s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Utah Mormon stereotypes examined: #3 Disrespectful behavior towards adults

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Utah Mormon stereotypes examined: #3 Disrespectful behavior towards adults

"U[tah] m[ormon]s call adults by their first name. In the South you'd be shot for such disrespectful behavior. That would be on par with making a pass at the relief society pres; you just don't do it."

This I find completely baffling. Normally, I can kind of, sort of, at least marginally see where a particular stereotype is coming from, even if I think it's false, but I really have no clue why George from Texas thinks that this is characteristic or stereotypical of Utah Mormons. Nonetheless, he does, so I'll address it.

To reiterate, this is completely false. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Utah — in Happy Valley, no less — and I can't think of anyone I knew growing up who regularly addressed adults by their first name, let alone a core cadre who did so. (If anyone from any other regions of the state had a different experience, I'd be curious to know about it.) My guess is that this is more of a Southern / Yankee split than a Utah / not Utah one. (My Mainer roommate says she regularly calls friends' parents by their first names, which lends credence to the theory.)

My experience is that Utah Mormon youth tend to call adults "Sister" and "Brother," certainly within the ward, but even outside it, to a large extent. I grant that it's less formal than "Mr." or "Mrs. / Ms." ("sir" and "ma'am" being rarely used, except perhaps with strangers), but I don't agree that it's a sign of a higher degree of social informality, overall. If anything, the structure of the Church constantly reinforces the use of formal titles such as "Sister," "Brother," "Bishop," "President," etc., to the point that they're often used by adults when referring to or addressing each other. (I was very startled once to her our SP's wife refer to her husband as "George," mostly because I had no idea who she was talking about.) Calling someone "Brother" or "Sister" is also a nice cop-out when you've forgotten someone's first name.

Oh and, for what it's worth, it's actually OK to make a pass at the RSP in a singles' ward.


At May 10, 2008 3:22 PM, Blogger Petra said...

Encouraged, actually, if your RSP is as cute as mine is.

And I was encouraged, occasionally, to call adults by their first names, but could never bring myself to do it. In fact, I still have a hard time with it.

At May 10, 2008 4:13 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I remember during my first scout camp at the humble age of 12 arriving at the crossroads of whether or not to call the adults in the ward by their first name.

I fell in with my deacons quorum and proceeded to address all members in the church by their first name unless the title "Bishop" or "President" was attached to their calling.

The mission straightened me out and now, as soon as Sunday hits, everyone is Brother or Sister.

I wouldn't say that my first-name basis with the adults was disrespectful though. The adults in my ward encouraged it. [shrug]

I agree it must be colloquial.

At May 11, 2008 1:52 AM, Blogger Asmond said...

Yeah... Brother/Sister with their last name. It was really confusing when I went to non-member's friend's and had to address their parents.

At May 11, 2008 10:00 AM, Blogger Katchoo said...

Petra said, "And I was encouraged, occasionally, to call adults by their first names, but could never bring myself to do it. In fact, I still have a hard time with it."

Jesus came along and told people that God wants us to call him "Abba", or in English, Poppa. That's how close God wants our relationship to be with him. Then men turn around and insist we call them "Bishop" this and "Your Eminence" that.

At May 11, 2008 11:25 AM, Blogger Thirdmango said...

Calling people by their first names only happened when the adult would say, please call me by my first name, which happened a lot in my ward growing up, so I did, cause I've never liked being called by my last name.

At May 11, 2008 12:57 PM, Blogger Katya said...

dave - Did you also call adults outside of your ward by their first name, or just inside the ward?

(And, now that you mention it, I think we usually called our Young Women's leaders by their first name, but the practice didn't extend to the entire ward or outside of it.)

At May 12, 2008 1:36 AM, Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

Where I grew up, we mostly just avoided calling anyone anything to their face. The adults would call us or each other "Sister So-and-So" or "Brother Such-and-Such," but it was either when formal Church business was occurring or it was when people were being jovial and buddy-buddy. I can't remember it being used simply as a respectful title outside of Church business.

As for the usage of first names . . . yeah, we all totally did that. Only, however, when we were talking *about* someone (unless they were a school teacher). When we were talking to them, the "you" was always supplied by context. It was considered too formal to call people "Brother" or "Sister" outside of official Church business and downright pretentious and weird to address them as "Brother" or "Sister" when interacting in the community at large. (Major culture class when Bawb met my family for the first time and addressed my parents as "Brother and Sister Ananas." That was pretty uncomfortable.)

At May 12, 2008 7:43 PM, Blogger Tianna said...

Ok, so Idaho, not Utah, but I've often been told that Idaho is just Northern Utah. Anyway, I grew up always calling the adults by their first name. It wasn't until one of my primary teachers got mad at me for not using Sis. Lastname before I even realized it was not kosher in some eyes. And it took until college when I didn't know how to address my friends' parents before I actually used Bro. and Sis. as a common way to address adults.

At May 13, 2008 10:42 AM, Blogger Confuzzled said...

In my ward growing up, it was common practice to call adults by their first names. But that was because they expressly asked us to. We defaulted to "Brother" or "Sister" otherwise.

And when I taught Primary at the ripe old age of 19, I refused to let my Primary kids call me Sister. I was Katie.

Until one of the Primary presidency members decided it was too respectful. Then I became Sister Katie . . . :)

At May 13, 2008 11:00 AM, Blogger Th. said...


Starting to call adults by their Christian names was one of the hardest adjustments to adulthood.

---(idaho/california mormon)

At May 18, 2008 4:38 PM, Blogger TheCowboyofBYU said...

George from Texas here. My conclusion is based on living here since 2001 and previously visiting various areas of Utah. It is MY experience that it is far more common for LDS youth in Utah to call LDS adult leaders by their first names than down south. I remember when a woman moved to Texas from Utah and was called to a YW position. She told the girls they can call her Kelly. Other women in the ward heard about this and together approached her about it-- how they felt it was inappropriate and disrespectful. Since then I've been aware of that and have seen a difference up here. Does a stereotype mean everyone? No. Does it even have to mean that it's true? I think not; I responded to what I felt Zillah's question was: What do you think of when you think of Utah Mormon (which follows-in contrast to the rest of American Mormons). But good blog and keep up the good work!


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