Utah Baby Names: What’s So Funny?

Location Baby Names

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.

The Matronymic. This is what you call it when children are given part or all of their mother’s name, usually her maiden name. In the intermountain LDS culture, usually the mother gives her maiden name to a son—sometimes all the sons—as a middle name. Here’s an historical example:

Hyrum Smith + Mary Fielding = Joseph Fielding Smith

I like the matronymic because of how it symbolizes respect for women and mothers in historical Utah. The surname carries the male line, but with a matronymic, the female line retains status and remains easy to trace. This is also a bonus to geneologists, who are thick on the ground in Utah.

Several years ago, The Onion skewered Utah use of scriptural names, similar surnames and matronymics in this mock-article. (You’re welcome.)

No Middle Name For Girls Parents give daughters a first name but no middle name, with the expectation that they’ll take their maiden name as a middle name when they marry.

This is the trend that I find hardest to accept, because I am a crazy-obsessive baby name collector and the idea of using only one name per baby, when I could use two or three, seems so limiting. Not to mention my gut reaction of “Not fair! The boys got a middle name!”

But wait, it’s okay! It’s the complement of the matronymic. While the boys are getting their mother’s maiden name as their middle name, and carrying that maiden name into recorded perpetuity, the girls take their father’s surname with them, possibly to then hand down to their sons as a matronymic.

Do you see the beauty of this practice? Names combine and entwine across generations and genders, knitting father to daughter, mother to son. Ideally, everybody’s connected and nobody’s forgotten.

This concept of name-knitting taken to its logical conclusion leads us to probably the most idiosyncratic feature of Utah baby naming, composite naming.

LaName for ReBaby Look through a list of Utah baby names and you will likely notice a lot of what BYU Professor Don Norton calls “composite names”.
To make a composite name, first the mommy’s name and the daddy’s name love each other very much and decide to make a new name, and they combine in a special way, like so:

Vern (father) + Sharlene (mother) = Verlene
Udell (father) + Rhonda (mother) = Rondelle

Because It Sounds Good, That’s Why Other times, the composite name makes use of name prefixes like Ra-, Re-, La- and Je-. Common suffixes include –ell, -yn, -erle and –ee.

It’s Utah Baby Name Helper: Take the phoneme of your choice, add a prefix and suffix, and you’ve got yourself a baby name straight from Dixie, Deseret.

Many classic Utah baby names are made this way: LaRae, LaVell, LeGrande, DeVere, Maradee. And so on.

What the Heck? Names A quick perusal of the Clark’s “Cream of the Crop” gives names like Djeryd (a kree8tiff Jared?), Nymphus, Tiarrhea and Revo Cram.

I’m offering this one for the laffs, but honestly, I think this category of name happens everywhere. They’re appalling, but they’re not appalling in a specifically Utahn way.

Not as backwards as you might think Consider some of today’s hot naming trends, such as euphonious syllable collections (McKenna, Kaylee ), surname names (Easton, Jacoby), spiritual names (Zion, Haven). Utah’s scriptural names and matronymics fit right in. Some quibble about the composite naming, but then “euphonious” is in the ear of the beholder.

And as far as the latest in unique names, Utah’s been-there-done-that for decades now. Go back to that list by the Clarks and maybe you’ll notice what I did: that mixed into verboten baby name scrap heap were gems like Ireland, London, Tennyson, Candle, Damascus, and Sunrise.

Unusual? Yes. But appalling and deserving of scorn? No. Actually, I think I’ve seen a few of these atop many “cool baby name” lists. If that’s not naming vindication, what is?

Sachiko has named six children — William Takashi, Reilly Sentaro, Bronwen Fumie, Hilani Hisamarie, Sakura LouJean and Musashi Dustin — and is eagerly waiting to name her seventh. She’s a Mormon homeschooler and lives in Washington state with her husband, children, two dogs and six cats. Her blog is Sachiko Says.

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25 Responses to “Utah Baby Names: What’s So Funny?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 10:04 am

Great article. I find Utah names very appealing in their own unique way.

Alyssa Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 10:31 am

I have scorn. Lived in Utah for the last 3 years and just escaped this summer. But then again I have scorn for the entire culture, so don’t mind me. My husband’s grandmother’s name is LaDean, and her sister is Vanita. You can tell when someone introduces themselves to you in Utah if they were born there or not. I’ve always found it pretty ridiculous.

Alta Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 11:00 am

We are Utahns and I thought we were not apart of the Utah baby naming culture…but reading this I had to laugh because I’ve considered using my maiden name as a son’s middle name before we landed on using a grandmother’s maiden name as the middle. I guess we’re crazy too! 🙂

Jennie Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Haha! I’m from Utah so I find this very amusing. I usually have to stop myself from rolling my eyes or shaking my head in shame when I hear names around here, however, this is definitely a minority of names. Yes, they are ones Utahns are used to and don’t really bat an eye at, but they are pretty few and far between. Nowadays you are way more likely to hear Emma or Caleb (which I hear everyday, but are top names everywhere) then you are to hear Parley Smith Harris.

Though one thing I do wonder about are the Mackynzzye and the Braxxtons… is that a Utah thing or are parents everywhere deciding that the English language and its spelling/pronunciation aren’t important anymore?

Wildsyringa Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Interesting! I was raised LDS and have lived among Mormons my entire life, but I’ve never heard of the practice of not giving girls a middle name. I actually can’t think of a single LDS woman or girl that I know who doesn’t have a middle name that was bestowed at birth.

Looking at the SSA list of popular names for Utah is always fascinating because there are a lot of really lovely names that are much more popular in Utah than they are in other states….Eliza, Lucy, Lydia, etc.

While I really dislike the mash-up names and other kre8tif misspellings, I do like that the naming culture here is so accepting of names that are “different.” Maybe it’s because Utah society isn’t necessarily so accepting of other types of differences in behavior or appearance, so people have to get creative with naming as a means of self-expression.

megalega Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I agree with you Jennie, just like anywhere, there are some unique naming trends that are few and far between. In my experience, Utah has also been, as Sachiko alluded to, ahead of the trendy names and top name lists for years. Myself and all my siblings (all but one of us born in UT) have perfectly normal names for when we were born (Chad, Kyle, Rob, Marci, Russell, Megan). However, we do all have our mother’s maiden name as our middle name, just like my mother’s family has done for generations! 😉

Jennie Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Actually in my entire husband’s family, none of the girls have middle names, including the other sister-in-law and all of her siblings and her little girl. My husband and I have talked about it; he never grew up around girls with middle names, but he’s more than okay with giving them to our girls, even though they will be the only ones in the whole family with them.
I wasn’t aware that it was a matronymic thing; no one in our family has adopted their maiden name as a middle name when they got married.
However, I’m on the “girls should totally have middle names” side of it, though this is probably for the same reason as Sachiko: I adore names and can’t imagine only choosing one per child. How horrible! 🙂

Andrea Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I suppose the religion contributes to the tradition of keeping middle names from the mother’s family. Genealogy is a major part of the faith/culture. I’m not all that fond of most of the made up names and some of the names from the book of Mormon are guaranteed to get a kid teased elsewhere. Guess what kids will do to a kid named Moroni? “Moroni is a moron! Moroni is a moron!”

L Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I grew up in Utah and can’t say I’ve heard many of the names mentioned. The one name that stands out as a ‘Utah name’ to me is Jordan. In my class (19-20 year olds now), Jordan was the ‘it’ name. Equally boys and girls, the only difference was the many spellings (Jordan, Jordyn, Jordann, Jorden). And if you’ve ever been to UT, you know there are several towns with the name Jordan included. Another trend I noticed was the ‘kell’ ending. Brickelle (bruh-kell) & Mickelle (muh-kell) to name a few. But I do agree Utah is famous for it’s unique spellings!! I really enjoyed this article, it reminded me of the quirky names & spellings!!

Annabelle Says:

June 30th, 2010 at 12:13 am

I myself am a Utahn, and a member of the LDS faith, and this article literally made me laugh out loud.

My family tree has some of the most ridiculous, out-there, and downright silly names you’ve ever seen. (My grandma is LaFarne, for Pete’s sake!)

That being said, I do plan on using my maiden name as a middle name for my first son. I never thought of that as a cultural thing, I just thought William Hatch sounded like a good strong name. And, all of my girls will get middle names. Why limit my child to just one name? 😉

Cait Says:

June 30th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I’m a devout Catholic from New England and we gave my son my maiden name as his middle name! I knew a few people in my area who had their mother’s maiden names as their middle names as well. I don’t think that particular tradition is specifically Utahn 🙂

Theresa Says:

June 30th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I clicked on the Utah Baby Namer. What a great site! I just scrolled down the girls’ list, and the ones that jumped out to me: Apathy–it actually sounds pretty, but what a horrible name! And BetC– too funny!

Sweet shop baby 1/2 Says:

July 1st, 2010 at 9:11 am

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Lizzy Says:

July 7th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Also from Utah… I don’t know many people here who have taken their mother’s maiden name as a middle name.. or girls with no middle name. Maybe that was the case in early LDS church history, but not so much anymore.

For the fun of it, if my husband and I were to combine names we’d end up with:

EliThan or Ethan

Sachiko Says:

July 7th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I think the mother’s-maiden-for-middle practice is an English practice. A huge percentage of early Utah settlers were of British descent–and they generally stayed put, which I think reinforced many distinctive cultural habits.

So, it’s not an exclusively Utahn phenomenon–there are plenty of people who use maiden-for-middle, and plenty of Utahns and LDS folks who don’t.

I haven’t seen any actual studies on it, so this is all anecdotal. (that reminds me of Samuel Clemens’ quote about the authenticity of scientifically-aquired results: “There’s lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I’d add, “and also anecdotal evidence.”) ;D

Bridge Says:

July 13th, 2010 at 12:45 am

Okay, I’ve got a little lore to share of my own Mormon neighbors. Parents: Mickey Dee (dad) and Jo Ann (mom); kids: Mickey Jo, Dee Ann, Jo Dee, Ann Dee, and then they ran out, but they kept on having kids, at least eight more, so they just gave them all regular names, poor things.

Elle Says:

July 15th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I love Utah names! Thanks so much for this post Sachiko. One thing I always love to point out to my non-Mormon cultured friends is the sheer range of cool names you get exposed to. Utah is almost always on the cutting edge of the next big naming trend, and whether they’re the typically Utah names like LaDonna and Verlene or the start of Preston, Kaylee and McKenna, growing up around this culture gives you a whole new appreciation for naming. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and your beautifully named children! Blessings on you and #7!

doogie Says:

May 18th, 2011 at 12:47 am

the biggest “Utah name” i can think of is Dallin. i don’t think i’ve ever met anyone outside of Utah with that name, yet it’s popular among kids in Utah. the same could be said for Kayson, Ammon, Brigham, Jarom, Nephi, Mosiah, Sariah, Alma for a boy, or Abinadi (he went by Ben for short). i’ve never met anyone outside of Utah with those names, but i’ve known more than one person with them in Utah.

Lisa Says:

July 1st, 2011 at 2:20 am

Ok. This article is funny. But not very accurate. It is probably more accurate to say happened in Utah MANY years ago. But now Utah is ‘more with it.” The incredibly pathetic article that is linked in the article about the poor kid who took benadryl and acted “out of control” is about a FUNDAMENTALIST MORMON. They are completely different than “regular” LDS people. Those people (I have personally met-I attended their insane Church meetings out of curiousity) are the kind mentioned in this article. The whole Young family seems to live in that area. They are all ready and eager to meet a new wife (polygamists) so they can procreate many children (with which to give psycho names) so they can become a God of their own Universe someday. So while I think this article is enjoyable, it is not even close to accurate of the baby naming trends of today.

Lisa Says:

July 1st, 2011 at 2:21 am

Ok. This article is funny. But not very accurate. It is probably more accurate to say this happened in Utah MANY years ago. But now Utah is ‘more with it.” The incredibly pathetic article that is linked in the article about the poor kid who took benadryl and acted “out of control” is about a FUNDAMENTALIST MORMON. They are completely different than “regular” LDS people. Those people (I have personally met-I attended their insane Church meetings out of curiousity) are the kind mentioned in this article. The whole Young family seems to live in that area. They are all ready and eager to meet a new wife (polygamists) so they can procreate many children (with which to give psycho names) so they can become a God of their own Universe someday. So while I think this article is enjoyable, it is not even close to accurate of the baby naming trends of today.

heytherepigeon Says:

August 21st, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I completely agree with Doogie! I know so many kids named Dallin, but other places it’s not very common. I’m LDS myself and I’ve met a kid named Teancum once. Pretty interesting, I think! 🙂
But really, most kids I know have normal names…But there are a few! I know a girl named T’Leesha and my friend’s middle name is LeGrande. So I found myself smiling and nodding a lot while reading this 🙂

tfzolghadr Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Just stumbled across this old article. I know the Clarks, and remember when they were starting to collect names for the Utah Baby Namer (I was a kid at the time). Being a non-Utah (and non-British/ Scandinavian ancestry) Mormon who went to BYU, one of the first things that struck me in Utah was how the names changed there… I know 2 cousins with the same surname both named Brigham. Pratt, Orson, Kimball, Ogden, Dallin, Woodruff, Lorenzo, McKay, etc…. I’ve known them all. LaDonna, Charlou, Janelle, Mayelle, etc. were all sitting in my class.

baileyann1105 Says:

November 28th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I myself am Lutheran, but I was raised around a bunch of LDS members, and I have seen some weird names (Symphonie, for example). I never knew about the mother’s surname as a middle name for boys thing, but I find it interesting because we have a similar practice in my family of surnames as middle names: my brother’s middle name is Larkin, our paternal great-great grandmother’s maiden name, and I have O’Hara, my paternal great-grandmother’s married name (her maiden name of Yaeger was *not* making my mom’s list)

Not as Popular as You Think | Kelly Loves Data Says:

January 15th, 2015 at 7:51 pm

[…] New York had a greater variety and I even noticed many Jewish-sounding names in the list. I read here that Utahns tend to be extra creative, partially to help their kids stand out in a culture of […]

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