Naming Practices Peculiar

by Don Norton

("WordWise" Column, The Daily Herald, Provo, Utah - 28 July 1996)

A linguistic boon has just come my way: others interested in Mormon naming practices. KUER, Utah's National Public Broadcasting station from the University of Utah (or Utah State University, has been featuring, as part of our centennial celebration, a series of specials on uniquely Utah language. One was on Utah's three main dialects (more on that later), one on Sanpete County nicknames (my colleague Woodruff Thomson was the specialist), and one on peculiar Mormon naming patterns.

Four major naming practices exist: 1) combination of parents' or grandparents' names (LaWynn from Louise and Winfield; Sherald from Shelley and Gerald); 2) surnames as given names (Thatcher, Tanner, Kimball, Cannon, etc.), a general American practice for middle names, but not so common as the main name; 3) combination names -- any one of several prefixes plus any one of a number of suffixes (see below); 4) concocted names (Strelsa, Ryatt, Nello). We night add to this list a common American (and especially Mormon) practice of spelling traditional names in unusual ways (Loid, Danial, Kady, Kellee, and on and on).

Names are very personal things. Readers are on their own in judging the propriety of Mormon naming practices. Today's WordWise is simply a report. An earlier WordWise column cited H. L. Mencken's 1921 observation on the Mormon phenomenon: "Indeed it is possible that this murrain of made-up names was launched upon the country by the Saints, for as long ago as the 1836-1844 era their prophet and martyr, Joseph Smith, had wives named Presindia, Zina, Delcena and Almera."

A student of mine, in some research on Mormon names, found the practice really taking hold just before the turn of the century. A number of reasons for the practice have been offered: large (often polygamous) families with the same surname (Sanpete County, for example: Jensen, Thomson, Petersen, Nielsen). I welcome other theories, but I have come to conclude, in talking with people who actually bear "Mormon names," that the practice was an effort simply to lend distinctiveness to one's precious and numerous offspring. Names of ancestors, or invented or unusual names, create such an effect.

Combination female names, prefixes: a-, al-, alta-, amber-, ana-, anne-, ar-, arha-, bar-, be-, ber-, brand-, bre- (or bre'-), bri-, bryn-, bur-, ca-, cal-, car-, caro-, cel-, chad-, chan-, char-, chay-, cher-, chy-, clo-, and coy-.

For the rest of the alphabet, let's list just some common prefixes: da-, dawn-, de-, del-, don/r-, du-, el-, gay/gae-, ja-, jan-, jer-, jo-, ka(y)-, kar-, la/e/o/u/y-, (the most productive), ma/e/yr- na-, or-, ra(y)/e/o/u/y-, sha(w)-, shawn-, sha/e/ir-, tru-, u-, val-, va-, ve(e)-, ver-, von-.

Now for female suffixes: -donna, -launa, -let(l)a, -lyn(n), -ana, -na, -lisa/e, -dra, -dee, -alda, -dean/dene/deen/dawn, -dell(a), -villa, -neen, -kay, -rae, -lee, -a, -ra, -tel, -ette, -veda, -ina, -nae, -tha, -mina, -preal/prele/priel, -quita, -verda, -vora, -vonda, -voy, -gene/jean, and many, many others. Put nearly any prefix with nearly any suffix, and voila, you have a name.

I owe much of my column to other Mormon name fans, who contribute to WWW at the following address: There's an address for "males" also.

Lest males feel slighted, we'll focus on them next week. We do have some celebrities among us with such names: Lavell, LaDell, LaVon.

Naming can be risky among the unsophisticated. How else could a girl be named "Latrina"? A friend asks what happens when Ferdinand and Eliza Spreader name a daughter: Ferdeliza Spreader, of course.

If you have a comment of question about usage, write WordWise, The Daily Herald, P.O. Box 717, Provo, Utah, 84603-0717.