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?