Remember Dieter Uchtdorf?

guestAsides, General Authorities 47 Comments

Today’s post is by Wade Nelson.Β  Remember Dieter Uchtdorf?

If you are like me you were thrilled when Dieter Uchtdorf was sustained as a new member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. His accent was refreshing, so very German rather than the old Utah drawl, a pilot instead of a lawyer or simple business executive (of course President Uchtdorf was also the latter). He was refreshing in his approach to the gospel and the way he presented himself. When he was called to the 1st Presidency , the joy and surprise were even greater. It had been many years since a European convert had served in such an exalted position.

But that person disappeared and was replaced by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

The addition of the initial was inevitable and is used throughout the Church with such regularity that we almost never notice it any more. For years of course it was never used with women because it was not necessary. I believe that Barbara B. Smith was the first to have the initial bestowed. So, was this deemed unnecessary because women had insufficient position, power or clout to merit the initial?

Try referring to past or present General Authorities without it in a Sunday School or Priesthood lesson. The names sound odd and people will look at you as if you are purposely denigrating them. David McKay, George Smith, Harold Lee, Heber Grant, Tom Perry, Gordon Hinckley, or Boyd Packer–who are you talking about, Brother?

So, why do we use the initial? The conjecture is that the initial became important at the beginning of the 20th century when two Joseph Smiths needed to be distinguished from each other and their more famous ancestor. This reason might make sense to reduce confusion, but how many Dieter Uchtdorfs are there in the church? One? The current practice clearly has nothing to do with reducing confusion. There seems to be another recent trend to use the full middle name as if there were some confusion as to who the person is. Still, you may recall that “Brother Joseph” was just “Brother Joseph.”

So, what is the purpose today? To reinforce members’ respect and deference to authority? To further distance ourselves from those at the highest levels of leadership? As a point of pride for those who have attained high office in the church? A cultural quirk? What do you think?

Comments 47

  1. Haha nice post. I must confess, the other day when I was telling some friends I was going to write in “Dallin Oaks” for president, I felt some measure of the spirit leave me, lol.

    Some of it probably has to do with telling people apart, but I think it’s probably more due to wanting their names to ring with more authority. Gosh I’ve done it myself (used my middle initial) on my business cards that I give to therapy clients. It may not matter at all, but it seems like it adds to the professionalism.

  2. I always thought it was funny when they used full names and initials in sustaining in Ward Conference. I sat there the rest of the meeting wondering what people’s initials stood for?

    I’m easily distracted, I guess…. πŸ™‚

  3. It seems a little bit silly to me, and I think most of my female friends in the church would agree. We don’t mind people calling us by just our first names. I prefer it. I don’t need people using “Sister” like a title with my last name. I would just rather be me. Of course, my last name wasn’t even mine until I got married, so using it really takes “me” out of the equation.

    And the added initial just seems ridiculously formal. Try using the name in a more casual sentence and you will see what I mean. “Dallin, did you polish off the rest of the cake?” or “Deiter, can you grab some milk on the way home?” They are real people to someone.

  4. How about the word “even” being thrown in before whatever inital-including name is about to be uttered? This little cherry on the top extra honorific seems to be applied more and more to the prophet – sort of a trickly down effect fromt the use of the word prior to the Lord’s name at the end of a prayer or particularly a conference talk. I’m guessing it’s about to appear soon at a stake conference near you in relation to local church authorities as well.

    Tangential thought: Anyone experience the phenomenon of a sacrament meeting speaker who (rather heavily) adopts the manner of a particular apostle/prophet while speaking from the pulpit? I assume they’re just trying to borrow authority, or simply following an example they like. Have a cousin who channels Pres. Monson when he speaks, and he gets pretty intense when he’s doing it. Sounds nothing like his normal speaking voice or mode of conversation and it ends up being a comedy routine for 3/4 of the audience. The rest of the congregation is split between horror and awe. I’m split between horror and the previously mentioned comedy when I see this stuff continually seep down the pipe and enmesh itself further into our peculiar culture.

  5. I’ve always thought there is a formal presentation of a large wooden or bronze letter representing their middle initial that is given to the brethren as they receive their calling. You know, a large “F” to put behind their desk to show that they have arrived. As the other brethren come into the newly ordained Apostle’s office, they look at the initial, then each other and knowingly nod their heads, not needing to say anything.

  6. Guys, I guess that since at work I have a middle initial in all the documents I sign, and it is pretty universal in many areas involving professionals, this seems a little harsh and hostile.

    Gee guys …

  7. Stephen’s right, of course. There’s a difference between the professional persona and the off-the-clock, real life person. Perhaps the initial is one way of keeping things in their place, and maintaining a professional distance between a leader and the people he leads in that capacity. We don’t refer to him as Tommy Monson because we don’t know him off the clock; he’s not our buddy we hang out with and invite over for a weekend barbecue.

    I think the problem is the reverential awe given to the name of the GA, so much so that the name itself takes on tokenary (is that a word?) or titular significance above and beyond its simple referent function in conversation so that the listener recognizes about whom someone is speaking. I think this status is reached in LDS circles when they “make it” into the Q12 or FP. Dieter Uchtdorf not only becomes Dieter F. Uchtdorf (a professional name for signing documents and such), but “DieterF.Uchtdorf”, a superhero name referenced as he wields his priesthood authority in protection of God’s children, and uses the power of the Spirit to testify of Christ to all the world! I don’t say that to make light of the prophetic mantle; but it is a little funny how quickly these men take on a life greater than themselves, created almost entirely by the faithful members’ reception of their public persona mixed with tradition and expectation inherent in the calling they assume. Its a little like…Clark Kent pulling back his starched, collared dress shirt to reveal the spandex “S” on his chest as he ducks into a phonebooth. Cheers.

  8. Harsh and hostile. I get that a lot.

    I use my MI on my business cards. Adam F hit it on the head with the names ring with more authority, adds professionalism,etc.

    Also, Wade’s “To reinforce members’ respect and deference to authority”.

    It is funny when you say their names without the MI, it seems as though you are being too familiar or not treating with some due respect. That seems sick, but we feel it. I guess the goal has been achieved.

  9. Ray is my middle name. When I am talking with people who don’t know me personally in some official capacity, I often go by my first name. I sign all official documents with my full name. It’s just how it is.

    When I was a school teacher in AL, another teacher was the Stake President. (Three male teachers at a Deep South high school, and two of them were Mormon. WEIRD!!) He was ex-military – a wonderful man, but very formal. It was interesting having to remember what to call him based on the situation – John among the teachers, Mr. Doe around the students and Pres. Doe around members. Every once in a while, I would slip and call him Pres. Doe around the students – who would grin and tease me later about it.

    I call people whatever they want to be called – well, except for the really odd requests. Makes it easy.

  10. Is formality such a bad thing?

    Why does everyone act like informality is so great?

    The informality of calling someone by their first name used to mean intimacy- back when only close friends called each other by their first names. Nowadays telemarketers call us by our first names.

    Informality is so common today that it is meaningless. Formality on the other hand still has symbolism in it. I wish formality would make a come back in other places too. (I particularly wish salesmen would stop calling me by my first name because they thing it creates a bond that makes me more likely to buy.)

  11. Without apology I refer to the Halestorm film “The RM”. The scenes with “H. Ronald Powers” make me crack up.

    Someone mentioned Ward Conference. I always enjoy sustaining the presidencies of the Deacons, Teachers, and Priests quorums, middle initials and all. Makes me smile.

  12. Nice thoughts. Another thing I feel uncomfortable with is having to call people “President” or “Bishop” all of a sudden. I guess this is something that isn’t really the same thing b/c it’s a title, but when I was “President Anderson” I would always tell people they could call me Aaron because the other is so impersonal.

  13. James, I suspect they end up doing without an initial.

    I’ve been thinking about the name thing more. I sign documents all day as Stephen R. Marsh and have for years. My log-in is Stephen Marsh. If I’m at a different computer it is Stephen M (Ethesis) to help distinguish me from the other “Steve M” posters. At the office I’m Stephen because we have another Steve (and, in a funny twist, he is Steve N, I’m Steve M — so the last initial tag is easily confused, at least one person has started calling me Stefan).

    But it really seems to be part of formal name style. On the other hand, I recall them calling Robert Oaks, Robert Oaks. I’ll have to write a post about him. He retired from the Air Force, got his first job that paid real money. Was called as a Stake President. The stake really needed him full time so he quit his job and lived off his retirement benefits. His only connection to the area was he had moved there for the job. His wife is terribly kind and sweet (or at least she was). While he did not serve a mission, he is the reason the Air Force Academy decided to start letting LDS kids serve missions and then come back to the Academy.

  14. Can somebody do a write-up about when we, as a matter of practice, began calling each other “Brother and Sister Smith” instead of “Brother Joseph and Sister Emma.” I know the latter practice continues at least in some places (think Brazil) where many people share the same surname (although I’m not sure how this is unlike Utah). Does it happen anywhere else?

  15. My former Branch President in Ohio goes by Brother Dale and uses that style when talking with all the members. It was fairly common in the Deep South when I lived there – and probably still is. It was reinforced there by the general culture of calling someone Miss Michelle or Mister Michael, for example.

  16. I know a recent stake president who *insisted* on being called “President” at all times. This included social, non-church situations in areas outside of his stake, as well as in his home. With his wife. He asked me once to remember to call him “President”. I said, “sure thing, Dave”.

    Those who are comfortable with the power/authority they weild feel no need to hind behind titles or initials, as they do nothing to bolster or diminish the influence of a real leader. I suspect that the GAs give the initial thing little or no thought, except to perhaps joke about it among family and peers.

  17. Another reason for using the full middle name for GAs and others: it often displays a family connection. In the case of a woman in my ward, her maiden name is Callister, which is a much more venerable name in Utah culture than her married name. She uses this name as much as possible. There is another gentleman whose Smith connections bore me to tears, because he only talks about his mother’s side of the family.

    Saying Gordon “Bitner” Hinckley signifies both lines of descent for an individual. If my mom were a Bennion or a Budge, I bet that would be my middle name. It’s a social signifier…

  18. First, on the initial thing: I agree that it’s likely a ‘professional’ thing. I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years, and all my articles have the byline “Bruce F. Webster” (plus my firm is ‘Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC’ and my domains are ‘’ and ‘’).

    Second, on jjackson’s story (#21): sigh. By contrast, we had an older couple move into our ward a year or two ago. The husband was a retired professional who had also served for 18 years as a stake president before moving to Colorado. I called him ‘President’ when I spoke to him (much as I tend to call former bishops ‘Bishop’), but after the 2nd or 3rd time, he stopped me and said, “Please — my name is Larry.” ..bruce..

  19. I know that this is not the point of the article, but…
    no, I do not remember a time when Dieter was not Dieter F.

    Perhaps it is that I have just forgotten, or wasn’t paying attention closely enough, but I remember him coming to a Ricks College devotional at least once and I remember him at a temple dedication. I seem to remember both times being “Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf [of the 70]” when he was introduced. These would’ve been around 2000 or so.

    As for using middle initials, I tend to think it helps to keep a sense of professionalism (when in church settings), yet it is also useful for distinctness purposes. Even if there was no previous Thomas Monson, there may be another one in the future, and it would be helpful (to him, if nothing else) to not be perpetually confused with

    P.S. I found a Ricks devotional address for 13 March 2001
    and the Billings Montana temple was dedicated 20 November 1999 (though I may be mis-remembering him present at that). I also seem to remember him having visited Ricks some time before the temple dedication, but again I cannot be absolutely certain.

    So I guess my only real evidence is the record of devotional address in 2001.

  20. #3 AdamF – lol, yes Japan (but not Japanese)
    #17 James – that is what AdamF was referring to with Elder Kikuchi – Japanese people don`t have a middle name

  21. I have an old Juvenile Instructor that has an article by “Russ Ballard”. Yes, this is pre-“M. Russell Ballard” time. There is something about seeing the name that is makes him seem more like a real person. I like it.

  22. Jeff (#4);

    I knew a bishop (in San Jose, even!) who went by O. Fonz Allen. Someone made the comment once, “I wonder what ‘O’ stands for that is worse than being called Fonz?”

  23. I have a woman friend – – smart, educated, professional – – but of average professional, social and ecclesiastical standing. Several years ago, she started using a middle initial. Just kind of out the blue. For the longest time, I thought it was a joke, but it became clear that it was not. I still don’t get it, but chalked it up to some desire to be perceived as of the same stature as “the guys” (whoever they were in her mind). I do not object to referring to high-level leaders in a formal way as a token of respect, but I find it a strange affectation when adopted by others. And I am always relieved to hear of people who do not take themselves so seriously as to insist upon honorifics, including I guess middle initials, from others.

  24. It seems to be happening with the women too….except that the entire maiden name is inserted between first and last….I think this is because a lot (and I mean a LOT) of the high-level ranking women in the church’s presidencies are directly related to the prophet, the immediately deceased prophet, or one of the apostles. It’s almost as if they are saying, “You see, I have this religious authority because of my lineage. I’m not just Jane Jones, but I’m Jane McKay Jones or Mary Hinckley Smith.”

    I keep wondering how Yeshua, our Saviour, would relate to all this posturing. After all, he was called just Yeshua, or sometimes Yeshua ben Joseph.

  25. My wife kept her unmarried surname without adopting mine precisely because whe wanted to maintain her connection with her family. I am not offended by that or by using a surname as a middle name to honor and maintain family connections. Apparently neither did Yeshua ben Joseph.

  26. Mac,

    I don’t know who that was, but I might guess that Fonz was short for Alfonzo except if he was from Utah where Fonz probably was his middle name! I already decided that when I became a GA ( hey, right!) I would do the first initial thing., J. Neil Spector. But alas, it has not happened…..yet. πŸ˜‰

  27. Gee, Ray, that means I’d have to shave. Not sure I can do that. My wife and kids haven’t seen my face since 1985. Which means that most of my kids never saw it. I don’t want to scare them now. πŸ™‚

  28. what would they do for poor Elder Kikuchi if he became an apostle?

    He’s probably disqualified from ever being called to the apostleship for the lack of an initial. πŸ™‚

  29. John F. Kennedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael J. Fox, Alfred P. Sloan, and Scott M. Greenly are examples from some of the many other contexts where initials sometimes are used. If 95 percent of American men have a middle name, the odds are better than even that every current member of a group of twelve American men will have a first or middle initial available. Not all the current apostles are from America, but most Germans also have middle names. It is a little bit more coincidental (three to one against, under the same 95-percent assumption) that all of the last 27 members of the Quorum of the Twelve have had a middle name. LeGrande Richards, the last apostle without a middle name, was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1952. Middle names used to be less common than they are now, and several earlier members of the Quorum had only two names. Yoshihiko Kikuchi has enough syllables in his first name to make up for not having a middle name. The initial in the name of a general authority adds a ring of formality and authority, but sometimes it seems more comfortable to omit the initial.

  30. Buttercup didn’t need a middle initial in order to get her, “As you wish.” Butter P. Cup just doesn’t resonate – although the physical attractiveness post seems to claim that Butter C. Cup might be a better option.

    (Sorry. Sometimes I let my sense of humor out of the house. Sometimes that’s a good thing; sometimes it isn’t.)

  31. Perhaps the issue here is that outside the USA this is not standard practice-this is not an indigenous part of Dieter Echtdorf’s culture.It simply does not happen in Europe so it feels like an unnecessary affectation to many of us.In effect,middle names appear on our birth certificates and that’s about the last time you hear them here.How many Dieter Echtdorfs are there in the first presidency-it’s tradition,and we mormons don’t change anything we can keep the same for a century or so.Two names sounds plenty formal to me.

  32. I have to add this quote:

    Prior to the winter of 1830-31, Cowdery generally signed his name “Oliver H P Cowdery”, the “H P” standing for “Hervy” and “Pliny,” two of his father’s relatives. For unknown reasons Cowdery discontinued using his middle initials about 1831. Cowdery may have wished his name to match the form in which it was printed in the 1830 Book of Mormon. [1]. It is also possible that teasing by the Palmyra Reflector (June 1, 1830) about Cowdery’s pretentious moniker may have influenced Cowdery to abandon the initials.

  33. Incredible, the fact i read this nonsense and am now commenting on it. In the capacity of an individuals dutys you use out of respect title/formal name. Brother Sister ect. accordinng to setting. At home or close friend first name ect. With the world collapsing and morality disintigrating it is amazing how this post even started. God forgiveme for reading and commenting with all the other problems we have to worry about.

  34. The question is not so much why replace a middle name with its initial, but rather why replace a first name with its initial and use the middle name instead?(L. Tom Perry, M. Russell Ballard, D. Todd Christofferson, L. Whitney Clayton) I can see if as a child, if you have the same name as your father or another relative it may distinguish from each other, and often times it stick for life. But that does not apply to the everyone outside the family who doesn’t have to confuse you from dad. Words like posture, respect and distginsguishment come to mind. After all, that is really the feeling we get when we hear, or read names like that. Otherwise I would be just as fine hearing or saying David Christofferson, Todd Christofferson or David Todd Christofferson. Using D. Todd Christofferson enhances respect, posture.

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