As Utah goes, so goes the nation

by Cleveland Evans

The Interstate 680 bridge over the Missouri River memorializes pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who spent the winter of 1846-1847 in a camp located in what is now part of Omaha’s Florence neighborhood.

When the Mormons got to Utah, they created their own subculture, and many Mormons now believe their names are a distinctive part of that culture.

In 1997, Wes and Cari Clark, an LDS couple then living in Washington, D.C., began the website The Utah Baby Namer. After moving to Washington, the Clarks said they recognized fellow Utah Mormons by their unusual names, like Odonna, Artax and Truthanne. Their website has a collection of hundreds of names they think are distinctive to LDS culture.

In 2004, Dallin D. Oaks of Brigham Young University asked me to research if Mormons did indeed have distinctive names. So I compared names given to kids born in Utah in the 1980s and 1990s to those given to babies in Colorado. More than 70 percent of Utah’s residents are LDS members while only 2 percent of Coloradans are Mormon.

I found that the huge majority of names given babies in the two states wouldn’t be considered unusual. In addition, Utahans and Coloradans have similar numbers of unusual surnames, place names and invented names. And most names on the Utah Baby Namer site have been used by non-Mormons.

However, the most popular names given babies in Utah in the 1990s were more unusual than those in Colorado. The names Jayden and Kaden, for instance, had become especially fashionable in Utah while still rare in Colorado. Those two names then boomed all across the U.S. in the 2000s.

There was also an uptick in Utah of boy’s names from characters in the Book of Mormon, such as Ammon, Nephi, Teancum and Alma. And Utah seemed to be at the forefront of newly popular girls’ names, such as Brittany, Chelsea and Lacey, which all boomed earlier in Utah than the neighboring state.

Recently Oaks asked me to update my findings by comparing Utah and Colorado names given in 2012. Though it’s still true the majority of babies in both states have names that wouldn’t cause comment elsewhere, Utah parents are still ahead of the curve on newly popular names. For instance, boy’s names Liam, Lincoln, Ryker, Grayson, Easton, Crew, Hudson and Asher all gained popularity in Utah in 2012 before rising nationally the next year.

For girls, Paisley, 11th most common name in Utah in 2012, jumped from 104th to 80th on the national list in 2013. Brynlee, Emery, Hadley and Oakley were other names that were on the rise in Utah. And it wasn’t just newly popular names Utah was ahead on in 2012. Charlotte, Ruby, Alice and Nora are older names that first gained popularity in Utah before experiencing a revival nationally in 2013.

Though the fashion for Book of Mormon names has passed, Utah parents are naming more children after historical LDS heroes. Porter Rockwell (1813-1885), a Utah lawman nicknamed “The Destroying Angel,” is as famous to Mormons as Wyatt Earp is to other Americans. Both Porter and Rockwell are rising as first names in Utah.

Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887) was a poet and leader of the LDS Relief Society. Seventy-two Elizas were born in Utah in 2012 and only 14 in Colorado.

Thomas is one of the few traditional male names more popular in Utah, ranking 36th there and only 65th in Colorado. Thomas S. Monson (born 1927) is the current president and prophet of the LDS church. Four Utah boys were given Monson as a first name in 2012. So Mormon parents still name children after their faith’s major figures.