A “Mormon” By Any Other Name

“The ‘Mormon’ Boy” by Evan Stephens (1909)

During the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson delivered an address to the membership of the Church in which he stressed the importance of “The Correct Name of the Church.” These remarks came amidst much discussion surrounding an announcement President Nelson had made two months earlier which updated the Church’s preferred style guide on the “Mormon” nomenclature commonly attached to the Church and its members.

Among the points President Nelson made during his General Conference remarks were the following:

  • “Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, ‘Thus shall my church be called,’ He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended. What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the ‘LDS Church,’ the ‘Mormon Church,’ or the ‘Church of the Latter-day Saints,’ the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.”

  • “For much of the world, the Lord’s Church is presently disguised as the ‘Mormon Church.’ But we as members of the Lord’s Church know who stands at its head: Jesus Christ Himself. Unfortunately, many who hear the term Mormon may think that we worship Mormon. Not so! We honor and respect that great ancient American prophet. But we are not Mormon’s disciples. We are the Lord’s disciples. In the early days of the restored Church, terms such as Mormon Church and Mormons were often used as epithets—as cruel terms, abusive terms—designed to obliterate God’s hand in restoring the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days.”

For President Nelson, then, the urge to use the full name of the Church and to eschew the “Mormon” nickname arises from a desire to preserve and highlight the Christian identity of the Church and its members.

While President Nelson’s directive has by and large been warmly (if not also somewhat bemusedly) received by faithful Church members long acclimated to the “Mormon” nickname, discussion and debate continues. Progressive and ex-members of the Church who have disavowed Latter-day Saint truth claims but who yet value their sense of belonging in the broader “Mormon” community have especially raised concerned voices that President Nelson’s efforts to jettison the “Mormon” label will further marginalize them. Others have outright accused President Nelson of effectively throwing past presidents of the Church under the bus in an effort to satisfy some sort of egotistical dogmatism. “What about the ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign spearheaded by Nelson’s immediate predecessor Thomas S. Monson during Mitt Romney’s bid for the United States presidency?” they wonder. “Or Gordon B. Hinckley’s efforts to make ‘Mormon’ a mainstream moniker during his media-savvy tenure?”

These are worthwhile questions to discuss, certainly. But even a cursory look at the relevant historical data immediately reveals that President Nelson is by no means outside of the mainstream of orthodox and institutional Latter-day Saint thought on this matter. Historically speaking, the points raised by President Nelson in his October 2018 General Conference talk have been repeatedly emphasized by leaders of the Church, including (as we’ll see) his immediate predecessors and even himself. What quickly becomes apparent is that Latter-day Saints from the 19th century onward have resisted the name “Mormon” or “Mormon Church” for precisely the same reasons President Nelson recently articulated. Not infrequently (in fact routinely) one encounters “Mormon,” “Mormonism,” and “Mormon Church” enclosed in quotation marks in historical Latter-day Saint publications (especially from the mid-19th century to early 20th century), often accompanied with the same caveats provided by President Nelson.

What follows is a sampling of sources I have collected in what I freely admit is a non-exhaustive survey of the surviving literature. As will be seen, these sources reach back to the founding days of the Church, and provide more than adequate vindication for President Nelson’s comment that “Mormon” or “Mormonite” (and also “Mormonism”) were historically pejorative epithets that members of the Church only reluctantly accepted (out of, it appears, a sort of resignation over the fact that they had become so widely circulated as onomastic currency). These sources likewise prove that, with perhaps the exception of wishing to avoid “Mormon” even as an adjective, President Nelson is, as I mentioned, not really introducing any radical new ideas into Latter-day Saint discourse.

1830s

Frederick G. Williams (scribe): “Hurlbut also made many harsh threats &c that he would take the life of Bro Joseph if he could not destroy mormonism without.”

W. W. Phelps: “It is now more than four years since this church was organized in these last days, and though the conferences have always shown by their minutes, that they took no other name than the name of Christ, the church has, particularly abroad, been called ‘Mormonite.’ As the members of this church profess a belief in the truth of the book of Mormon, the world, either out of contempt and ridicule, or to distinguish us from others, have been very lavish in bestowing the title of ‘Mormonite.’ Others may call themselves by their own, or by other names, and have the privilege of wearing them without our changing them or attempting so to do; but WE do not accept the above title, nor shall we wear it as OUR name, though it may be lavished out upon US double to what it has heretofore been.”

James Adams: “When prejudice shall in a measure have subsided, and the true state of the matter be more readily received even by those whose prejudices, may have closed the avenues to reason and Justice in a matter identified with the odium so commonly attached to the sound of mormonism This odium will naturally wear off when they have time to learn that Mormons are neither or cannibals”

1840s

The 1876 Salt Lake City edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, edited by Orson Pratt. Note that “Mormonism” in the eulogy now found in Section 135 and attributed to John Taylor is set off in quotation marks.

Mephibosheth N. Sirrine: “[W]e have baptized more or less at all our meetings, during this time the priests of the various orders were howling an[d] their followers crying delusion, false prophets, Mormonism &c., but the honest in heart were believing the gospel of Christ.”

William Worthyson: “It makes me feel glad I say and thank think that bef[o]re long the Mor<​mons​> (as the Vulgar’s choose to call them) rule all America, Asia, Europe, and Africa and about that ti[m]e I think that Christ will appear and wont tha[t] be a glorius oh a Heavenly time.”

Martha Campbell: “Delrimple (formerly from Binghamton) came in & a member with him & soon the convesation turned upon what the world Calls Mormonism & the Lord filled the mouths of those present untill the Old adversary began to spout & rail”

John E. Page: “But the truth is mighty; and bears me conqueror through— so much so that is it seems my that the name of <​truth​> for singularity sake or truth sake or some sake or other the people will runn <​earnestly​> to here that great mormon say something peculiar to that kind of faith called Mormonism

1850s

Parley P. Pratt: “Suppose I were to ask a question this morning, as a stranger, ‘What is Mormonism?’ I suppose it is known to most men at all conversant with principles classed under that name, that it is a nickname, or a name applied by the public, and not used officially by the Church so called. Mormon was a man, a Prophet, an author, a compiler, and a writer of a book. Mormon was a teacher of righteousness, holding certain doctrines. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are agreed with Mormon, as well as with many other ancient writers, and hold to the same principles; therefore their neighbors have seen fit to call those principles they hold, ‘Mormonism.’ They might as well have called them, Abrahamism, Enochism, or Isaiahism; because the ancient Prophets, Patriarchs, and Apostles, held to the same truths in general terms, only differing in circumstances, in distant countries and ages of the world, and acted upon the same general principles, according to the particular circumstances that surrounded them. But the world, out of all the ancients, have selected one called Mormon, and all the principles held by all good, inspired men of all ages and countries they have seen fit to sum up, and call ‘Mormonism.’ Well, it is as well as anything else, for aught I know; the name does not affect the principles.”

Elder Charles W. Penrose’s 1888 volume on “Mormon” doctrine.

1870s

Deseret News: “We observe in one of our exchanges a communication objecting to the use by the Deseret News of quotation marks with the terms ‘Mormon’ . . .Now, first as to the term ‘Mormon.’  It is not, and never was, the name which the members of this church have assumed.  They call themselves Latter-day Saints.  If they have the right to organize in an ecclesiastical capacity, they have the right to affix a name to the organization and a title to its members.  If other people choose to dub them with a nickname they are not compelled by any rule to adopt it.  They never have accepted it, and therefore when we use it we quote it as a name which has been fastened upon us without our consent, and which we do not endorse.  Then it is inappropriate…. We shall continue to use quotation marks with the nickname of ‘Mormons.'”

1880s

Charles W. Penrose: “The Church which has been organized under the direction from the same heavenly Power that revealed the Book of Mormon, is entitled the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its members, then, should not be called ‘Mormons,’ but Latter-day Saints. The members of the church established by Jesus and His apostles, as will be seen by the reference to the New Testament, were called Saints. The term ‘Christians’ was applied to them in derision, and was first used at Antioch. The members of the restored Church of Christ are called Latter-day Saints to distinguish them from their brethren and sisters of former times. But as ‘Christians’ came to be the common appellation of the formerly-day saints, so ‘Mormons’ has come to be the titled generally bestowed upon the Latter-day Saints, and is used herein only in that sense.”

1890s

B. H. Roberts: “Three quarters of a century have passed away since Joseph Smith first declared that he had received a revelation from God. From that revelation and others that followed there has sprung into existence what men call a new religion—’Mormonism;’ and a new church, the institution commonly known as the ‘Mormon Church,’ the proper name of which, however, is THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS. Though it may seem a small matter, the reader should know that ‘Mormonism’ is not a new religion. Those who accept it do not so regard it; it makes no such pretentions. The institution commonly called the ‘Mormon Church,’ is not a new church; it makes no such pretensions, as will be seen by its very name—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This of itself discloses what ‘The Mormon Church’ claims to be—the Church of Jesus Christ; and to distinguish it from the Church of Jesus Christ that existed in former days, the phrase ‘of Latter-day Saints’ is added. ‘Mormonism,’ I repeat, is not a new religion; it is the Old Religion, the Everlasting Gospel, restored again to the earth through the revelations received by Joseph Smith.”

George Q. Cannon: “In reply, it must be said that such is the claim of the Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, as they are erroneously called. . . . Thus arose, as a system, what the world terms Mormonism.”

1900s

George Teasdale: “The Latter-day Saints are called by the world ‘Mormons;’ the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is called the ‘Mormon’ Church. Why it should be so is a question. Mormon had nothing to do with the organization of this Church. The Lord Jesus Christ organized it. It is not the “Mormon” Church; it is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . .  I am not surprised that the wisdom of the wise perishes and the understanding of the prudent is hid, when they call the Church of Christ the ‘Mormon’ Church. Please tell me where is the justification for calling the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in this dispensation ‘Mormons,’ and the doctrine taught by the Latter-day Saints ‘Mormonism.’ I have never heard a justifiable reason why it should be so. It is done, under the influence of anti-Christ, for the purpose of impressing upon people that this is not the Church of Christ. . . . We worship the living and true God, our glorious Creator, in the name of Jesus Christ. We have accepted of the atonement; we have repented of our sins, and have been baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, to fulfil all righteousness, and that we might be born of the water; we have been sanctified in the precious blood of Christ, which follows the water, and we have received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and we have obtained a living testimony. This makes us peculiar. We have come out of the world and taken up the cross of Christ; we advocate His doctrines, and we know that they are true, for we have tested them.”

Elder B. H. Roberts famously debated the Catholic theologian Rev. C. Van Der Donckt on the subject of “Mormon” doctrine in 1903.

B. H. Roberts: “Previous to this period, very few of the foolish and wicked stories which filled the weekly journals and pamphlets in America concerning the ‘Mormons,’ as the Saints were termed, had found their way into the English prints.”

B. H. Roberts: “It will be observed that in verses three and four of this revelation the Lord gives to the Church its official name, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ Previous to this the Church had been called ‘The Church of Christ,’ ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ ‘The Church of God,’ and by a conference of Elders held at Kirtland in May, 1834, (see Church History, vol. 2, pp. 62-3), it was given the name ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints.’ All these names, however, were by this revelation brushed aside, and since then the official name given in this revelation has been recognized as the true title of the Church, though often spoken of as ‘The Mormon Church,’ the ‘Church of Christ,’ etc. The appropriateness of this title is self evident, and in it there is a beautiful recognition of the relationship both of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Saints to the organization. It is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ.’ It is the Lord’s; He owns it, He organized it. It is the Sacred Depository of His truth. It is His instrumentality for promulgating all those spiritual truths with which He would have mankind acquainted. It is also His instrumentality for the perfecting of the Saints, as well as for the work of the ministry. It is His in all these respects; but it is an institution which also belongs to the Saints. It is their refuge from the confusion and religious doubt of the world. It is their instructor in principle, doctrine, and righteousness. It is their guide in matters of faith and morals. They have a conjoint ownership in it with Jesus Christ, which ownership is beautifully recognized in the latter part of the title. ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints,’ is equivalent to ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ and ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints.’

1910s

James E. Talmage: “1. Our Acceptance of the Bible.—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts the Bible as the first and foremost of her standard works, chief among the books which have been proclaimed as her written guides in faith and doctrine. In the respect and sanctity with which the Latter-day Saints regard the Bible, they are of like profession with Christian denominations in general, but differ from them in the additional acknowledgment of certain other scriptures as authentic and holy, which others are in harmony with the Bible, and serve to support and emphasize its facts and doctrines. There is, therefore, no specifically “Mormon” treatment of the Bible to be presented. The historical and other data, upon which is based the current Christian faith as to the genuineness of the biblical record, are accepted as unreservedly by the Latter-day Saints as by the members of any sect; and in literalness of interpretation this Church probably excels.

James E. Talmage: “First, let it be remembered that the term ‘Mormon,’ with its derivatives, is not the official designation of the Church with which it is usually associated. The name was originally applied in a spirit of derision, as a nick-name in fact, by the opponents of the Church; and was doubtless suggested by the title of a prominent publication given to the world through Joseph Smith in an early period of the Church’s history. This, of course, is the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, the people have accepted the name thus thrust upon them, and answer readily to its call. The proper title of the organization is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Elder James E. Talmage expounding on the vitality of “Mormonism” in his 1917 treatise.

James E. Talmage: “Permit me to explain that the term ‘Mormon,’ with its several derivatives, is no part of the name of the Church which it is usually associated. It was first applied to the Church as a convenient nickname, and has reference to an early publication, ‘The Book of Mormon’; but the appellative is now so generally current that the Church and people answer readily to its call. The proper designation of the so-called ‘Mormon’ Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

James E. Talmage: “WHAT’S in a name? So asked one who has been called the chief of English bards; and hosts of thoughtful minds have been conscious of the same insistent query springing up as a conception original to each. Who but the superficial will venture to deny the influence of names? We are all subject to the witchery of bias and of prejudice for or against; and the odium or the good repute of a name ofttimes determines our provisional acceptance or rejection of that for which it stands. Most of us are in the habit of putting up our knowledge in little packages, duly ticketed. These we stow away in more or less orderly fashion, and though we glance betimes at the label we are apt to forget what any one of the parcels really contains. ‘Mormonism’ is an unpopular name; the truths for which it stands, the principles which it embodies, are more readily believed in if left unlabeled. It should be borne in mind that the term ‘Mormon’ with its several variants was first applied by way of nickname to the people now so designated. But nicknames may be so sanctified by effort and achievement that they become titles of respect and profound significance. To this fact history lends definite and abundant testimony. . . . The ‘Mormon’ people do not resent the misnomer by which they are commonly known, and which has been put upon them by popular usage. They deplore, however, the possible misunderstanding that the Church to which they belong professes to be the church of Mormon. It should be known that Mormon was a man, a very distinguished and a very able man it is true, an eminent prophet and historian according to the record bearing his name, but a man nevertheless. The ‘Mormon’ Church affirms itself to be in no sense the church of Mormon, nor the church of Joseph Smith, nor of Brigham Young, nor of any man other than the Savior and Redeemer of the race. The true name of this Church, the designation by which it is officially known is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Orson F. Whitney: “‘Mormonism,’ a nick-name for the Everlasting Gospel, brought back once more for the purpose of completing the Lord’s work as pertaining to this planet, binding in one the dispensations, and merging them into the last and greatest of all—the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.”

B. H. Roberts: “Our religion is founded on the revelations of God. The Gospel we proclaim is the Gospel of Christ, restored to earth in this the dispensation of the fulness of times. The high claim of the Church is declared in its title—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Established by divine direction, its name was prescribed by him whose Church it is—Jesus the Christ. If it be true Christianity to accept Jesus Christ in person and in mission as divine; to revere him as the Son of God, the crucified and risen Lord, through whom alone can mankind attain salvation; to accept his teachings as a guide, to adopt as a standard and observe as a law the ethical code he promulgated; to comply with the requirements prescribed by him as essential to membership in his Church, namely, faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost,—if this be Christianity, then are we Christians, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church.”

Joseph F. Smith: “I desire to say that ‘Mormonism,’ as it is called, is still, as always, nothing more and nothing less than the power of God unto salvation, unto every soul that will receive it honestly and will obey it. I say to you, my brethren, sisters and friends, that all Latter-day Saints, wherever you find them, provided they are true to their name, to their calling and to their understanding of the gospel, are people who stand for truth and for honor, for virtue and for purity of life, for honesty in business and in religion; people who stand for God and for his righteousness, for God’s truth and his work in the earth, which aims, for the salvation of the children of men, for their salvation from the evils of the world, from the pernicious habits of wicked men and from all those things that degrade, dishonor or destroy; or tend to lessen the vitality and life, the honor and godliness among the people of the earth.

Joseph F. Smith: “The man who embraces what is called ‘Mormonism,’ but which is really the gospel of the Son of God.”

The decision to keep “Mormonism” in quotation marks in D&C 135:7 persisted to the 1921 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (pictured here). The current (2013) edition of the text retains this reading.

1940s

George Albert Smith: “It is his Church. He gave it his name, and he advised us that it should be so called. . . . Don’t let the Lord down by calling this the Mormon Church. He didn’t call it the Mormon Church. It is all right for us to believe in the Book of Mormon. He expects us to do that, but he told us what to call this Church.”

1960s

Hugh B. Brown: “Perhaps many of you would refer to the Church as the ‘Mormon’ Church; while we do not object to that designation, it may be a bit misleading. Mormon was an ancient American prophet, whose name was given to a sacred record which he compiled; but though this may be called the Mormon Church, it is not the Church of Mormon, nor is it the Church of Joseph Smith nor of Brigham Young, nor of any other man. It is the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Hugh B. Brown: “I am invited to discuss the ‘Mormon’ Church. I use that term here because it is generally current. It is, in fact, a nickname derived from an early publication, the Book of Mormon. The Church I represent is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Marion G. Romney: “For the purpose of saving mankind in this world, and in the world to come, the Lord revealed it anew in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jun. Through him also the Lord, 135 years ago today, reestablished his Church, ‘. . . even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (D&C 115:4) commonly known as ‘the Mormon Church.’ This Church is the Lord’s appointed custodian and legal administrator of the ordinances of his gospel.”

1970s

Harold B. Lee: “When [the Lord] revealed the name by which the Church was to be called, he used some interesting expressions. … He didn’t say Mormon Church; he didn’t say LDS Church, but the clear, firm, unequivocal statement, ‘even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.'”

Bruce R. McConkie: “We are called Mormons. Many people look upon us as a singular sect as they cry: ‘Delusion, false prophets, polygamy,’ as once was so common; or ‘Racists, antiwomen, patriarchal dictators,’ as some now say; or ‘Worshippers of Adam and deniers of Christ and his grace,’ as others falsely acclaim; or whatever sophistry of the moment will sow the seeds of prejudice among those who otherwise might learn who we are and what we believe. May we say, as many have done before, that what men call Mormonism is the very system of laws and truths which will make of earth a heaven and of man a god. What, then, is the mystery and wonder of it all? This glorious gospel, this perfect plan of life and salvation, this mystery of mysteries—this Mormonism if you will—is the eternal truth of heaven.”

Marion G. Romney: “My beloved brothers and sisters and, particularly, nonmember friends, you are listening to the proceedings of a session of the annual April general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frequently referred to as the Mormon Church. The nickname Mormon is associated with the Church and its members because we accept as scripture a book titled the Book of Mormon. This book is a translation of an ancient record inscribed on gold plates which, in September 1827, were delivered by an angel to Joseph Smith, a twenty-one-year-old youth. Members of the Church do not resent being referred to as Mormons, nor does the Church resent being referred to as the Mormon church. As we have said, however, it is not the correct name of the Church. Its correct name is, as we have already explained, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (D&C 115:4). This name was officially confirmed by Jesus Christ himself when, on April 26, 1838, at Far West, Missouri, in a revelation addressed to the presiding officers of the Church, he said—and this is Christ himself speaking: ‘Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and also … unto all the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world; “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ (D&C 115:1, 3–4 italics added.) This declaration by the Lord is reminiscent of the account the Book of Mormon gives of Christ’s statement to his disciples in America as he ministered among them immediately following his resurrection.”

1990s

Russell M. Nelson: “Note carefully the language of the Lord. He did not say, ‘Thus shall my church be named.’ He said, ‘Thus shall my church be called.’ Years ago, its members were cautioned by the Brethren who wrote: ‘We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.” (Member-Missionary Class—Instructor’s Guide, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, p. 2.) Before any other name is considered to be a legitimate substitute, the thoughtful person might reverently consider the feelings of the Heavenly Parent who bestowed that name.”

Gordon B. Hinckley: “Many of our people are disturbed by the practice of the media, and of many others, to disregard totally the true name of the Church and to use the nickname ‘the Mormon Church.’ . . . Six months ago in our conference Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered an excellent address on the correct name of the Church. He quoted the words of the Lord Himself: ‘Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ (D&C 115:4.) He then went on to discourse on the various elements of that name. I commend to you a rereading of his talk. The Mormon church, of course, is a nickname. And nicknames have a way of becoming fixed. . . . I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons, the Mormon church, and so forth. . . . The people of this Church, the people of this so-called Mormon church.”

Boyd K. Packer: “Rather than using ‘Mormon Church,’ we should call the Church by its name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘for thus,’ the Lord told us in a revelation, ‘shall my church be called in the last days.'”

Dallin H. Oaks: “The First Presidency has requested that we not refer to ourselves as ‘the Mormon Church’ but by the name the Lord gave his church by revelation: ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'”.

2000s

Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust, First Presidency Letter (February 23, 2001): “The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible.”

Anonymous (Church News): “The First Presidency [Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust] and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have approved a series of guidelines to reaffirm the centrality of the Savior in the name of the Church and in how members of the Church are identified. . . . Media organizations are encouraged to use the full official name when referring to the Church as an institution in their reporting. Media will be asked to avoid such references as ‘Mormon Church,’ ‘LDS Church’ or ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints.’ When a shortened reference is needed in news reporting or other instances, the terms ‘the Church,’ or ‘the Church of Jesus Christ’ are encouraged. Church members should be referred to as ‘members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ The preferred shortened reference is Latter-day Saints. Though less accurate, ‘Mormons’ is acceptable. . . . In a statement on missionary work given Oct. 1, 1982, the First Presidency said: ‘Keep in mind that this is the Church of Jesus Christ: please emphasize that fact in making contacts with others. . . . Through a renewed emphasis and use of the revealed name of the Church — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — it will grow and prosper worldwide.'”

2010s

Boyd K. Packer: “Obedient to revelation, we call ourselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than the Mormon Church. It is one thing for others to refer to the Church as the Mormon Church or to us as Mormons; it is quite another for us to do so.”

M. Russell Ballard: “While Mormon is not the full and correct name of the Church, and even though it was originally given by our detractors during our early years of persecution, it has become an acceptable nickname when applied to members rather than the institution. We do not need to stop using the name Mormon when appropriate, but we should continue to give emphasis to the full and correct name of the Church itself. In other words, we should avoid and discourage the term ‘Mormon Church.'”

M. Russell Ballard: “The Lord makes clear that [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] is not only a formal title but also the name by which His Church is to be called. Given His clear declaration, we should not refer to the Church by any other name, such as ‘Mormon Church’ or ‘LDS Church.'”

Once again, I reiterate that this is a non-exhaustive analysis. Nevertheless, the assembled sources here provide ready proof for Susan Easton Black’s observation made in 1992. “The Church is commonly, but unofficially, referred to today as the Mormon Church and its members as Mormons because of their belief in the Book of Mormon,” she writes. “But the use of the term ‘Mormon’ to refer to the Church is unsatisfactory from the point of view of Church members because it does not convey the conviction that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and that members strive to live Christian lives.” This has unquestionably been the case historically. President Nelson is merely reaffirming what has been a common talking point in mainstream Latter-day Saint discourse for some 180 years. His anxiety that the nickname “Mormon” obscures the Christian and restored (ancient) nature of the faith and devotion of the Latter-day Saints was shared widely by his prophetic predecessors.

Joseph Smith’s famous declaration made in 1839 concerning the survival of “Mormonism” despite opposition. Note that “Mormonism” is set off in quotation marks in the published (as opposed to manuscript) version of his remarks in the History of the Church.

From what I can tell, the only thing radical about President Nelson’s new directive is his insistence on eschewing “Mormon” even as an everyday adjective (e.g. changing the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir” to “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square”). Even his warning that “remov[ing] the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan” finds precedent in past discourse by Church leaders who feared that popular prejudice against “Mormons” and “Mormonism” would make people lose sight of the importance of Jesus Christ in the faith of the Saints.1

All of this is to say two things. First, whether you agree or disagree with him, President Nelson’s comments are historically informed, theologically orthodox, and discursively non-radical (save in one specific way). Second, President Nelson seems to understand very clearly what is taught in the Book of Mormon; that “there is no other name given whereby salvation cometh” save it be “the name of Christ,” and that “whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God” (Mosiah 5:8, 10).

  1. It should be said here that the many instances of Joseph Smith utilizing the term “Mormonism” to describe the religious system he restored (for instance, here, here, here, and here) should be read in light of the evidence assembled above. It should likewise be pointed out that in most instances where the Prophet uses the phrase “Mormonism,” he does so in a clearly defensive or apologetic context, suggesting his use of the term was strategic, if not also somewhat ironic. Finally, it should be pointed out that when these statements appeared in print, they were (naturally) set off in quotation marks. See History of the Church, 3:297; 5:499, 517.

4 thoughts on “A “Mormon” By Any Other Name”

  1. The only thing this post shows is that LDS leaders have contracticted themselves (and other leaders) on whether the use of Mormon is ok or not since the beginning. What is sure is that despite their efforts to change the nickname it has failed every single time and will fail now. The preferred name is too long and unwieldy even for LDS members.

  2. Actually a great article, Over the past 50 years being a Mormon, or Mormonism has overwhelmingly been a positive thing in the eyes of the church. Really the ONLY time the name came up has been with Nelson.

    I had a long time retired church office building executive who has known Nelson for quite some time say that being called mormon was a pet peeve of Nelsons, he would correct anyone who was below him, if they used it. So this “revelation” falls in line with what was bugging him day to day as an apostle for the “mormon church” it seems that now he has fixed it.

    I liked your line from what I heard I would agree with this:

    “Others have outright accused President Nelson of effectively throwing past presidents of the Church under the bus in an effort to satisfy some sort of egotistical dogmatism.”

    And yes I feel Nelson threw previous presidents under the bus. And in doing so has undermined his own authority as President of the church. It is is an interesting direction for the leader of the church to take. And in a couple of decades from now will be seen as a mistake.

    • “Really the ONLY time the name came up has been with Nelson.”

      It’s really bizarre that you would claim this if you had just read my post.

Leave a Comment