An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

What’s in a Name?

The Mormon tradition of calling each other Brother and Sister puzzles and amuses those outside the faith. But for Mormons, this nomenclature serves an egalitarian purpose—effectively reminding us that we are all children of the same Heavenly Parents. Of course, even in the best of families, children often resolve disagreements with insults and fists. But, for the most part, seeing ward members as siblings has a unifying effect. We contribute fast offerings to keep our sisters and brothers from going hungry. We sacrifice the comforts of home and hearth on cold nights to visit and home teach our sisters and brothers. We attend sometimes tedious meetings and socials to support those in charge. And we turn out in force to offer food, child care, yard work, house work, and other services as well as prayers when tragedy strikes members of our ward family. That’s what brothers and sisters do.

Would the world change if I saw people beyond my ward and stake boundaries as my sisters and brothers? Am I willing to pay a few cents more for fruits and vegetables so Brother and Sister Migrant Worker can earn enough to feed their families and send their children to school? Can I forego chocolate from companies that buy cocoa beans from Ivory Coast plantations which use my 11-year-old sisters and brothers as slave laborers? Will I lobby Congress to enforce the law banning electronics from manufacturers who use rare minerals from the Congo mining industry which supports the armies that regularly rape my African sisters?  Will I actively protest my country’s involvement in wars that kill and mutilate innocent civilians? Taking these actions may not alter the world significantly but will change one person—myself.

Generally, we Mormons keep civil discourse in our interaction with each other. What if we could extend that courtesy to those outside our group? Referring to a person on the opposite side of our political fence as Brother Obama or Sister Palin might calm our rhetoric. But of course, extending family terms to others has a flip side. It’s entirely possible that the person I address as Sister or Brother might be thoroughly insulted at the thought of being related to me.

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Comments on: "What’s in a Name?" (4)

  1. I find that constantly and consistently using titles such as brother and sister has just the opposite effect from your position. It puts up a formality that we might as well be saying Mr and Mrs. In fact, many people resort to the brother/sister titles because they can’t remember the person’s first name. It’s also a code word when calling someone on the phone. If you ask for Brother Jones he knows that it has something to do with the church and you’re probably acting in some official capacity. Asking to speak to Jared implies a less formal conversation is about to take place.

    Just for the fun of it, I have tried for the past year to call people by their first names. It has meant an extra effort to learn and remember them but I have been rewarded by people calling me by my name. Try it. You might like it better.

    • Arnold,

      I totally agree that the use of Brother and Sister has more uses than simply reminding us that we are all children of our Heavenly Parents. The formality bit sometimes annoys me, too. I think some men use this to put up a defense against suspicious friendliness with women not their wives–the avoiding the appearance of evil thing. We had a bishop who always introduced himself on the phone as Bob Smith rather than Bishop Smith–almost an invitation to continue calling him Bob– a real no no in Mormon circles. I doubt anyone in our ward ever accepted that implicit invitation–at least not until Bishop Bob was released. Despite the drawbacks, I like the idea of considering each other as brothers and sisters. Using Bro. or Sis. instead of Mr. or Mrs. with people with whom we’re not on a first name basis facilitates that connection.

  2. I agree with Arnold and try also to use names since I discovered that I used Bro and Sis because I didn’t know or care about their first names. I especially like to use real names instead of titles (Bishop, President) after they have been released from the calling. It just has always seemed pretentious to me to call them that after they are released. But again that is just me in my “rebellious” role I guess.

    • Kathy,
      You are so right about calling men who have been released “Bishop.” I’ve always been confused when I’ve moved into a new ward and people are callilng 3 or 4 different men “Bishop.”

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