The word Mormon most colloquially denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism in restorationist Christianity. Mormon also commonly refers, specifically, to a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which is often colloquially, but imprecisely, referred to as the Mormon Church. In addition, the term Mormon may refer to any of the relatively small sects of Mormon fundamentalism, and any branch of the Latter Day Saint movement that recognizes Brigham Young as the successor to founder Joseph Smith. The term Mormon applies to the religion of Mormonism, as well as its culture, texts, and art.
The term derives from the Book of Mormon, a sacred text published in 1830 regarded by the faith as a supplemental Testament to the Bible. Adherents believe that the book was translated from an ancient record by Smith by the gift and power of God. The text is said to be an ancient chronicle of a fallen and lost indigenous American nation, compiled by the prophet–warrior, Mormon, and his son, Moroni, the last of the Nephite people. The term Mormon was initially a derogatory term applied to Latter Day Saints in the 1830s, but was soon embraced by the faith. Because the term became identified with polygamy in the mid-to-late-19th century, some Latter Day Saint denominations who never practiced polygamy have renounced the term.
Origin of the term
The term Mormon is taken from the title of the Book of Mormon, a sacred text adherents believe to have been translated from golden plates which had their location revealed by an angel to Joseph Smith and published in 1830. According to the text of the Book of Mormon, the word Mormon stems from the Land of Mormon, where the prophet Alma preached the gospel and baptized converts. Mormon—who was named after the land—was a 4th-century prophet–historian who compiled and abridged many records of his ancestors into the Book of Mormon. The book is believed by Mormons to be a literal record of God's dealings with pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas from approximately 2600 BC through AD 420, written by prophets and followers of Jesus Christ. The book records the teachings of Jesus Christ to the people in the Americas as well as Christ's personal ministry among the people of Nephi after his resurrection. Mormons believe the Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ, "holy scripture comparable to the Bible".
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the earliest published usages of the term Mormon to describe believers in the Book of Mormon was in 1833 by the Louisville (Kentucky) Daily Herald in an article, "The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons".
The terms Mormon and Mormonite were first used in the 1830s as pejoratives to describe those who followed Joseph Smith and believed in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. The term was soon adopted by Mormons themselves, however, and has lost its generally pejorative status.
The term Mormon is most often used to refer to members of the LDS Church. However, the term is also adopted by other adherents of Mormonism, including adherents of Mormon fundamentalism. The term Mormon is generally disfavored by other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, which have distinct histories from that of the LDS Church since Smith's death in 1844.
The term is particularly embraced by adherents of Mormon fundamentalism, who continue to believe in and practice plural marriage, a practice that the LDS Church officially abandoned in 1890. Seeking to distance itself from polygamy and Mormon fundamentalism, the LDS Church has taken the position that the term Mormon should only apply to the LDS Church and its members, and not other adherents who have adopted the term. The church cites the AP Stylebook, which states, "The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith’s death." Despite the LDS Church's position, the term Mormon is widely used by journalists and non-journalists to refer to adherents of Mormon fundamentalism.
The official name of the Salt Lake City, Utah–based church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the term Mormon Church has long been attached to the church as a nickname, it is not a preferred title, and the church's style guide says, "Please avoid the use of 'Mormon Church', 'LDS Church' or the 'Church of the Latter-day Saints.'" LDS Church leaders have encouraged members to use the church's full name to emphasize the church's focus on Jesus Christ.
J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religions, subdivides the Mormons into Utah Mormons, Missouri Mormons, Polygamy-Practicing Mormons, and Other Mormons. In this scheme, the "Utah Mormon" group includes the non-polygamous organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, with a membership count totaling over 15,000,000 worldwide and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The "Missouri Mormon" groups include those non-polygamous groups that chose not to travel to Utah and are currently headquartered in Missouri, which Joseph Smith designated as the future site of the New Jerusalem. These organizations include Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and others. "Polygamy-Practicing Mormon" groups are those that currently practice polygamy, regardless of location. Most notably, this category includes the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) and the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). "Other Mormon" groups include those that are not headquartered in Utah or Missouri and do not practice polygamy, such as The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).
The terms Utah Mormon and Missouri Mormon can be problematic if interpreted to mean more than the location of the various groups' headquarters. The majority of members of "Utah Mormon" groups and "Missouri Mormon" groups no longer live in either of these US states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of the LDS Church, it has a worldwide membership with the majority of its members outside the United States. Nor do most "Missouri Mormons" live in Missouri.
Meaning of the word
The May 15, 1843, issue of the official Mormon periodical Times and Seasons contains an article, purportedly written by Joseph Smith, deriving the etymology of the name Mormon from English "more" + Egyptian mon, "good", and extolling the meaning as follows:
It has been stated that this word [mormon] was derived from the Greek word mormo. This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon. Let the language of that book speak for itself. On the 523d page, of the fourth edition, it reads: And now behold we have written this record according to our knowledge in the characters which are called among us the Reformed Egyptian ... none other people knoweth our language; therefore [God] hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof." ... [The] Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, "I am the good shepherd;" and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to bad. We say from the Saxon, good; the Dane, god; the Goth, goda; the German, gut; the Dutch, goed; the Latin, bonus; the Greek, kalos; the Hebrew, tob; and the Egyptian, mon. Hence, with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word MOR-MON; which means, literally, more good.
Whether Smith was the actual author of this passage is uncertain. Official LDS Church historian B. H. Roberts removed the quote from his History of the Church compilation, saying he found evidence that W. W. Phelps wrote that paragraph and that it was "based on inaccurate premises and was offensively pedantic." LDS Church apostle Gordon B. Hinckley noted that the "more good" translation is incorrect but added that "Mormon means 'more good'" is a positive motto for members of the LDS Church.
Meaning in the Book of Mormon
According to the Book of Mormon, a man named Mormon compiled nearly 1000 years of writings as well as chronicled events during his lifetime. Most of the text of the Book of Mormon consists of this compilation and his own writings, which may account for its title. However, the name Mormon is also used in the Book of Mormon as a place name (e.g. Waters of Mormon), which "Ancient America Foundation" scholar David Lamb uses to offer an alternate explanation for the title:
[The prophet] Mormon was not named after his father; he was named after the land of Mormon. He had been taught about his heritage by his parents and understood the sacred significance associated with the name Mormon. No doubt his father also bore the name Mormon for the same reason. In 3 Nephi 5:12 he gives us a clear indication that the name Mormon is symbolically synonymous with the restoration of the covenant which took place in the land of Mormon by Alma and his people.
A study of the Introduction of the Book of Mormon tells us its main purpose is to restore a knowledge of the covenants to the house of Israel. This adds weight to the understanding that the name Mormon was always associated with the place of the restoration of the covenant to the Nephites. In fact, the name Mormon became synonymous with the concept of restoring the covenants.
In light of this understanding, the Book of Mormon is not named for a man. It is named for the place where the covenant was restored. Symbolically, the Book of Mormon bears the name "Book of the Restoration of the Covenant."
In some countries, Mormon and some phrases including the term are registered trademarks owned by Intellectual Reserve, a holding company for the LDS Church's intellectual property. In the United States, the LDS Church has applied for a trademark on Mormon as applied to religious services; however, the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application, stating that the term Mormon was too generic, and is popularly understood as referring to a particular kind of church, similar to Presbyterian or Methodist, rather than a service mark. The application was abandoned as of August 22, 2007. In all, Intellectual Reserve owns more than 60 trademarks related to the term Mormon.
- "Where Do Mormons Get Their Name From?". WebDevilAZ. March 25, 2009. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
- 3 Nephi 5:12
- Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon p. 117, quoted in Church Educational System (1996, rev. ed.). Book of Mormon Student Manual (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), ch. 6.
- 3 Nephi, chapters 11-26, from scriptures.lds.org, an official website of the LDS Church
- Introduction, Book of Mormon
- Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "Mormon".
- Jan, Shipps, (2001). "Signifying Sainthood, 1830-2001".
- The term Mormon fundamentalist appears to have been coined in the 1940s by LDS Church Apostle Mark E. Petersen: Ken Driggs, "'This Will Someday Be the Head and Not the Tail of the Church': A History of the Mormon Fundamentalists at Short Creek", Journal of Church and State 43:49 (2001) at p. 51.
- The LDS Church now strictly prohibits polygamy and any member practicing it is subject to excommunication. For description of the dispute over the term "Fundamentalist Mormon," see Carrie Moore and Elaine Jarvik (2006-09-09). "Plural lives: the diversity of fundamentalism". Deseret Morning News.
- Mormons and Polygamy, LDS News Room.
- "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The," Associated Press, The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, 2002, ISBN 0-7382-0740-3, p.48
- LDS Church Style Guide.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Mormon Should Mean 'More Good,'" Ensign, November 1990, p. 51.
- See "Style Guide - The Name of the Church". Retrieved 2006-12-04.
- Russell M. Nelson, "Thus Shall My Church Be Called", Ensign, May 1990, p. 16.
- Russell M. Nelson, "The Correct Name of the Church", Liahona, November 2018.
- J. Gordon Melton (1996, 5th ed.). Encyclopedia of American Religions. (Detroit: Gale, ISBN 0-8103-7714-4) pp. 561–585.
- "Correspondence", Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois), vol. 4, no. 13, p. 194] (May 15, 1843); quoted in Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith ed., 1938) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book) pp. 299–300.
- Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story, pp. 291–292
- Mormon.org: the Book of Mormon
- David Lamb, The Meaning of the Name of "Mormon" Archived February 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- For example, Mormon Tabernacle Choir is registered as United States Federal TM Reg. No. 2766231, and Mormon is registered in the European Community serial number EC004306701, registered July 6, 2006
- Office Action, November 1, 2005.[dead link]
- Federal TM Ser. No. 78161091: "Current Status: Abandoned after an ex parte appeal. Date of Status: 2007-08-22"