”) Some of this glee probably comes from the horrified reaction of Mormons to seeing the name Gordon Hinckley, without the B.

Of course, Mormon leaders aren’t the only ones who self-name in specific ways, and society generally tends to respect people’s self-naming choices. For instance, it’s considered an act of normal courtesy to respect the choice of Black feminist writer bell hooks to decapitalize her name. Ditto for e.e. cummings. It’s also considered normal to accept the choice of many women (often academics) to adopt a double last name: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, for instance.

And of course, sometimes these names are inadvertently shortened; I’ve seen writing by feminist authors that referred simply to Laurel Ulrich, and I don’t think any insult was intended. Similarly, many outsiders who write about church leaders may be unaware of naming conventions, and so Boyd Packer and Gordon Hinckley may be the norm for some outside writers.

But what about deliberate initial removal?

To the extent that general social standards push towards accepting a person’s chosen name, the act of deliberately referring to Boyd Packer becomes an act similar to deliberately talking about Laurel Ulrich or Bell Hooks. The names aren’t inaccurate; they are deliberately inconsiderate. (On the other hand, just how big a deal is this?)

Where does that leave us? Is it really an act of unrighteousness (as opposed to mere social cluelessness or noncoformity) to leave out initials of church leaders? Were my Mormon classmates overreacting? What is the value of those P’s and Q’s?

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77 Responses to Minding our P’s and Q’s

  1. CS Eric on November 5, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    I was attending BYU during the Oaks and Holland presidencies. One of the more subtle changes one of my professors noted was that the prior president signed all his letters to the faculty as “Dallin H. Oaks,” and the new one signed all of his “Jeff.”

    Some of it, I think, is because of the growing size of the Church itself and its bureaucracy. In earlier days, it was easy to have the man at the top be “Brother Joseph” or “Brother Brigham.” I’m not sure we can handle “Brother Gordon”– I think most members wouldn’t know who you were talking about if you called the current President that. I don’t know, does the use of the initial mean the current leaders are to be taken more seriously? Does that initial really provide that much more respect?

    To me, it feels like one more way that those of us outside the Mormon Corridor are farther away from the heart of the Church. Growing up in the Salt Lake Valley, it wasn’t unusual to have a member of the 12 at Stake Conference. The last real-life General Authority I’ve had at a Stake Conference in the 19 years since I’ve left the M.C. was a member of the Presiding Bishopric 13 years ago.

  2. Ardis Parshall on November 5, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    It’s an act of humiliation to shorten my name to Ardis Parshall when I use Ardis E. Parshall everywhere else. (Have to distinguish myself from all the OTHER Ardis Parshalls out there, you know.) But that’s how T&S set me up as a guest blogger, and I was too intimidated by the famed T&S pretentiousness to ask to have my E. tucked in the middle where it belongs.

    Of course there’s no unrighteousness in shortening a name! But it is discourteous to do it if your intent is to offend. It’s also foolish to let your tormenter know that he has succeeded in bothering you. And it’s provincial to become upset when church leaders’ names are shortened to their surnames in journalism or academic writing — if the style of the Somewhere Times or the University of Whatever Press is to call them Bush, Lincoln, and Einstein, it is just as acceptable to call them Smith and Young and Hinckley.

    Commenters on this blog, however, would be wise to call church leaders by their community-accepted names. And to spell the names correctly.

  3. California Condor on November 5, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    It’s definitely a way to throw an orthodox Mormon a curveball.

  4. JrL on November 5, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    “…the prior president signed all his letters to the faculty as “Dallin H. Oaks,” and the new one signed all of his “Jeff.”

    I wonder if that was just a result of their professional history. A young associate at Kirkland and Ellis would be expected to use a middle initial on correspondence; it seems unlikely that habit would be easily dropped.

  5. Norbert on November 5, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    I had a ht companion who was a brand new convert, in the UK, and he always left out the initials when refering to GAs. It made me laugh. He also said Tommy Monson and Spence Kimball, for some reason. He gave a talk full of Dallin Oaks and such, and someone said something to him and he was really hurt. I told him it was a sign of respect, and to be safe I always called them by their title and last name.

    (But I think the real reason is the callistenics in the MTC chanted to the names of the Q of the 12. That’s where the ‘official’ cadence comes from.)

  6. Edje on November 5, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    An aside about E. E. Cummings’ orthography: it is not necessarily an “act of normal courtesy” to minisculize his name.
    See Norman Friedman, “NOT ‘e. e. cummings,’” Spring 1 (1992): 114-121 and Norman Friedman, “Not ‘e. e. cummings’ Revisited,” Spring 5 (1996): 41-43. /threadjack

  7. ed johnson on November 5, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    But it is discourteous to do it if your intent is to offend. It’s also foolish to let your tormenter know that he has succeeded in bothering you.

    Ardis pretty much says it all.

  8. Jacob J on November 5, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I am not the slightest bit bothered by someone referring to Gordon Hinckley or Spencer Kimball, but if you are going to talk about Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith, or Joseph Fielding Smith, mind your p’s and q’s. “Joe Smith” is usually an intentional slight, which is why I tend to react that that one more.

  9. Matt Thurston on November 5, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Removing the middle name or middle initial from LDS General Authorities seems to have the effect of transforming the Prophet or Apostle into a mere man. I think you are right that some critics purposefully avoid using the middle name/initial convention to denigrate. Others may simply find using the middle name/initial convention cumbersome. Others may find it unnecessarily pretentious. In that regard it may be not unlike those that purposefully avoid using “Dr.” or “Sir” (i.e. for knighted or baroneted Brits) for their lofty or superior connotations.

    Around the ‘nacle it seems that using the last name (i.e. Hinckley, Monson) or initials (i.e. GBH, ETB, BRM, BKP) is okay, but if you are going to use the first name in conjunction with the last name, you better go all the way and use the middle name/initial as well.

    It all seems pretty innocuous, the Internet being the Internet and all, but 5-6 years ago, prior to the birth of the ‘nacle (I think), a long-time 20+ year CES instructor was terminated a year or two short of retirement for sarcastically using that “Boyd KKK Packer” moniker.

  10. Ken on November 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I was actually thinking about this very topic the other day. Do we know where in Mormon history/tradition this weird middle-initial convention comes from? I assume it’s stuck around because it helpfully lends a more authoritative ring to the names of church leaders. “Boyd Packer” sounds like someone your dad might go fishing with. “Boyd K. Packer” not so much.

  11. BBELL on November 5, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    I have always wondered if this custom of using the middle initial came from making sure that we properly ID leaders back in the day.

    There were lots of Smiths and Youngs kicking around often with similar names

  12. California Condor on November 5, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I recall Larry King referring to President Hinckley as “Gordon” and it sounded a little odd.

    It’s interesting how many Mormons and non-Mormons alike mis-spell Hinckley as “Hinkley.”

  13. Matt W. on November 5, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    I think the initial came about due to Joseph F. Smith needing to distinguish himself from Joseph Smith. At least that’s when it crops up in the names of presidents.

  14. greenfrog on November 5, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    IMO, taking offense is silly and self-harmful, whether its intended or not.

    On the basic question, it seems to me that we’ve developed an understandably high degree of respect for our Church leaders, but we’ve embellished it with a variety of formalistic (and formulaic) epithets. We are far from the first society to do so. When others outside our community do not follow those formulae, of course we’re consciously aware of the absence of the formula. But that’s because our usage is so ingrained that we only notice it when it’s missing. To my mind, that suggests that we ought to thank those whose practices remind us of the intended respect that we originally delivered through the formulae, but which we now largely overlook.

    We should bless anyone who makes us more aware, rather than less.

    Perhaps you should send thank you letters. (You could start with the letters B, T, and W.)

  15. Last Lemming on November 5, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Hey, if we like middle initials so much, we could just call President Hinckley “B”. There is a precedent. (Poor Spencer W. Kimball).

    In her hometown, my mother was routinely addressed by her first name and middle initial (which happens to be her entire middle name).

  16. California Condor on November 5, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I remember in the mission field that it was over-the-top hilarious to joke with fellow missionaries about addressing our mission president by his first name “Dennis.” As in “hey Dennis, how’s it hangin?” Or “Yo, D, wassup?”

  17. Dan on November 5, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    @Matt: \”Removing the middle name or middle initial from LDS General Authorities seems to have the effect of transforming the Prophet or Apostle into a mere man\”

    It seems sometimes that perhaps that would be a good thing.

  18. John Mansfield on November 5, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    It’s all Parley Parker Pratt’s fault. Or Thomas B. Marsh’s and Heber C. Kimball’s. But not David Wyman Patten’s.

  19. Lynnette on November 5, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    This reminds me of an amusing anecdote I read years ago (in Sunstone, I think), about President Clinton writing a thank-you letter to the First Presidency which was addressed something like “Dear Gordon, Tom, and Jim.”

    I don’t know that I see the failure to include a middle initial as offensive, but it is one of those linguistic cues that contribute to my impression of whether an unknown person writing about Mormonism is or is not LDS.

  20. Wilfried on November 5, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Interesting, but it’s a typical cultural phenomenon, tied to traditions in certain countries, like in the U.S. In cultures where no middle names are used, it’s kind of odd to use them, and certainly if it’s limited to the initial. In many Catholic countries, middle names are the given names of the godparents, without any connection to a last name, but they are seldom pronounced except in writing for formal identity purposes. Moreover, the pronunciation of the middle initial of our GA’s is American, which in other languages can sound quite differently. Gordon “bee” and Boyd “kay” and Spencer “double you” are in another language Gordon “bay” and Boyd ‘kah” and Spencer “way” …

  21. Mark IV on November 5, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    I find it very interesting that church leaders often refer to one another by their first names.

  22. John Mansfield on November 5, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Regarding #17 and Brother Decoo’s #21, my second mission president was Mexican and followed the Mexican practice in some circumstances of using the mother’s maiden name after the father’s surname: he was Agricol Lozano Herrera, (son of Agricol Lozano Bravo). (We were in Argentina, where that was not the custom.) The mother’s maiden name was often shortened to an initial following the father’s surname. Since he signed his letters to us that way, I sometimes did the same with my letters to him and signed them John Mansfield W.

  23. Kevin Barney on November 5, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    I agree with Jacob J #9. I don’t care in the least about omission of initials, but shortening Joseph to Joe has a long history and is almost always meant as a really silly and juvenile intenional slight.

    Once I’m elevated to GA I will thank you all to start calling me Elder K. LeRoy Barney. Anyone calling me Kevin will have his temple recommend confiscated.

  24. Dan S. on November 5, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Ardis E. Parshall,
    Is there some kind of convention for historically documenting a person’s name in text? Do you try to use the person’s full name when introducing the person, and thereafter refer to them by how they chose their name or by last name only? Do you always use a middle initial when referring to religious or military leaders? Why are assassins universally referred to using their middle initial? (Coincidentally, why does the word assassin have two “ass”es instead of just one? Isn’t that a little redundant?)
    -Curious W. George :)

  25. Matt Thurston on November 5, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Are general authorities given an option? For example, did Dieter Uchtdorf just want to be plain old “Dieter Uchtdorf,” (the chances of mistaking Dieter Uchtdorf around SLC with other Dieter Uchtdorfs being relatively remote), or was he gently pressured to accept the more apostolic Dieter K. Uchtdorf?

  26. Grant on November 5, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    CC # 17: Who was your MP?

  27. collin on November 5, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    I think this is another example of formalization for the sake of formality (and the assumption here is that formality = respect or reverence). I personally think it\’s kind of idiosyncratic and I have heard stories of general authorities who did not want the middle initial or to use their full first name (maybe like Jeff vs. Jeffrey Holland), but out of convention or _________________ (fill in the blank), went ahead and did it. But there is definitely a push in parts of the church structure to formalize anything that can be formalized.

  28. Equality on November 5, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    And don’t forget to always use the title with the name, no matter how clunky it may sound on the third or fourth reference in the same paragraph, to wit: “President Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, today broke ground on the new alumni center at the campus of his alma mater’s arch rival. Commenting on the name of the new alumni center, President Hinckley said he was humbled that the building was to be called the President Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Center at President Brigham Young University. President Hinckley thanked those in attendance, including President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said “President Hinckley is a wonderful and remarkable man, and the President Gordon B. Hinckley alumni center is a marvelous tribute to the life of this great Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, yea, even President Gordon B. Hinckley.”

  29. gst on November 5, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Well, if initials makes one holy, consider how holy I must be being nothing but initials.

    Also, Bell Hooks, E.E. Cummings, and K.D. Lang can all go jump in a lake. It’s one thing to prefer that you not be referred to by a nickname, and quite another to invent a totally new convention and expect everyone to follow it to appease your vanity. Especially under the pretense that your vanity is actually the absence of vanity.

    Therefore, henceforth, I shall no longer be known as gst, but rather GST.

  30. California Condor on November 5, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Grant (27),

    I’d rather not broadcast it publicly.

  31. queuno on November 5, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Formal names aside, it’s interesting how the Church’s own software for ward management (MLS) allows wards to enter a member’s preferred name (and have that name show on reports, etc.). I.e., there is a technological permit within the Church to use whatever name you want to use, despite having whatever legal name you have.

    We see this applied a lot with children who are living with parents who are in the adoption process — they are starting to use a new last name, but it’s not legal. I also see it with married women who hate whatever middle or maiden name and just don’t want it showing at all.

    As for myself, I don’t like using a middle initial. My middle name comes from a family member who is dear to me. Out of respect for my name and for him, I either use my full name or no middle name at all. Never an initial.

  32. Kaimi Wenger on November 5, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Ardis (2),

    The lack of a displayed initial is absolutely intentional, and is the product of a secret request to the blog admins made by Anti-Ardis Lamphouse Ministries (AALM), a non-profit 501(c) organization who believes that Ardis (not-E!) Parshall is a False Prophet, and that the church she founded is a Dangerous Cult.

    AALM really hopes that Ardis (not-E!) never realizes that she could quickly and easily change her displayed name on the blog, by looking under the Users/Profile menu . . .

  33. Grant on November 5, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    CC: Just chuckling at the possibility that it was my FIL. PA Philadelphia Mission ’83-’86.

  34. Bob on November 5, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    I’ve known a lot of Law Firms that would not let their attorneys begin their name with an initial.

  35. Ray on November 5, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    #33 – Wow. That’s creativity for which I only can yearn.

  36. Hellmut on November 5, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Dan #18, has got it. Middle initials are pretentious.
    I am not sure what’s more disrespectful. Deploying middle initials to set yourself apart from the lowly masses or dropping someone else’s middle initial.
    Seriously, if you want to be different, learn how to knot a bow tie.

  37. gst on November 5, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    I bet that, apart from GAs, there is a high degree of coincidence in initial use and bow-tieism.

  38. a random John on November 5, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Interestingly DKL, a man that goes by his three initials and sometimes full name, is the primary bloggernacle offender when it comes to dropping initials. Personally I see nothing wrong with it.

  39. SilverRain on November 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    It’s things like this that remind me how very Mormon I’m not.

    Do people really agonize over these things?!

  40. Bob on November 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    #38: I am going to guess, we will not be having a thread on hyphenated names (?)

  41. Bob on November 5, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    #38: I don”t know how #38 got into #41.sorry.

  42. California Condor on November 5, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Grant (34),

    No.

  43. Ray on November 5, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Serious question: Do any of us participating in this conversation really care? I agree that dropping an initial or shortening a name can be and often is a sign of ridicule, but generally I couldn’t care less.

  44. Ardis Parshall on November 5, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    25. It’s pretty uniform, although any press can adopt their own style rules.

    The Chicago Manual of Style rule for indexing, which is as good a guideline as any for narrative, too, is “Personal names should be indexed as they have become widely and professionally known.” Every press I can think of at the moment, except the Church, uses the unadorned surname after first mention.

    So almost everywhere it would be “Joseph Smith” and “David O. McKay,” not “Joe Smith” or “Dave McKay” or “David Oman McKay,” on first use, and “Smith” and “McKay” thereafter. Anybody who writes “Joe Smith” is making an editorial statement.

  45. manaen on November 5, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Anyone who takes offense when it was not intended is a fool.
    Anyone who takes offense when it was intended is a damned fool.

    – BY

    I dropped the middle initial from my signature soon after I was divorced. It may have been newly-found humility and it may have been because my newly-ex had advised me earlier to include it.

  46. jose on November 5, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    My favorites for mistaken names are M. Russell Nelson and Russell M. Ballard.

  47. Swisster on November 5, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    Was Joseph F. Smith really the first church president to have a middle name?

    (This next comment is for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine.) Isn’t it great that for the past 12 years, the First Presidency shared their named with some of most beloved engines on the Island of Sodor: Gordon, Thomas, and James? Even now with Elder Eyring, we’ve got Gordon, Thomas, and Henry. Sorry, but there are no engines named Dallin, David, or Deiter.

  48. annegb on November 5, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Well, now I have new things to do to bug my bishop. Thanks for that :)

  49. Hans on November 5, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    I remember when I first heard of David O. McKay I thought he must be Scots-Irish as in “David O’McKay”!

  50. JimD on November 6, 2007 at 12:32 am

    “Therefore, henceforth, I shall no longer be known as gst, but rather GST.

    Comment by gst — 11/5/2007 @ 7:03 pm ”

    Anyone notice something odd about post number 30? ;-)

  51. Todd Wood on November 6, 2007 at 1:48 am

    Didn’t realize this.

    I will try to mind my P’s and Q’s

  52. Mark B. on November 6, 2007 at 11:58 am

    It’s all so much nonsense.

    Anybody have any problem leaving out the middle initial on the first five presidents of the church?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing began with the sixth president, who needed that F so we could all distinguish him from his uncle, and once we started down that path we never could leave it.

    Once Joseph F and Heber J got the ball rolling, the US military in World War II added momentum, and nothing since then has been able to stop it.

    Every soldier and sailor and marine was called by First Name, Middle Initial and Last Name. If you didn’t have a middle name, you got an NMI in there instead. My uncle who was Terrance or Terry to all his family and friends before the Army became “Dan T”. Even J. Alfred Prufrock would have become James A. Prufrock. So a whole generation (and if there were 11,000,000 men and women in the U.S. armed forces during the war that’s a pretty substantial percentage of that whole generation) came to see First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name as the formal way of identifying somebody.

    I like Kevin Barney’s suggestion. K. Leroy sounds vaguely subversive–although it does remind me of the slightly Frenchified version, K. Leroi Nelson, who was the BYU Chemistry Department chairman during the late 1960s. There’s something else he’s more famous for, which is the subject of a threadjack commencing right now.

  53. Bookslinger on November 6, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    If President Gordon B. Hinckley and His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, were to have a meeting, I’m sure their handlers would tell each other prior to the meeting what the proper protocol of addressing each other should be.

    But the Dalai Lama seems to be a down-home guy, and in private, I’d bet he’d ask President Hinckley to just call him Tenzin, or Ten. And if he did so, I’d bet that President Hinckley would respond that he could call him Gordon, or Gordy.

    There’s a story that someone told Spencer Kinnard in an elevator “Hey Spence, hit 4 for me.” Unbeknownst to the speaker, President Kimball was in the elevator, and without saying a word or missing a beat, President Kimball hit the button.

    Ever since I read that, I have daydreams of the Aaronic priesthood doing a rap skit in a road show, and performing a number called “Gordy B and the Apostle Posse”.

  54. SLO Sapo on November 6, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    What’s up with the pompous use of first initial, middle name, last name? I wish I could remember who said this (I want to say Mark Twain but can’t confirm it):

    “It’s hard to trust a man who parts his name on the left side.”

  55. Jacob M on November 6, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Ever since I read that, I have daydreams of the Aaronic priesthood doing a rap skit in a road show, and performing a number called “Gordy B and the Apostle Posse”.

    We already have “Mormon Rap”, and that’s as far as it ever needs to go.

  56. Bruce V C on November 6, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve noticed that in Arabic, where the convention is patrilineal names, the church leaves in middle and first initials in print but drops them on the conference recordings. For instance, it’s Laam Tuum Baarii (L. Tom Perry) in print, but just Tuum Baarii in speech.

    #50: When I first saw President McKay’s name, I saw it spelled out. My first thought was David “Oh Man!” McKay.

  57. Bruce V C on November 6, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    #48 In a talk three conferences ago, Elder Eyring gave a quote where he was referred to by his father (of the same name) as “Hal.”

    Maybe we could create a comprehensive list of nicknames the GAs have had.

  58. Ken on November 6, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    It occurred to me after the fact that this LDS practice has a secular counterpart, in the naming of US presidents. Someone first naming a US president from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries will more likely than not use the middle initial–”Chester A. Arthur” rather than “Chester Arthur.” This seems to have faded out around the Nixon administration, among many other presidential traditions he besmirched. The run of casual Presidential names that followed–Jerry, Jimmy, Bill–finished it off.

    Maybe the initials used by Mormons were an attempt to suggest a similar authority for our ecclesiastical leaders, or at least to fall into line with standard practice of the time. Will the Mormon insistence on initials fade too now that middle initials are less common in the outside world? Or will middle initials make a permanent return to government thanks to “Dubya”?

  59. Mark B. on November 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Pres. Monson regularly tells stories where somebody refers to him as Tommy.

    And, Pres. Eyring had to be Hal because his father was Henry. Otherwise, there would have been rank confusion. Did Falstaff every call the prince “Henry”? Never. It was always “Hal.”

  60. akl on November 6, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Funny that someone should mention how these names carry over into foreign languges. The ones that begin with an initial sound especially bizarre in Spanish: Jota Rubén Clark, for example. I think that the use of a initial has become somewhat of an unwirtten standard for general authorities. But of course we now have many from parts of the world where initials are not commonly used.

  61. David T. on November 6, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    When I was younger I used to try on both monikers to see which one I should go by if I was ever called as a GA: J. David or John D. I would also practice my earnest portrait face in the mirror. \”My brothers and sisters…\” Needless to say, talking to you now, we know how all that turned out.

  62. Dr. B. on November 7, 2007 at 7:48 am

    I think there are so many Robert Hales, or Tom Monsons, Tom Perrys with all their kids, grandkids, and nephews etc. working at various LDS organizations that they have to distinguish them so they don’t get each others mail. I emailed RD Hales who responded I had the wrong Elder Hales. It must be confusing to keep them apart. I suspect there are hundreds of Joseph and Hyrum Smiths working in some capacity for the church.

  63. Ray on November 7, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Right, Dr. B. That’s it. The middle initial was instituted to distinguish all of the relatives working in the same office buildings. Achmed’s Razor strikes again. (Yes, that was intentional.)

  64. Mark B. on November 7, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Actually, the only Achmed I know who is a stake president and who also works for the church spells his name Ahmed.

  65. Adam on November 7, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    The middle initial performs the same function as KJV English: perceived formality and respect.

    Remember when Oaks gave that talk about “thees” and “thous” being more formal and the grammarians jumped all over him because he was wrong? They were missing the point. It’s the perception of formality to modern LDS that matters.

    Talking about Gordon Hinckley and Boyd Packer feels a little too much like reading scripture from the NIV, or wearing a polo shirt to church. It’s perfectly normal for the rest of Christianity, but a little too casual for Mormons.

  66. Ross Geddes on November 7, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    “To an American it is always a point of honour that … the initial of his second Christian name should be remembered by all men.” — Anthony Trollope, “The Widow’s Mite” (short story published in 1863)

    The first US president to use a middle initial was William H. Harrison (1841). There is then a spate of them in the second half of the 19th century: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, then spasmodically up to the present.

    Seems like it’s an American cultural thing dating to at least the mid-1800s, rather than a specifically Mormon innovation.

  67. Matt Donaldson on November 7, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    What’s happened with initials in General Authorities’ names reminds me of what’s happened with the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ Originally, they were used with first names to address or refer to somebody in a friendly and familiar way, such as ‘Brother Joseph’ or ‘Brother Brigham.’ Today, they are used with last names to address or refer to somebody in a formal way, effectively replacing ‘mister’ or ‘misses.’ Normally, being referred to as ‘Mister Smith’ by a teenager makes you feel old but, in the church, that feeling comes with being addressed as ‘Brother Smith.’ After all, that’s not me; that’s my Dad!!

    Similarly, it seems that middle initials were originally used to help distinguish people with similar names, as with Joseph F. Smith (remember the F! – to quote a Primary song). Since initials were needed to tell General Authorities apart, the practice took on a distinguished feel so that, today, it is seen as a practice designed to show respect – which is why some are annoyed when its not followed. (It also leads to somewhat humorous references. After all, I can’t be the only one who stiffled a chuckle when I heard the name “Elder C. Scott Grow.”)

    It’s interesting that the same problem existed in the primitive church with distinguishing names like John or James. They handled this by adding appellations on the end such as John the Baptist and John the Beloved. We could get carried away proposing similar apellations for latter-day authorities.

  68. Hans Hansen or Hans E. Hansen on November 7, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    “They handled this by adding appellations on the end such as John the Baptist and John the Beloved. We could get carried away proposing similar apellations for latter-day authorities.”

    Actually the Vikings were quite creative. In the sagas we have people named Erik the Red, Harald the Ruthless, Thorfinn Skullsplitter, and a legendary king named Halfdan the Generous with Money but Stingy with Food.

  69. Jacob M on November 7, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    68 & 69 – Imagining the prophets with these appelations.

    Joseph Smith Jr. the Bugle Thrower
    Brigham Young the Fiery Preacher
    Heber J Grant the Baseball Crusher

    to name just a few.

  70. queuno on November 8, 2007 at 12:24 am

    Hans, I went to high school with a Fink. We would always joke what his ancestors did to get that name.

  71. Hans Hansen on November 8, 2007 at 4:01 am

    Queuno, I went to school with a family named Hogg and another family named Butts.

  72. Sir Kyle R. on November 8, 2007 at 10:41 am

    I think it’s just good manners to politely address people however they wish to be addressed.

  73. queuno, Lord and Master on November 8, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Duly noted, Sir Kyle.

  74. Sir Kyle R. on November 8, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Lord and Master Queno, was dropping the ‘R’ of my name an “act of unrighteousness” or “mere social cluelessness or nonconformity”?

  75. Ardis Parshall on November 8, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Totally sir-kyle-r reasoning going on in the late stages of this thread …

  76. Kyle R. on November 9, 2007 at 5:34 am

    Yes Ardis, I noticed that as well….we’ve led Sir Kyle R. gently back to the cottage for the moment, bless him….

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