A few weeks ago when I was in Salt Lake City for General Conference, I overheard a conversation between a couple of journalists for the SLC media discussing an article from the Salt Lake Tribune about the proper use of the LDS Church’s name in media publications or transmissions. The title of the article, written by Peggy Fletcher Stack, is “The Name ‘Mormon’ Is Back, Thanks to Its Internet Popularity” and describes how, after about a decade of Church statements discouraging media representatives and Church members alike from using the term “Mormon” to describe themselves or the Church as an institution (while still desiring to steer the use of the term “Mormon” to itself and away from schismatic groups), the Church appears to have backed away from that stance and accepted its “Mormon” self. The article goes on to list several reasons for this change, including the Internet, but the upshot of it all was captured nicely by Church Spokesperson Michael Otterson:
“It’s simply a reality that people think of Mormons, they don’t think of Latter-day Saints…Mormon is here to stay.”
Based on the conversation between the two journalists I overheard, and then having read the Tribune article, it appeared that, as an institution, we were essentially adopting and encouraging people henceforth to call us “The Mormon Church.” Given our cultural hypersensitivity to brand-recognition and awareness, I was shocked by this change, and even more stunned that it didn’t seem to be getting much play in the media.
As it turns out, I was confused. Or the journalists were, anyway.
Yesterday, a post for the LDS Newsroom’s blog described the change, but included slightly more nuance. While acknowledging that the Internet age has effectively demanded continued use of the term “Mormon” in order to be picked up in search engines, social media applications, and other web applications, the statement in the Newsroom makes it clear that the Church still strongly prefers to be referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that the Church is encouraged to that more and more writers “are correctly using the word ‘Mormon.'”
As hinted at in the Tribune article, there is a strong connection between statements about Church branding and the increased media spotlight on the FLDS Church, but it has always seemed (not just seemed?) that the discouragement of the term “Mormon” was linked to a desire among LDS Church leadership to separate discussions of the LDS Church from discussions of “other” Mormons–not just of the FLDS variety.
UPDATE 1.: Kristine Haglund points in the comments to an article published in the Spring 2009 issue of Dialogue which further illustrates the potential and/or actual confusion which has come about over use of the term “Mormon” in media, as well as some of the actions the Church has taken (including looking into trademarking) to eliminate this confusion. The article is authored by Ryan Cragun and Michael Nielsen, and is available here.
So, a few questions:
1. Does any of this really matter, or are people–LDS Church members included–always going to call themselves Mormons (or something else) regardless of what the institution prefer?
2. In your experience, is there really a significant amount of confusion about who “the Mormons” are, as opposed to simply confusion about what we believe? Or are those the same question, really? Does the answer change if we exclude the FLDS from the equation?
(As an anecdote, a missionary from eastern Kansas was in my home the other night for dinner, and he mentioned that, growing up, there was constant confusion among people unaffiliated with any of the restoration churches because of the presence of multiple “Mormon” churches in the area. Although I believe that may be true in very specific geographic regions, I’ve never really had the sense that there is widespread public confusion or knowledge about the smaller schismatic groups of Mormons–Strangites, Cutlerites, etc…Certainly John Hamer can correct my ignorance if that is untrue, and I hope he will.)
UPDATE 2. Cynthia L. points out that the LDS Church is not alone in the world of Mormons when it comes to trademarks and name confusion…
3. Am I the only Mormon who is likely more confused over this than anyone in the public possibly could be?