Law professor discusses the significance of names at Devotional


Smith framed his address around his own unique experience of discovering his identity through changing his given name from Doug, to Elder, and eventually to Gordon.

Smith was baptized in the fall of his sophomore year at BYU. He developed a desire to served a full-time mission, and was called to Vienna, Austria the following year. Smith’s desire to serve a mission was stemmed by his desire to show his love for the Lord, and the difficulties he faced caused him to question whether his desire to be a powerful missionary was selfish or selfless. The difficulties of serving in Austria helped Smith transform from a self-aware teenager to an “outward-looking, empathetic adult.”

“By the end of my mission, I had come to terms with God over my indebtedness, and I had learned that most valuable life lesson, also taught by King Benjamin, “’when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God (Mosiah 2:17),'” Smith said.

[media-credit name=”Chris Bunker” align=”alignright” width=”300″]J. Reuben Clark Law School Associate Dean Gordon Smith speaks during Tuesday's devotional at the Harris Fine Arts Center.[/media-credit]
J. Reuben Clark Law School Associate Dean Gordon Smith speaks during Tuesday's devotional at the Harris Fine Arts Center.
D. Gordon Smith, associate Dean in the J. Reuben Clark  School of Law and Glen L. Farr Professor of Law, spoke to BYU students at Devotional that names are significant regardless of whether they were given at birth or taken on later in life.
Upon his return to BYU,  Smith noted a disconnect in the transition from being called Elder to his first name Doug.

“My pre-mission name evoked thoughts about a confused young boy who had arrived at BYU three years before,” said Smith. “‘Doug simply didn’t seem to fit anymore.”

After meeting a girl who had changed her name, Smith realized that he could do the same.

“I didn’t have to be “Doug Smith” anymore,” Smith said. “I could be called anything I wanted! After much contemplation, I decided that using my middle name ‘Gordon’ would not only be the simplest change, but it would honor my father.”

Smith’s father was always his hero, and was the one who had instilled within him many of life’s lessons, including his belief that one person can change the world.  After taking upon himself his father’s name, every time he heard the name Gordon, it caused him to think about his father. As a result, Smith wanted to be the kind of person that his father could be proud of.

Smith compared this experience with the ordinance of baptism, wherein a person takes upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ.

“In both instances, the name was given to me by another, but I was required to embrace the name as my own,” Smith said. “Now, each week, in taking the sacrament, I express my willingness to take upon myself the name of Jesus Christ.”

Smith noted that taking upon his father’s name was his way of honoring his father, and encouraging himself to become more like him.

“Similarly, taking upon ourselves the name of Christ is not recognition of an achievement, but rather a nudge toward improved behavior,” Smith said.

Because of the stories of Christ that are in the scriptures, it is easy for members of the church to find guidelines about how He acted. Smith went on to discuss how important it is for followers of Christ to align themselves with his teachings.

Finally, Smith discussed the negative aspect of name-calling and labeling, in that it can cause people to miss opportunities of real learning.

“If students caricature their classmates – attempting to marginalize some members of the class as ‘others’ – learning suffers,” Smith said.

In a BYU setting, Smith has noted that the religious homogeneity actually encourages conversations that couldn’t happen at other universities. He noted the importance of having these kinds of discussions.

“We truly understand our own views only when we understand the views of those who disagree with us, and we may find, in the process of seeking that understanding, that our own views evolve,” Smith said.

Smith ended his address  by reminding the students of President Uchtdorf’s latest General Conference address in which he asked church members to  replace judgmental thoughts with love and to refrain from name calling and judgement.

“If we believe that others have taken a wrong turn, one of the greatest acts of charity that we can perform is to give them room to repent. We should encourage others to change and improve, give people room to repent,” Smith said. “When we exercise influence ‘by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned,’ (D&C 121:41) we not only bless the lives of others, but we elevate ourselves.”

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