Many Mormon scholars have a funny quirk. They refer, in formal scholarly work, to the founder of their faith by his first name. When I was a history major at BYU, one of my professors there said that she simply could not bring herself to refer to Joseph Smith as “Smith”–it felt to her like an insult. I disagreed with her on this, but I knew from my own reading in Mormon history that I was in the minority on this issue. When I got to graduate school and working on my dissertation, my adviser (a very senior and well regarded scholar of religion in America) was reading an advance review copy of Rough Stone Rolling and we were chatting about in his office. He really liked the book, but he said it reminded him of puzzling habit that Mormon historians of Mormonism had. “What’s with this ‘Joseph’ stuff?” he asked. “Mormons are the only ones who do this. Can you imagine Lutherans calling their guy ‘Martin.'” This wasn’t the first time I had heard him say this. When I first started the program he had mentioned it, and although I always had been uncomfortable calling Joseph Smith “Joseph” in papers, I had made a concerted effort never to do it in something my adviser would read. These incidents have sensitized me to the nuances involved in choosing how to refer to Joseph/Smith.
Is there anything to this? Can we tell anything about the way scholars feel about Joseph/Smith by which name they choose? Does scholarly consistency oblige me to call everyone in my writing by his or her first name? If not, then on what rational grounds is one justified in bestowing this honor on one person?