When did Mormons begin using “Brother” and “Sister” as titles for Church members? I grew up in Utah during the ‘50s and always heard adults call each other “Mr.” and “Mrs.” if they weren’t on first-name basis. In her 1945 journal, Aunt Cozy referred to her visiting teachers as Mrs. Hansen and Mrs. Taylor. Our bishop was Bishop Stagg, but his counselors were Mr. Taylor and Mr. Moore. Seminary teachers referred to themselves as Brother, but everybody knew seminary teachers were zealots.
At BYU in the ‘60s, most of the professors used the egalitarian title “Brother” rather than “Professor” or “Dr.” After graduation and a move to Wyoming, I found ward members there using the “Brother/Sister” titles and fell in with the practice. Maybe my wards in Provo and Lindon had just been anomalies—or maybe the change had been occurring gradually and I hadn’t noticed until moving.
“Brother” and “Sister,” followed by a surname, lend a tone of inclusiveness and formality to relationships. They are particularly helpful for dealing with persons older than oneself for which first names are too familiar, but Mr. or Mrs. seems too cold.
I sometimes wonder if part of the reason for the formality of using “Brother or “Sister” instead of first names for contemporaries is to maintain a distance between the sexes. Are YM and YW presidents working together on activities less likely to become romantically involved if they refer to each other as Brother Pratt and Sister Swensen instead of Jeff and Tiffany?
For years I’ve gone along with the practice without giving it much thought. Yesterday we attended our grandson’s soccer match in a Wyoming town that is about 25% Mormon. Our son-in-law referred to the coach of the opposing team as Sister Welling and I wondered: Does using church titles outside of church contribute to the perception of Mormon clannishness?