SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday that church leaders have launched a major effort to use the full name of the church instead of nicknames or abbreviations.
"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," President Nelson said in a statement. "We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so."
A style guide released by the church alongside the statement said, "Please avoid using the abbreviation 'LDS' or the nickname 'Mormon' as substitutes for the name of the Church, as in 'Mormon Church,' 'LDS Church,' or 'Church of the Latter-day Saints.'"
The announcement and style guide raised questions about the future of the names of famous church institutions like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, LDS Business College and the Mormon Channel. It also appeared to represent a seismic cultural and linguistic shift with more heft than previous efforts to encourage members to avoid "Mormon," a complicated term in church history.
Ironically, the announcement came via one of the church's official websites, mormonnewsroom.org. That site and others, including possibly the church's main website, lds.org, could receive updated names and shows the enormity of the challenge ahead for the church.
The church declined to comment on specifics, pointing to its statement, which added, "In the coming months, Church websites and materials will be updated to reflect this direction from President Nelson."
For the past decade and more, the church has used the nickname "Mormon" in the official names of websites, media channels and international branding campaigns like "I'm a Mormon," in which church members were encouraged to share in videos and written statements who they are in their regular lives and finish by stating their name and saying, "... and I'm a Mormon."
Additionally, the terms are ingrained in daily life within the church.
"It's going to be a huge lift internally," said Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. "It will be a monumental lift."
He noted that church members quickly adopted the new vocabulary of ministering brothers and sisters, introduced in April, but said that Mormon is a "much steeper climb of name recognition."
"There's always been a kind of ambivalence about this, and I think the problem is a practical one of how do you get around the word Mormon? It's a word that's nearly 200 years old. It's far better known than the preferred usage from the church."
He said that while church members may adopt the new verbiage, it will find tougher sledding outside the church. Still, Mason said the emphasis on the name could resonate internationally.
“Mormon carries a lot of negative connotation, we know from surveys,” he said. “Mormon is even a more fraught term internationally than domestically. Maybe this is yet another part of President Nelson’s administration keeping an eye on the global church even if it causes a little discomfort or anxiety within the U.S. church.”
Changing the name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would grab attention. The new style guide hinted the choir's name might be among extensive changes that would separate the effort announced Thursday from attempts by past church leaders to create distance from the nickname.
The church's old style guide for its name, published on what was then Mormon Newsroom, said that "Mormon" was an appropriate adjective for phrases like Mormon trail, Mormon pioneers and Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
On Thursday, the new style guide on Newsroom no longer included the pioneers or the choir as examples of appropriate uses.
The church has had a complicated relationship with the term Mormon since its restoration in 1830. Church leaders long chafed at antagonists calling them Mormons and, early on, Mormonites, but in recent decades they have been more accepting of the nickname.
Joseph Smith received the full name of the church by revelation in 1838. Before that, it had gone by the Church of Jesus Christ and, from 1834-38, the Church of the Latter-day Saints.
At various times, leaders have encouraged the use of the full, official name of the church. Late President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency said in a 1979 general conference that church members do not resent being called Mormons but said the term Mormon church is inaccurate.
In 1990, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a conference talk titled "Thus Shall My Church Be Called."
"By divine directive, the title of the church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is," he said then. "He so decreed more than once. Nearly two thousand years ago, the Lord said, 'Ye shall call the church in my name; … And how be it my church save it be called in my name?'"
In the next conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency endorsed Elder Nelson's talk but noted the stickiness of the nickname. "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 Mormonchurch and so forth."
He added his hope that the actions of church members would lead others to think of the word Mormon meant "more good." "We may not be able to change the nickname," he said, "but we can make it shine with added luster."
In 2001, then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve told the New York Times that he didn't mind being called a Mormon, but didn't want to be said to belong to "the Mormon church." At that time, the First Presidency issued an official letter posted in church buildings that encouraged use of the full, official name or shortened versions that included the name of Jesus Christ.
"We discourage referring to the Church as 'The Mormon Church,' 'The Latter-day Saints Church or 'The LDS Church,'" the letter said. It added that the nickname Mormon was acceptable to describe church members.
In 2008, Elder Lance B. Wickman, the church's general counsel, asserted the church's intellectual property rights to the term Mormon with journalists, a clear effort to create distance between the church and polygamist groups.
In 2011, the late Elder Boyd K. Packer said, "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."
Six months later, then-Elder M. Russell Ballard, today the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, said the nickname Mormon was acceptable but encouraged use of the full, official name of the church and discouraged the term "Mormon church."
"(The full name of the church) is the name by which the Lord will call us at the last day," he said. "It is the name by which His Church will be distinguished from all others."
He returned to the subject in 2014, when he additionally discouraged the use of "LDS Church."
Now, with President Nelson and President Oaks in the First Presidency, and President Ballard at the head of the Twelve, the issue has returned, with President Nelson indicating that the full force and weight of church headquarters and departments will be behind the emphasis this time.
Sheri Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corporation, heard President Nelson refer briefly to the name of the church in his message at a sacrament meeting on Sunday.
"He said we need to restore and use the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we would be hearing more about it," she said in a KSL NewsRadio interview. "Here we are four days later, and we’re hearing more about it.
"This appears to be a more seismic shift than just a reinforcement of a former policy," she said. "I don't believe this is a name change. It is a correction. One major problem with every nickname we have used through the years is that they all cut out the name of Jesus Christ
She later added, "The other problem is that the Savior himself told us what he wanted the church to be called. We are followers of Jesus Christ, and we need to be willing to declare it."
She also noted President Nelson's language.
"This is pretty clear language from the president of the church," she said. "It seems that he is saying he feels compelled to address this. And that is a signal to all of us as members to listen up."
Updated style guide
The updated style guide states, in part:
· In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
· When a shortened reference is needed, the terms "the Church" or the "Church of Jesus Christ" are encouraged. The "restored Church of Jesus Christ" is also accurate and encouraged.
· While the term "Mormon Church" has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use. Thus, please avoid using the abbreviation "LDS" or the nickname "Mormon" as substitutes for the name of the Church, as in "Mormon Church," "LDS Church," or "Church of the Latter-day Saints."
· When referring to Church members, the terms "members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" or "Latter-day Saints" are preferred. We ask that the term "Mormons" not be used.
· "Mormon" is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon or when used as an adjective in such historical expressions as "Mormon Trail."
· The term "Mormonism" is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term "the restored gospel of Jesus Christ" is accurate and preferred.
· When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, it should be stated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not affiliated with polygamous groups.