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Utah Baby Names: What’s So Funny?

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Guest blogger Sachiko, an LDS church member and mother of going-on-seven children, enlightens us on the ins and outs of the strange baby naming practices of the state of Utah.

Utah Baby Names: It’s a naming culture people love to hate, or at least love to laugh at.

If you’re familiar with Utah baby naming, you know what I’m talking about.

If you aren’t, then here’s a link to the Utah Baby Namer.  I recommend you click on “The Cream of the Crop.”  I know you’re busy. You only need to read a few.

No, really. Go on. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Do you see what some of the laughing is about?

Some of the subsets of Utah names, and what makes them seem so ridiculous to outsiders:

Scriptural Names — This one’s a no-brainer. Utah culture is not always the same as, but is connected to, LDS church history.

Like other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people view books of Holy Writ as prime baby naming material.

Unlike other religiously informed baby namers, Utah and LDS people have scriptures other religions don’t have, most notably the Book of Mormon. Which means names you probably haven’t heard before, unless you’re familiar with Semetic and Egyptian names from the ancient world such as Nephi, Moroni, Mahonri, or Moriancumr.

Is Everybody Here Named Smith, Kimball or Young? Most of the early converts to the LDS church were from the British Isles. Add that to a few decades of polygamy, and you end up with huge amounts of descendents with the same English last name.

This can help explain why Utah baby namers sometimes choose wildly divergent names: to differentiate themselves from all the siblings, cousins, neighbors and strangers with the same last name. This is also where Utahns get historical names like Brigham, Parley and Heber.

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Biblical Names: From The Baby Name Bible

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When we finally finished researching and writing our encyclopedic name book, the day came when we had to decide what to call it. (The working title of Big Baby Name Book just wasn’t going to cut it.)

This turned out to be almost as laborious a task as writing the book. Dozens and dozens of lists of possibilities were emailed back and forth. Our book editor and even our agent entered the fray, offering their own suggestions. (We actually chronicled this painful process in an article we wrote for Publishers Weekly magazine, called Naming the Name Book.) We finally settled on The Baby Name Bible because, well, we hoped people would make it their baby naming bible.

It never entered our minds that some people would take it literally as a book of biblical names. But on our earlier, smaller website, before nameberry was born–babynamebible.com– many visitors did come to search solely for Old and New Testament names. And of course they found them, but a lot more besides.

Biblical names have a long history in this country. They came to colonial America with the early Puritans, who scrutinized the Good Book for names of righteous figures, believing that such names could shape the character of their offspring, and often using extreme examples, like Zelophehad and Zerubbabel. Over the centuries and decades since then, there has been a steady stream of biblical names: individual Old Testament examples, in particular, have drifted in and out of fashion, for both boys and girls.

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