Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
[p.44] Call me Edgar. I dare you. For the longest time I despised this name. My friends used to tease me and call me “Edgar Alan Snow” (sneering literary types), “J. Edgar Snow” (FBI wannabees), and “Edgar Winter Snow” (Wayne’s World hard rockers); yes, I had an eclectic group of friends. And to make matters worse, it seemed to me that in addition to these strange Edgars, every other oddball in the world was also named “Edgar,” except for me and my dad (it never dawned on me that we weren’t exceptions to this rule). But I learned patience from my namesake: one of his customers used to call him “Egner” all the time, whether by accident or not we never knew, but my father never corrected him. I went by “Eddie” until I returned from my mission and my sister dubbed me “Ed,” thinking I had grown up, and it has stuck ever since. I finally reconciled myself to my name at BYU [p.45] while studying King Lear in which Edgar, arguably the hero, feigns madness and runs around half-naked throughout much of the play.
Names in Mormondom have theological significance, of course. We name our children after scriptural heroes and church leaders, hoping they will live up to their nomenclatural (not a word) heritage. I wanted to name our first son “Lorenzo Erastus Snow,” even though I’ve never hooked up genealogically with either of them. His nickname would have been “Loren,” “Zo,” or “Rasty.” But my wife’s good taste prevailed and we named him Nicholas Garrett Snow.
A seer stone in the Book of Mormon may have had a name. Alma 37:23 says, “I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone … ” I once asked my gospel doctrine class whether Gazelem was a person or a stone; someone said it was like the man with a wooden leg named “Smith,” a dangling modifier. Wilford Woodruff said the stone was named Gazelem, whereas Orson Pratt said the servant was named Gazelem (see Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pp. 147-48). I doubt whether it was a burning issue at the pulpit in frontier Utah, but future research may prove me wrong. We do know from Mormon history that Joseph Smith wasn’t the only one to own a seer stone. Perhaps seer stone owners were divided into two different camps: those who named their stones versus those [p.46] who had unnamed stones. I hope no one got too upset. People have lost faith over less important things: Simonds Ryder was an early convert to the restored church but lost faith when Joseph Smith misspelled his name (see Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 81).
Some Nephite names have always been popular among Mormons, with perhaps one exception. Reynolds Cahoon may not have appreciated Book of Mormon names after he asked Joseph Smith to bless and name one of his children. Joseph gave the child the name “Mahonri Moriancumer,” the name, Joseph said, which was revealed to him as the name of the Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon (see Mormon Doctrine, p. 463). My guess is if you comb LDS historical records after that date you will not find Joseph ever being asked to give another child a name and a blessing. Who says Joseph didn’t have a sense of humor? Joseph gave his own kids easy, short names, like “David.”
Even seemingly innocuous names sometimes prove problematic, however. For example, take the case of Orson Hyde. Due to the peculiar British custom of dropping and adding the letter “h” to words, Brother Hyde was compelled to post the following in the Millennial Star to clarify matters concerning his name: “Persons procuring post-office orders to send us are re-[p.47]quested to be particular in giving our name correctly. Some orders have come payable to ‘Horse and Hide,’ some to ‘Horson Ide’ … Remember that our name is —ORSON HYDE” (in Taylor, The Last Pioneer: John Taylor. a Mormon Prophet, p.121).
And we thought Hugh B. Brown had it rough with people calling him Hubie. Hartman Rector has also had troubles with his last name, although I won’t mention it in detail (especially the variant to the, ummm … last syllable), but I will say I personally witnessed a BYU student mispronounce Brother Rector’s last name in a humorous (if you have a juvenile sense of humor) fashion during a closing prayer that she gave at a BYU stake conference. No one laughed, but there was plenty of feigned coughing and everyone smiled so wide their faces hurt afterward. I don’t think she ever knew, and only a cruel person would’ve told her.
I expect some day F.A.R.M.S. will compile a definitive onomasticon of Book of Mormon names setting forth all possible ancient Near Eastern meanings. Until then, I will continue to muddy the waters a bit with my own fabricated etymologies. Once when teaching a gospel doctrine Book of Mormon class, I read off a list of Book of Mormon names and their possible meanings and historical settings from Hugh Nibley’s Lehi in the Desert, much to the appreciation of my class. Then, at [p.48] the end of the list, I added my own liberal interpretation of “Zeezrom,” the name of a Book of Mormon lawyer. I said, with a straight face, “And finally, some research has suggested that the name ‘Zeezrom’ meant in ancient Egyptian ‘dirty, stinking lawyer.’” No one batted an eye. Finally a brother sitting in the back said, “That’d be redundant.” The room exploded with laughter. I then told everyone the etymology was a forgery I had pulled out of thin air, but they refused to believe me.