LDS or Mormon? It depends

Church prefers full name but is accepting more Mormon uses

Published: Saturday, April 2 2011 12:55 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Otterson is charged with keeping the name and image of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in good standing.

But the irony isn't lost on the church's Public Affairs managing director, who discusses the church's name while seated in his office surrounded by framed displays of newspaper front pages and magazine covers featuring media coverage on the church.

And most of those headlines have used neither the church's formal name nor the shorter "LDS Church." Rather, they display in big, bold letters the nickname/title "Mormon."

"From the church's point of view, we much prefer to use the proper name of the church," said Otterson, adding, "but you've got to balance that against the reality that you can't fit nine words (the church's full name) into a headline, so the media will always tend to use the shortened version."

But the preference? "The fact that we use the Savior's name is very significant, and we try not to lose that in our conversations and keep it right there."

Still, "Mormon" is a name — for better or for bitter — that has trailed the church since its earliest days, given its belief in and use of The Book of Mormon as holy scripture, which itself carries the name of an ancient prophet who abridged the historical accounts.

It's also a name the LDS Church has tried to downplay previously, but in recent years has re-embraced with increased use, thanks in part to high-tech advances.

IN THE PAST

In the first years after its formal organization in 1830 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, the church was called by several names — The Church of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ and even The Church of the Latter-day Saints, the latter to distinguish it from other churches of the time bearing the Lord's name.

By 1838, the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came into acceptance. The church points to a revelation to Joseph Smith — now recognized as Section 115 of the Doctrine and Covenants — as providing the Lord's own designation of the name (although the capitalization and punctuation of "Latter-day Saints" sometimes varied over the next decade-plus).

Over the years, the church's First Presidency has underscored the full name. "Keep in mind that this is the Church of Jesus Christ: Please emphasize that fact in making contact with others," it said in a 1982 statement, adding "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."

Ten years ago, the church's First Presidency again called for a re-emphasis, stressing the full-name use as an example of the centrality of the Savior in the LDS faith.

The statement coincided with an earlier New York Times interview of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the anticipated increased attention accompanying Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and the hope that the role of the Savior would be more readily recognized by critics saying Mormons don't believe in Christ.

"I don't mind being called a Mormon," said Elder Oaks to the Times' Gustav Neibuhr, "but I don't want it said that I belong to the Mormon Church."

The church issued its preferences in style usage for its name and the Mormon moniker — "Mormon" is an acceptable when used as a reference to a church member, in proper names such as Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Mormon Trail and as an adjective in expressions such as Mormon pioneers.

And "Mormonism" is acceptable in describing the doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to the LDS Church.

"We think that's so well-established that it will never change," said Otterson of "Mormon" uses.

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