Dateline: St. George—There Are No Vanilla Names

Jan 6, 2021

John Taylor, the third president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I guess you can thank the explorers, miners and roughnecks who built the transcontinental railroad for some frisky names on Utah’s map.

Consider these:

Drunkards Wash (in coal country);

Peter Sinks (an icy natural sinkhole at 8,100 feet);

 

Mollies Nipple

 

Excuse me please, but there are evidently several Mollies Nipples on Utah’s map, supposedly named by explorer John Kitchen to honor his wife. Wow.

Utah is a Joseph’s coat of names. As a newcomer to the state, I keep Wikipedia and a map handy as I listen to UPR news and weather.

 

Some names flow from the Book of Mormon, some from partial melding of ancestral names while others, I surmise, from romantic dashboard-light memories of music from the 1980s—think Journey meets U2. I’ve encountered a Walmart checker named Arda, a credit union teller named Skyla and brothers Bridger and Sawyer. Also, I’ve read an obituary for a Sanpete County official named Orange Frederick Peel. Yep, Orange Peel.

 

Forgive me. 

 

I graduated from NYU, not BYU. I’ve lived in six states, moving to Utah two years ago. Very quickly I learned that my name—John Taylor—has a backstory.

 

First, the CVS pharmacist told me. Then the air conditioner repairman. And then Margaret, who runs a used bookstore in Hurricane. It seems nearly everyone— the two Mormons of every three Utah residents—educates me on my namesake who was the third prophet, tucked behind Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

The prophet Taylor died on the same month and day as my birth. My family roots are in Ireland, where he preached. Prophet Taylor had been a Methodist as have I. He worked the fields; I’ve milked cows in Wisconsin. He wrote a book and edited newspapers; me, too.My wife says we resemble one another; Prophet Taylor had eight wives, so I’ll cut my one-is-enough bride some slack on her dubious claim.

 

One thing is certain. My days of describing myself as just another John in Utah are history.