Chances are, LaVon and LaVerne are LDS

By Lynn Arave (Deseret News Staff Writer)

(Tuesday, August 13, 2002)


It's obvious that Book of Mormon names, such as Mormon, Moroni, Lehi, Nephi, are unique to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, a considerable number of modern-day given first names Chyleen, Janell, Ladoyle for girls and Legene, Rondell and LaMar for boys - are also examples of a pattern almost exclusive to LDS families.

Don Norton, assistant professor of the English language faculty at Brigham Young University, has conducted extensive research into this unusual naming phenomenon among church members, which he refers to as "composite names."

"It's a genuinely Mormon phenomenon," he said. "These are very standard prefixes and suffixes."

The trend has not been easy to research, partly because it started about 1890.

"It's a lot like doing genealogy," he said of the tedious work.

Norton said the names proliferated throughout LDS communities until the early 20th century, when they began to disappear in urban areas such as Provo, Ogden and Salt Lake City.

Names like LaVon and LaVerne just weren't proper in big cities.

Meanwhile, names like Brigham and Parley, after former LDS Church leaders, also became a trend of their own in the 1920s and 1930s.

"The question in all this is, why?" Norton said. "It appears it's simply an effort to distinguish the child to give the child a unique identity."

In some rural areas, composite names are still popular today.

Some variations came from taking a part of both the father's and the mother's first names. For example, "LaWynn" comes from parents Louise and Winfield. "Donanyn" is from Don and Evelyn, but "Denan' is from Denny and Ann.

"It's still very persistent today . It just becomes a tradition, a cultural thing" he said.

He said another trend today is to give traditional names a different spelling, like "Betti" and "Katlyn."

"People do strange things with names, as an impulse to be innovative and be different," Norton said.

African-Americans also do a similar thing in that some make up new names, like "Shaquille" and "Kisha."

Since blacks and Mormons are conspicuous minorities in the world, he believes having different names makes sense.

All Norton had to do is check the BYU directory to see many Mormon composite names.

He stressed his is just a preliminary study and though his research has been done over a 31-year period, it would require a year of solid research - not on-and-off study - to do it justice. He presented his report on composite names at the Deseret Language and Linguistics Society Symposium last year at BYU.

"I'd like to do a more formal study on this subject," he said. "Some people are embarrassed by the composite Mormon names, but I have no problem with the phenomenon."

Here are some examples of other Mormon composite names: Cardell, DeAnna, Delynne, DeMoyne, Devere, Devern, Donlu, Gaylen, Janalee, Janielle, JoMae, LaNae, Lanyle, LaRue, LaRita, LeGrande, LuDene, MaraDee, Marjean, Marjo, Marlae, MarLiane, Meldon, Meshelle, Monelynn, Pennilee, Philroy and Vernetta.

There's also a Web site, unconnected to Norton, that contains many of these names: www.wesclark.com/ubn is "The Utah Baby Namer" site. It is billed as an online help for parents looking for that distinctive name that says, "I'm a Utah Mormon."