With eight words, 11 syllables and one hyphen, the full name of the Mormon Church is quite the mouthful: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Given its cumbersome name, it’s unsurprising that both members and nonmembers of the Utah-based faith have long used abbreviations, such as Mormon and LDS. Take, for example, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the LDS Business College. A 2014 documentary film meant to raise awareness of the church is titled “Meet the Mormons.” A famous ad campaign popularized the slogan “I’m a Mormon.” Even the church’s official websites use Mormon in their addresses.
But Thursday, the church’s leader, President Russell M. Nelson, announced that he wants people to stop using “Mormon” and “LDS” — abbreviations that have been the subject of numerous debates throughout the religion’s history.
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said in a statement. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.” Added Nelson, who is believed by tradition to be a prophet: “In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so.”
According to an updated church stylebook entry, the faith should be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its members are “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Well aware of how unwieldy the name can be, new abbreviations are also suggested, including “the Church,” “Church of Jesus Christ” and “restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
“In the coming months, Church websites and materials will be updated to reflect this direction from President Nelson,” the statement said. Yet, the style guide notes that using Mormon in proper names is acceptable. That means the Book of Mormon, the faith’s key scripture, or historical expressions, such as the “Mormon Trail,” will remain the same.
Steve Evans, founder of the Mormon blog called “By Common Consent,” told The Washington Post that this is not the first time the church has attempted to push for a return to its official name.
“It’s something that comes and goes, it seems, every few decades and never really seems to gather too much momentum,” said Evans, “and then it kind of fizzles out, or at least that’s the feeling anyway.”
But Patrick Mason, Claremont Graduate University’s head of Mormon studies, said Nelson’s statement differs from past attempts.
“The wording of this statement is stronger than anything we’ve seen in the past,” Mason said. “This came not from his own intuition or his own sense of things, rather from inspiration from heaven. That’s about as strong language as he can use.”
Mason added that the new stylebook entry also contains tougher guidelines, including LDS and Latter-day Saints in the list of words that should be avoided. Those were previously acceptable terms, he said.
“It goes further than past attempts in both the rationale and in the desired implementation,” he said.
And if it fails again, it’s unlikely that church leaders will ever stop championing this particular cause, Evans said, adding, “Names are powerful things.”
As a name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” holds particular significance: It was a specific direction from God to the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, in 1838. “There’s a scripture that says, ‘This is what you’re going to call your church,’ ” Evans said.
What’s more, the term “Mormon” originated from the religion’s critics, Evans said.
“You’ve got a very concise, very catchy sort of name by detractors of the church versus a sort of scattered name and then ultimately a very long name from the members of the church,” he said. “That’s just a tough marketing battle to fight.”
In 1990, Gordon B. Hinckley, a top church official who later became its president, discussed the controversy around the word, acknowledging that the widespread usage of “Mormon” by media and people outside the faith “disturbed” members.
“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,” he said at the time. “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.”
Hinckley added: “We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster.”
Reactions to Thursday’s announcement have been mixed.
“Among members of the church, friends of mine and generally online the response has been ‘Okay, I guess we’re going to do this again, and we don’t know where it’s going to go,'” Evans said. “But at the same time, there’s a feeling of, ‘The president of the church feels that this is an inspired thing to do, and we’re going to back them up on it. We understand his motivation for doing it and want to support that.’”
On Twitter, the conversation took a different tone. Not only was “Mormon” trending, but many pointed out that the church itself is still using the label.
Others highlighted how much of the church’s promotional materials also rely on the name recognition associated with the abbreviations it is asking people to “avoid.”
The challenge, Mason said, will be to get both members and nonmembers to adopt new terms that “don’t exactly roll off the tongue” over words that people are already “very comfortable” with.
When speaking to The Post, Evans struggled to avoid using “Mormon,” correcting himself twice to say “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“I’m absolutely going to fail at it,” he said, referring to adjusting his vocabulary. “I already have multiple times. I have to pause and think about it before I talk about what I am or what my religion is. It’s not easy.”
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