"The world would be a better place if everyone grew brains." - Humble Master
Question #91791 posted on 11/15/2018 2:09 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

If seminary videos are to be believed, early Mormons addressed each other as "Sister [first name]" and "Brother [first name]". Nowadays Latter-day Saints call each other "Sister [last name]" and "Brother [last name"]. When did this change? Or better yet, why?



Dear El-ahrairah,

I don't have a specific moment in history and a single explanation, but here's a few theories after reading this paper (which runs regressions on how many Mormons call each other by Sister/Brother [last name] because some researcher somewhere was really bored):

  • People tend to use first names when they have a more personal relationship. In the early days of the Church there were much fewer members and, due to the persecution they faced, probably felt much closer to each other than your average ward members today. This likely continued until the Church decided to take on more formal ways of talking to/introducing others.
  • People are more likely to use last names when they don't know the individual. As the Church has been growing, more and more people don't know each other, so they fell back on the societal standards of using last names with strangers and the Church just picked that up. (They may have intentionally picked it up too so that strangers didn't feel as weird when they attended church.)
  • Joseph Smith actively encouraged people to call him "Brother Joseph," likely to make people feel they had a closer relationship with him and strengthen perceived family bonds in the Church. Again, this probably continued until the Church decided to be more formal.
  • There may be more of an emphasis on the hierarchical nature of the Church today. As the paper said, "Teenagers and adults are in a clear non-reciprocal relationship when it comes to address forms. Children up through high school age are expected to categorically refer to adults by [last name], who usually reciprocate with [first name]. As teenagers transition into adulthood however, they enter the age where it is acceptable to refer to other adults by FN. But there are no clear rules for when and who is addressed by this form." Linking non-reciprocal (or more hierarchical) relationships with the names people use makes it seem that, by encouraging last name usage, the Church may be trying to emphasize its hierarchical nature. 
  • Part II to the above theory: as the Church emphasizes its hierarchical nature more now than in the past, it indirectly leads more people to call others by their last names. Those who have more power (on the powerful side in a non-reciprocal relationship) tend to address their inferiors by their first names, while the inferiors address their superiors by their last names. This seems supported by the finding of the paper that men use first names more than women, and women were called by their first names more than men. Power differences in the Church (men preside, hold the priesthood, etc.) often seem to place men above women, and their usage of first/last names supports that.
  • As the Church started calling leaders by their last names, the Church decided it was too confusing to call ward members by first names and leaders by last names, so they just simplified it into one style.
  • Individuals in leadership positions were more likely to refer to people using their last names. As it is leaders who decide these things, they may have decided that if they're going to call people by their last names, everyone needs to call people by their last names.
  • Finally, it's just a lot easier to remember a family's last name than everyone's first names. I suspect some genius missionary out there figured that out and set about to change things for the sake of future missionaries. As a previous missionary who is horrible at remembering names, I think that person deserves a medal.

Sorry I don't have a conclusive answer. But hey, this way you learned a lot more and had a lot more fun, right?

Also—you aren't the first reader to wonder this, though apparently we haven't gotten any better at answering it. (Though Uffish Thought does give a fantastic answer that you can definitely add to the list of theories.)

-guppy of doom