Guest Post: What’s in a Name? Better Names for LDS Women’s Roles

by Frank Pellett

(Frank Pellett is an LDS father of 5 and software developer living in Utah. He enjoys reading, family, and light discussions about many topics, especially those that involve sharing experiences and gleanings about making your way through life.)

I’m one of those who look forward to the day (the sooner the better) when we get to learn about the Priestesshood promised in the Temple.  I believe it will be a complimentary role, available to only women, that will be of equal power, authority, and usage as servant leadership as that of the Priesthood.  There are a lot of varying opinions on what the roles will be, from much like they are now to being exactly the same as the Priesthood.

But I wonder –what will we name these roles?

I’m not a big fan of the male-normative names we’ve come up with in English – Priest/Priestess, Prophet/Prophetess, etc.  I’m even now amazed that my spell checker thinks Priesthood is a valid word, but Priestesshood must be misspelled somehow.

So, what do you think would be good names for women’s roles as a true complement to those given to the men?  Here’s the list I can come up with for what we’re using now:

Deacon – Beehive

Teacher – MIA Maid

Priest – Laurel

Elder – Elderess?

High Priest – High Priestess

Seventy – (does this need a gender specific title?)

Prophet – Prophetess

Are there others I’m missing?  For the historians, what male assignations did we lose to connecting Aaronic Priesthood to age (MIA men?)?

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19 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Great questions, Frank. If I was going to rename female roles/groups, I’d get rid of the cutesy Beehive, Laurel and Mia Maid and go for more powerful and evocative names.

    Deaconess is a biblical term (Phoebe in the New Testament, so I don’t see why we couldn’t use that.) Teacher is gender neutral. We could use that. Priestess could be the complement of Priest.

    However, I like Margaret Toscano’s thinking on the subject of female priesthood. She suggest a Priestesshood of Deborah or Sarah. I find that compelling. She argues that simply incorporating women into these male priesthood structures and symbols isn’t good enough. These structures and symbols need to affirm females and call upon females in our sacred texts, just as men’s priesthood does. Ergo her suggestion to forego Aaronic priesthood or Melchizedek priesthood for women and rename it to something female inspired.

    As for your list, I think that the complement of Elder and everything beyond Elder is Sister, as the Church is currently structured today.

    • Diane says:

      I agree with you on this Caroline, there are gender blind roles in secular society, for example, the word Teacher can either refer to male/female. So, why can’t there be more gender blind roles with in the church?

  2. Jenn says:

    Interesting to think about. I agree with Caroline, let’s ditch the cutesy beehive names. Deacon is an office; beehive is… well, lame. Again, Teacher and even Deacon don’t have to be gender-specific, and Priest has an easy partner with Priestess.

    And I LOVE the idea of The Priestesshood of Sarah or somesuch, but I don’t see it ever working, since mormons love the idea that everything must have a precedent and be a part of some already-established order.

    I disagree with Caroline, though, the Sister is a fine equivalent for Elder. After all, I’ve been a Sister my whole life (adult life particularly). Everyone is a Brother or Sister- it doesn’t establish anything about role or hierarchy, whereas Elder is part of a progression. Not such Elderess would work. In truth, I don’t know that Elder needs to be gender-specific- maybe Elder could apply to women as well.

    Of course, I’d be happier if we focused less on hierarchy anyways, but that’s a different discussion.

    • Caroline says:

      To be clear, I’m not advocating Sister as the complement of Elder and everything beyond. I’m just saying that that’s how I see our church working today. I’d love for there to be High Priestesses, Prophetesses, etc.

      • Indeed. We want to deflate the idea that Elder=man, not conflate it more by making sister=Elderess.

        Are there names we can use that don’t involve just taking -ess on the names of the current male Priesthoods?

  3. Maxilu says:

    I think ‘Elder’ is a gender-nutral term, and wouldn’t need to be changed, though I like female missionaries being called ‘sister’–and walking aroung with the words ‘sister’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ over my heart.

    Maybe call both men and women ‘Elders’, but turn the male missionnaries into ‘Brother’s. In my mind, it implies a more personal relationship to Christ, plus yoy no longer have to explain why thesr 19 year olld idiots should be called Elders.

  4. Mhana says:

    What about calling missionaries evangelists? That comes up in the Articles of Faith but we never actually call people that. It is a gender neutral term. We don’t have pastors either. I’m not sure if that is a gender neutral term or not, but maybe we could use that? Maybe we could use the term verger? I know it is mostly Anglican, but it does reflect what our youth do including preparing the sacrament and maintaining the building. I know our YW are in charge of gathering trash after church every week. Maybe it goes verger, teacher, evangelist? Just thoughts.

    I sort of like Laurels once I figured out that it was supposed to refer to a laurel crown, though I think it is a little weird since I mostly associate that symbol with pagan religions, and the romans in particular — no great friends of Christ.

  5. MB says:

    Since this is an international church and many languages designate nouns as either feminine or masculine, I think it would be more logical to keep the names as similar as possible, allowing gendered languages to simply create a feminine version to conserve grammatical integrity if needful.

    And I think that maintaining similarity in titles also helps observers to understand better the fact that they are both rooted in the same divine power.

    As an interesting sidenote, there’s a discussion going on among some Southern Baptists these days about women and ordination and how some Southern Baptist congregations with women who feel called to serve and act like pastors but cannot be ordained as such get around that unordainability by calling those women “ministers” instead of “pastors”, using that former term to designate one called but not ordained. Such renaming in order to designate a fundamental difference leads me to believe that in the LDS faith, as long as names are very different (priest-laurel), though the workers may be working together, it will be harder for them to create a sense of equality and unity than it would be if they shared a common name.

    Beside which, “Priest” shows up in scriptures. “Laurel” was invented by the Young Women’s organization in 1959. Before that they were “Junior Gleaners”. I think that if the power you are conferring upon young women is one that is described in the scriptures and information about what that entails is found in those scriptures, you’d better use scriptural terminology for the office/power/responsibilities involved as well.

  6. MB says:

    As for history of young men’s assigned names in the church’s young men’s organization:

    The Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association was organized, independent of Aaronic priesthood quorums, in 1875 to act as a male equivalent of the Young Ladies Cooperative Retrenchment Association (which was renamed Young Ladies National Mutual Improvement Association two years later).

    The YMMIA was divided into junior and senior classes in 1901. Up to then, a boy was simply a member of the YMMIA. There were no particular names used.

    In 1911 the church created YMMIA Scouts which they officially integrated into Boy Scouts of America in 1913. And for the next 60 years or so boys in fully staffed YMMIA organizations were scouts, venturers and explorers (or variations of that), depending upon their age. In not so fully staffed YMMIA organizations they were all lumped together as scouts.

    There was a brief merger in the early 1970s that linked the Aaronic Priesthood, the YMMIA and the Young Women’s organization all under one organization, the “Aaronic Priesthood MIA Young Women”. In 1974 that was reversed, the Young Women’s organization became independent again, the YMMIA was disbanded (their general presidency was released) and the organization was put under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric and called simply “Aaronic Priesthood”. Throughout this transitional period during regular weeknight activities the boys continued as “scouts” where that program was available. Where it was not, they acted as quorums. Usually, unless there was enough vision and capacity to create good scout experiences specifically for older boys, most wards and branches tended to either lose the older boys participation as they got tired of doing stuff with younger ones, or they created quorum activities that were not scout related. Thus, the boys in older groups began calling themselves by their quorum names instead of their scout organization names.

    In 1977 a Young Men general presidency was again created and the name of the organization was called simply “Young Men” and for the next 30 years or so scouting continued as the major YM program for weekday activities but was generall run by scoutmasters who were not part of their ward’s YM presidency or advisors in the YM organization except in understaffed congregations. The current general handbook of instruction talks a lot about the integration of both scout and quorum work into a single, mutually workable framework for young men that includes all of them, whether or not they are interested in scouting and YM presidency and advisors are supposed to also act as scout leaders and youth leaders double as patrol/team or crew leaders to aid that integration in order include all young men in weeknight activities whether they wish to participate as quorum members or as members of a scout group .

    As many young men are more willing to be identified as “priests” than as “explorers” and certainly dissatisfied to be referred to as “boy scouts” when they are 16 years old, most wards and branches, even if they do organize older BSA teams and crews, find it easier and more efficacious to refer to the boys by their quorum name so as to include boys who have sworn off scouting.

    And that’s what I know about naming of groups of young men in the church’s programs for them.

    • Thanks, MB, for the history brush up. 🙂

    • mb says:

      Added detail: currently in a fully staffed and organized young men’s program the three groups of young men are organized into”scout” patrols, “varsity” teams and “venture” crews. So those would probably be what correspond, in theory, to Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel classes. However the vast majority of LDS congregations do not have fully staffed and organized Young Men programs.

  7. lmzbooklvr says:

    Interesting thoughts! I just have to add that I love the idea of MIA Men 🙂

  8. DefyGravity says:

    On another note, I would be okay with dropping title entirely. If everyone was capable of doing the same thing, would we need all these titles to denote jobs? What if we just called everyone brother and sister? I have no idea if that is feasible, but the hierarchy of the church leadership kind of irritates me. I don’t like having to address people, generally men, by a title when I don’t believe they deserve more veneration or respect simply because of a calling they hold that is supposed to put then in a position of service, not a position of power. But if someone claims the title bishop, president or prophet, suddenly they carry more weight and often feel they have more right to tell others without titles what to do, which is the nature of hierarchy. But does it belong in a religions institution that teaches we are all the same before God?

  9. Hopeful says:

    I don’t think “Elder” has to be gender specific. My grandparents are my “Elders.”

  10. Descent says:

    Another vote for deaconess, priestess, and prophetess with teacher, elder, seventy, apostle and president as gender neutral. Thanks for this topic. Envisioning the potential is so much more enjoyable than moping about the reality.

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