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Does giving your children Mormon names affect their future?

Mandy Slack - LDS Living - March 28, 2012

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Names are a way every culture identifies itself, and Mormon culture is no different. Jennifer Mansfield, a graduate student of folklore, has even identified six different "types" of Mormon names - as well as the reasons for (and effects of) such names.

Picture this: you’re in a Wal-Mart parking lot on a Monday evening (a little before 6 o' clock) and you see a yellow van park across from you. The door opens and kids, all dressed in knee length shorts and capris, spill out onto the pavement. A mom and a dad join the crew (also dressed in knee length shorts), and together, the family treks into the store to shop for ice cream toppings. If you’re anything like me, your first thought is, “Mormon.” 

It’s not always easy to tell if someone is Mormon, but some things (like knee-length shorts and big families) are pretty good hints. Sometimes just a name is a dead giveaway: if a guy introduces himself as Moroni Young, you can be 98% sure he’s Mormon. 

What Is a Mormon name? 
We may not always recognize it, but as Mormons, we definitely have a unique culture, and names are a big part of that. While not every Mormon has a “Mormon” name, there are some trends that spread wide in our culture. (Caveat: not all the trends mentioned below are solely LDS, but they do seem to resonate more strongly and commonly in the Mormon culture.)

Jennifer Mansfield, a current graduate student in the Folklore Program at Utah State University, identified six different types of Mormon names: religious (Moroni, Nephi, Brigham), combination (Taylee, Mandylyn), invented (Kaislen), creatively spelled (Kady, Taeler), ancestral (Freestone, Jenkin), and themed (Monson, Hinckley, Kimball). 

But parents who give their kids “Mormon” names don’t seem to recognize that they’re doing it. Mansfield noticed that the mother who had given her kids theme names (like Kyler, Kailen, and Kory) thought that Moroni and Nephi were Mormon names, while Moroni and Nephi’s mom seemed to think that Kyler, Kailen, and Kory were Mormon names. “Nobody thinks they’re doing it,” Mansfield explained. “But a lot of people are.”

Why do parents choose these names?
Do parents give their kids these names so that everyone knows they are Mormon? That’s what Mansfield expected to find, but instead, she found that parents often just wanted to be unique. According to an article in The Week, “Many parents view commonplace names like Thomas or Jane as boring and uncreative,” so they search for something out of the ordinary. Although Book of Mormon names like Ammon and Teancum are becoming more widespread, children with these names most likely won’t share a name with someone in their kindergarten class. 

Some parents also give their children unique Mormon names to point them in a positive direction. Perhaps if a couple names their child Moroni, he will grow to be strong and courageous like Captain Moroni, or Ammon will become spiritually powerful and an enormously successful missionary. 

A lot of Mormon children are also named after relatives, but it’s often not as simple as naming a kid after dad or grandpa. “Rather than picking a direct line, people pick these convoluted routes up the family tree to find a name,” Mansfield said. “They pick maiden names, middle names, or first names, and change them.” Parents do this so their kids can have unique names, but some also do it to help their children remember their forefathers. Parents want their children to look to their ancestors and remember them, but they also hope to motivate them to do genealogy work. 

How do names influence people? 
Names have an influence on the way people are viewed by others, but mostly when a name is all that is known about a person. In a controversial 2007 study, researchers concluded that students’ grades often matched their names: those who had names starting with a C or D had lower grade point averages than those whose names started with A or B. Other researchers say there are a disproportionate number of Dennis the dentists and Lauren the lawyers. An Australian study also found political candidates with easily-pronounced-names fared better than those whose names were not so easily pronounced. And then there’s the Roman expression nomen est omen, or “name is destiny.” 

But how does a Mormon name influence the person who lives with it day by day? Mansfield related a story of a woman named Celestial who felt that her name directed her in her life choices. She served a mission and was married in the temple, which she credits to her name. Every time she heard “Celestial,” it reminded her of what she was seeking. She wanted the same for her own daughter, so she named her Himaya, which is Cebuano for “glory.”

Gidianny Gutierrez has another story. Her parents named her Gidianny (pronounced Ji-di-aw-nee) after the name Giddianhi found in 3 Nephi 3:9, which reads, “And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton.” Gidianny explained that her parents named her after the name Giddianhi, not the person. “They just thought it sounded pretty,” said Gutierrez. 

Her name hasn’t led her to secret combinations and guerilla warfare—just a lot of patience as people try to pronounce it correctly. “I understand that my name is difficult,” said Gutierrez. “When I come across a name that I can't pronounce on the first time, I’m reminded that I shouldn’t act rude, offended, or prideful to others about mine.” 

Gutierrez even uses her name to make people laugh. When she tells people she’s named after one of the leaders of the Gadianton robbers, she adds, “Don’t worry, I’ve repented,” or “Yeah, I think I’ve represented him well in this life.” And while she doesn’t look to the original Giddianhi as a source of enlightenment, her name influences her in other ways. “It has helped me learn to laugh at myself sometimes,” said Gutierrez. “It has also influenced me by helping me develop patience.”

© LDS Living, 2012.
Comments 32 comments

momardnas@gmail.com said...

06:23 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I am a convert to the church. When I was expecting my firstborn, I was reading the book of Moses. "And Jared...taught Enoch in all the ways of God." This struck me so powerfully. Now that Jared has a son, I hope he patterns his life after his name sake. I did not give my sons Mormon names because they were Mormon names, but because in reading what these great men did, I hope they will pattern their lives after them.

babyblues said...

07:16 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Mormon Baby Names and Their Affect | The Truth About America's Attitude Toward Mormons Yes, I'm nitpicking here, but the above subject is what I got in my email inbox this morning. It should read "Mormon Baby Names and Their Effect" not "Affect". Would have sent this directly to the author but couldn't find an email address for her. With that said, I enjoyed the article. I don't think it should matter if a child is named after a BOM person since we've been naming kids out of the Bible for at least 2 centuries. I'd like to see responses from people who name their kids "Jesus," and learn why that name was chosen. I've always wondered about that...

lb35 said...

08:29 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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My own theory is that Mormon parents give names to keep kids from leaving the bubble. I spent 7 years in Chicago and 5 in Washington DC but don't recall meeting a kid named Moroni or Nephi, or LaVell. Mormon parents outside the bubble tend to use names that are more common. If you are given a name that everyone else thinks is wierd, do you want to go someplace where a name like Omni has never been heard of? Or would you give a name like that knowing that others might make fun of your kid's name (and trust me kids do tease over names). I have seen plenty of families that name all the kids using the same first letter or other theme ideas though.

ldscientist said...

08:36 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I am SO grateful my parents gave me a NORMAL name. I personally hate those invented or misspelled names...I don't care about being "unique" and i love to say my name to others and they understand perfectly when i say it.

djljejm said...

09:01 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I don't have a "Mormon" name, but I do hate my name (Joan). It's an old-lady name, doesn't sound pretty at all, and growing up with that was difficult; I'm 42 and still am embarrased. How I wish my mom had named me something normal, and how ironic she did that to me after hating her own name and legally changing it as an adult. I think parents should also think about what words rhyme with a name - it makes it easier to get teased if your name rhymes with certain words (believe me, I know). That being said, I think it's awful to name your kid BofM names. There are plenty of beautiful - "NORMAL" - names out there that don't indicate a very unique religion. Bible names are fine - it's a general Christian trend, not a specific religion. Just as it would be strange to name your non-Hispanic child Pedro or Juan, or your Caucasian child a Muslim name, so it should be with BofM names. Parents should consider what their child will have to deal with - having to spell/pronunciate to other people a weird name over and over. Not fun!

visitingtoday said...

09:11 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Names can also keep you from getting hired. "A recent University of Chicago study, "Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?" by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, found that people with names like Pam or Amber got 50 percent more callbacks for job interviews than applicants with similar résumés and names like Lakisha and Shaniqua. http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/mullainathan/files/emilygreg.pdf

do_think said...

10:05 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Even in the comments left here we may weigh their credibility or value based on the screen name. When an individual's screen name is "ldsscientist" we may consider that person worth listening to over someone identified as "Bubba." Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

mamdu said...

10:15 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I can definitely agree that people with abnormal names may get made fun of or suffer other consequences, but I also think that if people want to give their kids odd names, that's their prerogative. My siblings are sometimes scared to share what they want to name their children because of what people will say. But why should we care? Some people with strange names are grateful they don't share a name with ten of their friends.

jag said...

11:19 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Parents using creative spellings and themed names are not Mormon trends. They're just current trends.

altorock13 said...

11:30 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I'm afraid that I don't understand how combination, made up or differently spelled names are considered "Mormon" names. As far as I know, Mormons do not have the monopoly on those kinds of name. The school I teach at has a very low percentage of mormon students. There are 6 that I know of in my classes. Outside of that we have names such as D'Artanon, Rose of Sharon, Regal, Lameah, Mia, Miqualin, etc. I think we are coming to a day when people don't want their children to be named the same thing as 15 other kids their age in their class such as Isabella and Jacob (cringe). The only names that I think can really be classified as "Mormon" names, in my personal opinion, are those from the book of Mormon, and those taken from influential mormon leaders such as Gordon, or Kimball. I don't even think Bible names can really count as "mormon" names, because Hebrews name many of their children from the Old Testament like Hannah, Sarah, Abraham, etc. Eastern European cultures draw heavily from Biblical names as well. Many of them have name days where each day of the year has a male name and a female name. You will find Adam and Eve(Eva), Tomas, Jakob, Josef, Hana, etc.

notimetodust said...

11:36 AM
on Mar 28, 2012

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This article definitely is just an opinion. I agree that creative spellings have nothing to do with our religion. And it is certainly not just a Mormon thing to pass on a name, be it surname or first name or what have you. It's been happening forever, in every culture.

celestialstarr said...

12:48 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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This is hilarious that so many people are getting so worked up over this topic! I didn't even know about this article until a friend asked me on fb if this article was referring to me. I looked it up read it and realized it is. Jennifer Mansfield interviewed me for her thesis and somehow the author of this article received information from her. As someone given a unique and religious name, I would like to say a few things... I LOVE my name Celestial Starr!!! My mom tells me that her peers thought she was off her rocker when she named me but she knew that it was the name I was supposed to have, so she named me it anyway. BTW she was not from Utah - She was born in England and lived all over the world from Japan to Iran and has her own unique name. I did get teased. I was called Telestial, Terrestrial, and even O.D. which I found out later stood for Outer Darkness. None of which bothered me. I still LOVE my name!!! I think the reason none of the teasing bothered me is because my parents did something VERY important besides giving me a meaningful name. They taught me where my worth comes from. No matter what anybody else thinks, I know God and my parents love and value me and they are the ones who matter most. I also don't think my parents named me Celestial to trap me in a bubble because the main reason I'm still living in the Utah bubble is because I have a husband who LOVES Logan and would like to stay here forever!!! So I disagree with that comment completely. However I COMPLETELY agree with the "momardnas" the person who made the first comment. My mother wanted me to remember my goal in life and "become" a "Celestial" person. It is VERY helpful to me. I think about it ALL the time and I am grateful that she had the insight to give me a meaningful name. I stayed with the tradition and named my little 3 year old girl Himaya - which as the article states means "Glory" in the Cebuano language from my mission. She knows that is what her name means and anytime she hears the word Glory she says, "like my name!" I also like that our names together mean Celestial Glory - Celestial ng Himaya. She is doing a god job of living up to her name and is a glorious little girl who loves God and glorifies Him. Our 11 month old son is named Teancum not because he is a character in the Book of Mormon but because of the type of character he is. A mighty Nephite warrior who fought valiantly for the cause of liberty!!! One who gave his life for it. Believe me, our son will know why he was named Teancum by the time he is Himaya's age. We had lots of people who opposed the names but when it came down to it, just like many people have stated. Giving meaningful names is our prerogative as parents. And I don't think it is wrong for someone to give whatever kind of name they want to give to their children, unique, normal, mormonish, etc. as long as it is given in love. What matters most is that we love their children and show them that love throughout their lives. I will also do my best to follow my parent's example to teach my children wherein their worth lies. If we are blessed to have more children we will continue to give meaningful names (yes, somewhat unique but most importantly meaningful). Names that they will hear their entire mortal life and be motivated to live up to!!!

texantoo said...

12:51 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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I think you see a lot of Book of Mormon names in Utah or other densely populated LDS areas, but not so much once you get outside those areas. My philosophy on names is to name my children according to the meaning of the name. Only my son is named after an LDS prophet--and ironically I chose the name because it's a normal, traditional name. I liked the bonus, however, of being able to tell my son to follow the example of that prophet. But no one would know he was named after a prophet if he didn't tell them he was because the name is so traditional. As for creative spelling, that's a US trend, not really an LDS one.

isakswings said...

02:27 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Our 16 yr old son is named Kyler. I never would have thought of it as a Mormon name. I found it in the baby name book under "Kyle". I always liked the names Kyle and Tyler so for me, Kyler was the perfect name. I had thought of naming him Sariah if he were a girl. Yes, I heard about it in the Book of Mormon but I liked it because I think it is pretty. The only names I truly consider Mormon names are those that come from the Book of Mormon or from a well known LDS leader. I do notice more combination names in Utah but I see this among my LDS and non LDS friends. I think that is more of a trend then because of a religion. People should feel free to name their kids whatever they want to name them. I have met very few people who do not like their names.

mjslezenki said...

03:17 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Who said Mormon names are a bad thing? Not the author. Maybe these names are not only common among the LDS population, but these trends do resonate with Mormons. It was never mentioned that these names are only be given to LDS children but that they are common in our church. Why should anyone care if someone wants to give their child a unique name?

kurny1 said...

03:50 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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Ick, those silly made up names to be "original" makes you so unoriginal! If you name your daughter Susan or Lisa in this day and age, she would be the only one in Kindergarten. AND we wouldn't be subjected to those ridiculous names and spellings. I am an elementary school teacher and see who comes through. You are NOT original. Utah is worse than elsewhere but it's bad everywhere! Please....go back to Julie and Heather and Jenny.

paulabethwilliams said...

03:52 PM
on Mar 28, 2012

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My "born into the church" husband is named Morris. He hated his name. Our first son was named Michael - about as "normal" a name as you can get. Michael hated his name. He wishes he would have been named Morris. You can't please everybody. The good news....I like my name!

visitingtoday said...

09:16 AM
on Mar 29, 2012

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I think this article could tie into the weird names LDS authors give characters in their books. I can hardly stand to read LDS fiction because of the "creative" names the authors use. I wish their editors would tell them to just STOP and use a normal name that doesn't make the reader roll their eyes every time they have to read it.

sashabill said...

02:35 PM
on Mar 29, 2012

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Some "Mormon names' from a few generations ago that people might "love to hate": DeVirl, DeBoyd, Dermont, Feramorz. I was named Sasha long before it became popular (It's interesting how we take boy's names from other countries and turn them into girl's names in this country, like Sasha or Chandra.) Teancum? Sounds like some kind of an energy drink.

dancingviking said...

03:33 AM
on Mar 30, 2012

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Oh, Visitingtoday, I totally agree with you! I do think that there is an especially high occurrence of the Combination name in Utah compared to outside Utah. I also think that parents who are younger tend to be more trendy in their naming preferences, and a great deal of LDS parents have their first while they are still in college. I would be surprised to see an older first time mom name her kid something 'creative'.

jice said...

09:44 AM
on Mar 30, 2012

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I think each parent knows what their child should be named for one reason or another. After all! Heavenly Father sent that specific child to those parents trusting them to name them and raise them... So why are we so hard on others for what they choose to name their children? I know I have felt somewhat inspired to give my children the names they have, and they are each traditional family names. But if they happened to by more creative or made up names I would hope no be would judge me for it and understand that as their parent I am choosing what I feel is best for them. I also love the names from the Book of Mormon, and would never look down on someone for naming their child a BoM name.

juliegreengiant said...

07:54 PM
on Mar 31, 2012

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I don't get how Kyler, Kailen, and Kory are Mormon theme names.

cay_cay said...

01:21 PM
on Apr 01, 2012

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Great Article Mandy!!! You are a great writer!

dancingviking said...

09:25 PM
on Apr 01, 2012

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Hilarious blog post about Mormon names... http://jessica-jensen.blogspot.com/2011/04/names-2010.html

sleeplessseattle25 said...

12:13 PM
on Apr 02, 2012

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Names are a funny thing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I'm grateful to have a very normal name, somewhat of an oddity with a large family of German emigres, but at least people pronounce it correctly. I'd like to believe that baby-name choices stem from a personal or even familial preference, but I have noticed more and more trendy names, and when I see the really odd ones, my first thought is "they must be Mormon." Though I'm the last of the singles in my former "Mormon crew," like my now married friends I have my list of baby names I hope to use someday, and I'll admit some are a little odd by today's standards. Is it because I'm Mormon? Maybe. Is it because my name is so "normal?" Another possibility. Either way, I hope its one of those reasons rather than thinking its because trendy names, whether for their odd spelling or historical significance, are very "in" right now. As far as I'm concerned, I have to ask if the name passes the tattoo test: will I like this name (or will my child...) in ten years? 50 years? Or do I only like it because I want him/her to stand out? Its been my experience that it takes a strong personality to carry off a bizarre name. Besides, that's what middle names are for!

acrane said...

08:54 PM
on Apr 03, 2012

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We named our youngest son Ammon. I always liked the name. My husband said "No way!" when I told him I loved it. So I had given up on ever using it. Then one day (many years later) he told me if we had another boy, he had decided Ammon was ok. He felt good about it. Shortly after he told me that, we found out I was expecting and what-do-you-know? It was a boy. We didn't name him Ammon to keep him in "the bubble" We lived outside "the bubble" at the time and had no plans to move into "the bubble" Unique and unusual names are, ironically, so "common" now (NOT just in the Mormon culture--remember we weren't living in "the bubble" when we named him that)that I wasn't worried about my son being teased or questioned for having a unique name. I knew at least half the kids in his school classes would have unique names. (But, in general, I feel the "unique" name thing has gotten out of control and my older children have fairly common names.) My son is still in grade school, but so far he likes his name and LOVES that he can find his name in the Book of Mormon. For us, it is an added benefit that he will remember a great example whenever he thinks of his name. But really, I simply loved the name--that's why I wanted to use it. The fact that my husband changed his mind is really nothing short of a miracle and makes me think the name was meant for him and maybe he liked it too and wanted it.

acrane said...

09:06 PM
on Apr 03, 2012

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P.S. I served my mission (over 20 years ago) in an area with a lot of African Americans. Made up names, combined names, and naming after ancestors was extremely common in that area and culture. It is NOT a Mormon thing or a just a recent trend.

sweetcarol126 said...

08:27 AM
on Apr 05, 2012

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NaMES from the Bible or Book of Mormon are great as long as they don't put a child up to ridicule. I have grandchildren: Jared, Shiloh, Rachel, but last one was April Maylea (Maylea is Hawaiian for wild flower and it suits her. She was born in April. my son's are Danielle, Abigail, Bradley and Megan. Shiloh is probably the most unusual name but we all like it and others have kids named like that, but not too many. There are cities and areas named Shiloh. Sister Shiloh is on a mission right now and who knows, maybe her name had an influence on her. I wouldn't want a child to be named Moriancumer or something like that, especially not out in the mission field. It puts undue stress on a child. I realize there are names like that and they hold their names proudly, but I wouldn't do it in my mixed culture of being Mormon and being where most of my neighbors are not. Our lifestyle makes us unusual enough and we get opportunities to say that we are Mormon. They believe us without the strange name. Have a great day whatever your name is. I do hate when in genealogy every member of a family has kids all the same name and you are trying to find out who are cousins and who is your line. Still stuck on one of my husband's lines that weren't creative on names.

rccrowd said...

07:55 AM
on May 17, 2012

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My son served a mission in the Salt Lake City South mission. We are from Indiana. SweetCarol126, tell me. If we, in Indiana (and all points outside Utah, I presume), are the "mission field", what did my son do for two years in SLC? Mission field seems like a pejorative when spoken by a Utah Mormon about the rest of us. It is a divisive term--like those in Utah are above needing missionaries or missionary work. How sad for my son and for our family. We thought we were being obedient, and it turns out he wasn't needed at all. I am trying to share a viewpoint you may not have considered; I am not trying to be critical. Thanks for thinking about this issue. I shouldn't be sarcastic. I am sorry.

socalphotomom said...

06:18 PM
on Aug 27, 2012

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It took me many years to decide that I liked my name. When I was young I wanted to change it to something easy and common, but my dad always told me that my name was very much a part of me. As I got older I came to love it. It is pretty and unique. I can call someone who knew my family when I was little and haven't talked to in 10 or 20 years and they will remember me but not be able to remember any of my other family member's names. Most times I don't even offer my maiden name because it won't help jog their memory as to who I am. My girls were given beautiful unique and meaningful names that they are learning to love as much as I love mine. I will always have to have things custom made if I want my name on them, but it is worth it. My son was given a very meaningful name but I feel badly that he will spend all of his years in school being Ryan N. I don't think either way is good or bad as long as you know who you are and become who the Lord meant for you to be.

prob said...

01:08 PM
on Jan 30, 2013

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I grew up in Utah all my life, except the past 10 years! Growing up, I don't think I really remember hearing kids with so-called "Mormon" name," in fact, I knew someone named Nephi that wasn't LDS! As odd as it sounds! This sounds like a new-ish kind of trend! Who really cares what your named anyway! Try being named after an actor because your dad liked a specific show and the actor had the same last name! It has been nice lately, because I don't hear it as often as I use to when I was younger!

dkw said...

07:02 AM
on Jul 21, 2013

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rccrowd, my mother is Sweetcarol126......we lived in Ohio and my brother was called to the SLC north mission. My hubby and I dropped him off at the MTC. He was asked to give the opening prayer and when the MTC president asked where he was going he sheepishly told him, and got the expected laugh from all those guys from SLC. Then the president wrapped his arm around him and told him it was one of the highest baptizing missions in the world.
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