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Investigating Latter-day Saint Names

Professor Dallin D. Oaks publishes book on Latter-day Saint naming trends.

What’s in a name—a Latter-day Saint name, that is? Professor Dallin D. Oaks (Structure of English) has recently copublished (with Paul Baltes and Kent Minson) an edited book, Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names and Naming: Names, Identity, and Belief. The various chapters of the book are authored by experts in topics related to Latter-day Saint naming. And although a few of the chapters are authored by BYU Linguistics Department faculty, other chapters are authored by faculty and researchers from other departments on campus and even from other institutions.

The cover of Professor Oaks's new book, "Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names and Naming."

The purpose behind the book is “to show how integral names and naming are to our beliefs, our identity, and our culture,” Oaks says. The book provides research on topics such as place names in Utah, Scandinavian naming influences, contemporary Latter-day Saint naming practices, and the etymology of names in the Book of Mormon.

Oaks notes that many readers will probably be interested in the chapter on contemporary naming practices. When someone hears the phrase “popular Utah baby names,” he or she would likely think that the stereotypical yet nonstandard names such as Brecklyn or Breeley are the most common in Utah. However, that’s not the case. The author of this chapter, Cleveland Evans, completed a research study comparing the most popular names given to babies in Utah and Colorado in 1982, 1990, 1998, 2012, and 2021. He found that the most popular Utah names are more widely shared than you might think.

In 2021, for example, some of the most popular girls’ names were Olivia, Sophia, Charlotte, and Emma, with the numerical ranking of the names being pretty comparable between Utah and Colorado. Interestingly, though, Evans has found that Utah sometimes seems to set the trend for name popularity; then that popularity spreads to Colorado and the rest of the country. For example, in 2021 the name Ivy was much more popular in Utah (ranking 15th) than in Colorado (ranking 65th). But the name was gaining in popularity in Colorado and elsewhere. In fact, according to Evans, it was “the second fastest rising female name nationally among the top 100 in 2021” (despite ranking 68th nationally that year).

While Perspectives is an academic book, Oaks believes a variety of readers will find the research insightful and interesting. He hopes readers will recognize “that so many of the cultural aspects of naming in our Latter-day Saint community would not seem so very unique outside our community. Perhaps that recognition can help us to realize that, culturally speaking, we aren’t so isolated or different.” He continues, “We can cherish those doctrinal and lifestyle differences that set us apart from others, but we can also recognize and take a greater confidence in ourselves and appreciation for others as we recognize the commonalities we have with others.”

Perspectives on Latter-day Saint Names and Naming: Names, Identity, and Belief can be preordered now on Amazon or through Routledge.