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Mormon is a term used to describe the adherents, practitioners, followers or constituents of certain denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement. The term most often refers to a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which is commonly called the Mormon Church. The LDS Church claims that "Mormon" should properly be applied only to its members, to avoid possible confusion with Mormon fundamentalist groups which practice plural marriage. However, the term is nevertheless used to refer to many other sects that recognize Brigham Young as a prophet, including Mormon fundamentalists. The term is not usually applied to other sects within the Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, who did not associate with Brigham Young after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the movement.

The term originated from the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. According to the Book of Mormon, Mormon is the name of an indigenous American prophet–historian who compiled the majority of the book.

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 revealed by an angel to Joseph Smith, Jr. and published in 1830. According to the text of the Book of Mormon, Mormon was the name of a fourth 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 Louisvillemarker (Kentuckymarker) Daily Herald in an article, "The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons".

Popular usage

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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (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.

"Mormon Church"

The official name of the Salt Lake Citymarker, Utahmarker-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 an unauthorized title, and its use is not encouraged by the church, although the use of "Mormon" in other contexts is not generally considered offensive and is commonly used by the church's members. LDS Church leaders have encouraged members to use the church's full name to emphasize the church's focus on Jesus Christ.

Scholarly usage

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 Utahmarker. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, 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, Jr. designated as the future site of the New Jerusalem. These organizations include Community of Christ, Church of Christ , Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and others. Polygamy-Practicing Mormon groups are those that currently practice polygamy, regardless of location. 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 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints .

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 U.S. states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a worldwide membership with the majority of its members outside the United Statesmarker. 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, Jr., 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. The text of the Book of Mormon consists of this compilation and his own writings with some additional writings. For his work, the book is named after him. In addition to a given name, the name "Mormon" is used in the Book of Mormon as a place name, where a man named Alma baptized people:

And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.


In some countries, Mormon and some phrases including the term are registered trademarks owned by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (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 is on appeal as of mid-2007. In all, the Intellectual Reserve, Inc. owns more than 60 trademarks related to the Mormon Church.

See also


External links

  • LDS Newsroom LDS Church criticisms of the use of the word "Mormon" in news reports
  • - Official outreach web site for the LDS Church.
  • "The Mormons" - PBS Special can be watched online
  • Mormon Times - For and about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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