LDS v. Mormon: a quick note

Lately, I have heard people stress the importance of calling the church by its full name – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Obviously, having the word Christ in our name is important.  But what puzzles me about this focus is that we are also supposed to say “LDS” as opposed to “Mormon” when we do abbreviate the full name.  Since neither of these abbreviations contain a reference to Christ, it is unclear to me why we should prefer LDS, especially when there are decided advantages to using the term Mormon.

One argument for using the term LDS is that it contains more of our full name and therefore might trigger associative links for those already familiar with it.  However, it seems that a better strategy for speaking with non-members might be to both say our full name and to then refer to the church as “Mormon.”  Here is my thinking:

To someone unfamiliar with the church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” will sound like any generic Christian church.  LDS will probably be meaningless.  On the other hand, the term “Mormon” carries a distinctive set of connotations, and we should capitalize on this fact.  If we introduce ourselves as Mormons and then share the Church’s full name, we can show people that Mormons are Christ-centered, which we cannot do if they don’t make the connection between LDS and Mormon.   Until The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has meaning for the larger public, tethering Mormons to Christianity might be a better means of showing the world our beliefs. 


  1. janeannechovy says:

    I’m with you–I’m all about using whatever term is going to be most easily understood by the listener. To me, “LDS” smacks of insider jargon and is necessarily (and unnecessarily) distancing.

    Did you know that the usage of “LDS” v. “Mormon” is one of those orthodoxy markers? Some GA some time said that it is more “correct” to use “LDS,” so those who strive to fulfill every jot and tittle and love to be commanded in more things will only ever say “LDS.”

  2. Elder Nelson’s talk on the subject is at Russell M. Nelson, “Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” Ensign, May 1990, 16.

    Here is what the official Church style guide says:

    Style Guide – The Name of the Church

    The official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838.—
    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.

    When writing about the Church, please follow these guidelines:

    In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Please avoid the use of “Mormon Church,” “LDS Church” or “the Church of the Latter-day Saints.”

    When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or “the Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged.

    When referring to Church members, the term “Latter-day Saints” is preferred, though “Mormons” is acceptable.

    “Mormon” is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon, Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Mormon Trail, or when used as an adjective in such expressions as “Mormon pioneers.”

    The term “Mormonism” is acceptable in describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, the terms “Mormons,” “Mormon fundamentalist,” “Mormon dissidents,” etc. are incorrect. The Associated Press Stylebook notes: “The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other … churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith’s death.”

  3. I though that “LDS” was encouraged because it is distinctive to the Salt Lake-based church, whereas the term “Mormon” can be legitimately claimed by other groups claiming Joseph Smith as a founder.

  4. Actually, the guidance we have received is to avoid both LDS and Mormon when referring to the church.

  5. LDS is as incomprehensible to outsiders as SDA is to us — yet the Seventh Day Adventists use SDA quite a bit. I am proud to be “a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” but I’m just as happy to be “a Mormon.” I do tend to avoid the phrase “Mormon Church,” though, no matter how often I say “the Mormons” or “Mormon hymns” or “Mormon history.”

    I use whatever communicates best and has the right rhythm. I’ll be danged if I’m going to title my blog “Keepapitchinin: A The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints History Blog”

  6. Mark Brown says:

    On the other hand, the term “Mormon” carries a distinctive set of connotations, and we should capitalize on this fact.

    I think you are correct, Natalie.

    More importantly, somebody in the missionary department also thinks you are correct. The church’s official online outreach effort to potential investigators is called

  7. My main difficulty with the full name is that it doesn’t work as an adjective.

  8. The (SLC) Church has been very actively trying to keep other Restoration churches from using the term, especially polygamous groups.


    There’s a really interesting article forthcoming in the Spring issue of Dialogue on the tug-of-war over the term “Mormon” in the press, including the church’s attempt to legally trademark (!) the term.

    The article will be posted on Dialogue’s website as soon as it is copyedited. (But you should subscribe anyway :))

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was younger I felt a preference for LDS, I think perhaps because it wasn’t as well known as the word Mormon and I wasn’t always in the mood to put myself out there as one of those weird Mormonites. But over time I got to the point that I’m pretty much indifferent.

    Over at FAIR we prefer the term Mormon to LDS, because it has (much) more meaning internationally and in internet searches.

  10. I’m with Ardis. Kristine, that us intriguing!

  11. LDS was a failed branding attempt. I may be wrong but my impression is that this trademark was pretty much abandoned by the official church when the Jesus Christ was emphasized with a larger font.

  12. I guess I didn’t realize how sensitive so many members of the church are concerning the church’s name and what its members are called. I was the only member of my Gospel Doctrine class yesterday who felt that it was appropriate to refer to church members as “Mormons” and the only class member who had no serious problem with the media referring to us as “the Mormon Church.” And then today I had a student come in during my office hours to have me read over her paper. She used “Latter-day Saint” throughout in referring the church members, and I suggested she change it up and use “Mormon” occasionally. Based on her reaction to my suggestion, you would have guessed that I’d committed the unpardonable sin.

    I think Ardis has the right attitude, and that as a community, we would do well to quit quibbling over names. I find it ironic that the church has tried to trademark the term “Mormon” but shun the term when others use it in reference to us.

    DCL (#3)

    I though that “LDS” was encouraged because it is distinctive to the Salt Lake-based church, whereas the term “Mormon” can be legitimately claimed by other groups claiming Joseph Smith as a founder.

    Actually its the opposite. The larger group of churches that trace their beginning to Joseph Smith is collectively called the “Latter Day Saint movement” whereas “Mormon” generally refers to the Utah church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The exception, of course, is Fundemantalist Mormons, though they are also part of the Utah Branch of the Latter Day Saint movement.

  13. I’m pretty much whatever people associate me as being. In Alabama, that most often was “damned cultist” or “serpent”.

  14. Ray, but that had more to do with your Saturday activities than you Sunday activities.

    When I was a brand new convert I told my mom that calling me a mormon was like calling a black person the “N” word. I wish I hadn’t said that.

  15. I’m one of the rebels who doesn’t consider Mormon (when applied to a person) to be interchangeable with “member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” nor is either interchangeable with “Latter-day Saint.”

    The first has to do with being part of the Mormon world, which has a heavy overlap with the Church, but isn’t the same thing, and appropriately includes anybody who shows reverence for the Book of Mormon and its teachings. The second has to do with having been baptized and not been excommunicated, and includes many people who have almost nothing to do with the Mormon world. The third applies to someone worthy of being considered a saint, which is a subset of either of the previous groups.

    I don’t think the Church PR department likes my approach. I’m pretty sure I don’t care about that.

  16. To someone unfamiliar with the church, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” will sound like any generic Christian church. LDS will probably be meaningless. On the other hand, the term “Mormon” carries a distinctive set of connotations, and we should capitalize on this fact.

    It seemed to me that sounding like “any generic Christian church” (as opposed to sounding like a distinctive set of connotations — probably bad ones) was the entire point. So that’s why the church wants members to *not* capitalize on Mormon and use the much more sterile LDS instead.

    But I agree with many of the other commenters…11 and 15, for example.

  17. We had this discussion in Sunday School just last Sunday. I spoke out for the use of Mormon. I dislike LDS. It’s something only members know, so seems like a private code. Mormon, at least is something more people have heard of. We shouldn’t shy away from using Mormon. We should of course distinguish ourselves from offshoots of the church, and I understand the desire to emphasise Jesus Christ, but Mormon is going to come up at some point, so why not just get it out there from the start.

  18. It seems somewhat uncommon to need to use the full name of the Church with our “neighbors” particularly because it seems to come up most when people ask if we are Mormon. Isn’t that just a yes or no? Or do we then say “well actually I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”and see if they can put it together?

    For me it is rare if someone just flat out asks where I go to church in which case I say “its on Cambridge road” since that is the technical answer to the question.

    So that leads me to believe that most of the abbreviations we use are either in academic circles, which seem to overwhelmingly use Mormon or with other members of our faith in which we usually use the Church. As such, I do not lose sleep over the colloquial use of these terms if I find myself too lazy to use the full name. LDS just seems like another in-house term that someone might slap on some twee little license plate. No offense to those who have an RU LDS 2 plate.

  19. Wilfried had a post about this a few years ago, about how all the good Mormon stuff that people know is called Mormon, and so calling the church something else fails to connect to that positive experience. I’d link to it, but I can’t get to T&S today.

    LDS translates badly (in Finnish, it’s MAP), but Mormons are Mormons in any language. Aren’t they?

  20. There are just times when Mormon works better than LDS. Our theology is referred to as Mormonism. Could you imagine LDSism? What about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Would we call it the LDS Tabernacle Choir? Or LDS Conference Center Musical Group? Just wouldn’t work.

  21. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    LDSism – sounds like something Joseph Smith would have said. :-) “It looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter Day Saintism!”

  22. I am one of those who calls myself a Latter-day Saint and the church LDS Church, because that is what we are historically and theologically. “Mormon” started out as a nickname and a slure and it remains a nickname and occasionally a slure. Depending how or by who uses that nickame I can be nuetral or uncomfortable. For me, it isn’t so much about the brand name as it is what the Lord wants. Frankly, I don’t think the Lord wants his people and his church to be called “Mormon” in any official way. At the least it is NOT the “Mormon Church” because it isn’t Mormon’s, it is Jesus Christ’s and we are Latter-day Saints as proclaimed in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    As for someone calling me “Mormon” and not recognizing what LDS Church or Latter-day Saint is, what a great educational tool. On the other hand, if you are bringing up the talk about how we should avoid the use of “Mormon,” the least you could do is follow it up with the talk by Pres. Hinkley that seems to refute some of the avoidance issues.

  23. Jettboy,
    I don’t think the church got your memo when they used

  24. Or when they labeled the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

  25. Also, regarding the “slur.” That may be the case, but it was one that we soon adopted. Contemporary meaning is more important than etymology (cf. a recent discussion at NCT). “Quaker” also has its origins in a derogatory comment, but Quakers — sensible people that they are — don’t go around calling themselves RSF.

    Embrace the brand. Coke may also mean “cocaine,” but Coca-Cola rightly adopt popular usage. Mormons would be wise to not leave “Mormon” only for Fundamentalists. “Mormon” is the only public term for the church that matters. We would be foolish to eschew it.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Enough of your slures Ronan!

  27. I vote to call ourselves “Marmons” like Elder Perry, Rex Pinegar, Pres. Benson, and others say it. Then we will truly be a “tray-sure bee-yond may-sure” in the eyes of the Lord.

  28. But what if you lack a rural idaho/utah accent? How does a midwesterner say marmons?

    I actually care not but I lean towards Mormon. I always told people on my mission I was a “Mormon Missionary”

  29. I actually like “Mormon”, too, but I don’t like our church being referred to as “the Mormon church”. I prefer “Mormon” to “LDS”, too, but it seems we use “LDS” more often in one particular context: as a convenient way of self-reference among other members of the church familiar with the acronym.

    “Mormon” is more than religion: it is culture and worldview. The church is but one aspect of Mormonism. When a missionary, we always introduced ourselves as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; then, to clarify, we would sometimes say something like “you know, the Mormons”. That way we would use the Church’s official name while acting in official capacity, but align ourselves culturally to Mormonism using a word people were familiar with (albeit often with negative or erroneous opinions).

  30. I am a Mormon.

    I belong to the church formerly known as the Mormon Church.

    Re copyrights: The church formerly known as the Mormon Church doesn’t want to be known as it was formerly, but doesn’t want any other organization known by that name, either.

    I don’t think that the missionary department and the PR department have yet coordinated/correlated their thinkings on this issue.

  31. There’s a growing movement out there among some people and churches to call us “The Church of the Latter-day Saints”. They seem to believe that using the name “Jesus Christ” in relation to us is taking the Lord’s name in vain, since we really don’t believe in Jesus Christ at all. This has even gone as far as a PBS series on African-American genealogy where we were consistently and only referred to as “The Church of the Latter-day Saints”.

    If someone is using that term, chances are they are using it specifically in an attempt to marginalize and dismiss us as non-Christian.

  32. Jim Donaldson says:

    I actually like “Mormon”, too, but I don’t like our church being referred to as “the Mormon church”.

    I agree and I think we have Dallin Oaks’ blessing on this distinction. I’m sure I saw him make that point somewhere. Really.

    “LDS” seems too Utah-y for me and, for those of us outlanders, “Mormon” is just fine.

    Weird as it is. “Mormon” puts me shoulder to shoulder with my heroes Brigham Young and B.H. Roberts, whereas “LDS” seems to put me in with those goofy people a few wards farther out in the suburbs who make the girls wear capris to play basketball, and think flip-flops are the work of the devil.

    There was a movement a while back to try to eliminate the word Mormon in reference to us all, but, I think, realizing the futility of such a thing (in a world with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), those who make such decisions threw in the towel and named a church sponsored website ‘’ Kinda like encouraging speakers to urge the congregation to look up quotations in their scriptures during sacrament meeting and then the opposite 15 or 20 years later. That was then, this is now. What’s the point of having a living prophet if you don’t get to change your mind?

  33. I like LDS, because it’s what Spock did too much of in the 60s.

    (Star Trek IV, people).

  34. 31

    Well, Michael, if that’s the case, then we should drop both Mormon and LDS and make our shortened name be “Christian.” To spite those who believe Mormons aren’t Christians…

    I guess that’s just not playing nicely though.

    I have a story. I don’t know if it’s a true one, just based off a true story, or just a faith promoting chain email, but my old Bishop and a bunch of other people used to always relate this story of some natural disaster…and of course, the church went to offer aid and it was really great. When the news got the story and was reporting about it, they reported that there were two groups that really saved the day: The LDS Church and the Mormons.

    So, regardless of whether that story happened or is just fictional, it reinforces this idea that people don’t seem to attach the two terms together. I can say, “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” But I’ll keep getting blank stares until I say, “You know…the Mormons”

  35. I will add my name to the list of those who like being called a “Mormon”. I always let people know that the Church’s name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but most people call us Mormons. LDS is absolutely a little known nick name and is often jokingly confused with LSD.

    I have no problem with the “Mormon” term as my Identity. If I am living a Christ like life, that shines through.

  36. Nick Literski says:

    I am as much a “Mormon” as any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The latter organization has abandoned (of officially “forgotten”) so many teachings of Joseph Smith, that he would hardly recognize it as the faith he helped to establish. This is why I am rather careful to distinguish between “Mormonism” and “LDS-ism.”

  37. Nick, if you want to say that you think the term “Mormon” means absolutely nothing at all, then go ahead and say so.

  38. “The latter organization [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] has abandoned (or officially “forgotten”) so many teachings of Joseph Smith, that he would hardly recognize it as the faith he helped to establish.”

    Thankfully, one of the few teachings it hasn’t abandoned is that the Church is led by living oracles.

  39. I have found that people of other faiths in Utah sometimes walk on eggshells, having been lectured so often about needing to avoid the use of Mormon*. I encourage them to use whatever term makes them feel comfortable in addressing one.

  40. I seem to recall a talk by ETB where he said repeatedly “I am a Mormon Boy” and referred to the old song by that title. I don’t think there is any chance we are leaving that moniker behind, except perhaps as an “official” title of the Church in publications. Nick’s odd little comment notwithstanding, we are Mormons and we always will be.

  41. Nick Literski says:

    Steve, I didn’t say that “Mormon” means “absolutely nothing at all.” Rather, I suggested that “Mormon” and “Mormonism” refer to the religion of Joseph Smith, and not so much the religion of Mr. Monson.

  42. Nick Literski says:

    To clarify my #41, I don’t personally see the religion of Mr. Monson as the same faith taught by Joseph Smith. Since I consider “Mormonism” to be the religion of Joseph Smith, I can’t personally assign that title to the religion taught by Mr. Monson’s.

    Your mileage may vary, of course, and you may feel that the two stand shoulder-to-shoulder, teaching the same doctrines and principles.

  43. The reason people don’t like to refer to us as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it is cumbersome and time-consuming. I’m 99.9% confident that’s the only reason.

    And “Mormon” sounds cooler than LDS. I embrace the former and eschew the latter.

  44. I’m pretty much whatever people associate me as being. In Alabama, that most often was “damned cultist” or “serpent”.

    Auburn fan, were you now?

  45. Nick, does that make you a “fundamentalist” Mormon?

    (Just a hopefully humorous attempt to point out the difficulty of trying to define ourselves using words that have different meanings to different people at different points in time).

  46. Nick, it seems to me that it doesn’t matter if the church is the same as that taught by Joseph Smith…because as 38 notes, it is a church based on prophecy and revelation.

    so no one is saying that the two stand side-to-side. But, unless we want to be fundamentalists as 45 notes, it’s good that the two don’t stand side to side.

    I, for one, think that a ~180 of revelation and in some ways, moderation and normalization has done the church good. Notwithstanding recent forays into public politics, many people will note that the mormons they know personally are on an individual level friendly, have good, normal families, etc., Could they say that if their mormon neighbors were as “different” as the church was in Joseph’s or Brigham’s day?

  47. Thanks, Norbert, for referring to my post on the names. It’s here if it works.

    One of my main arguments is the international perspective. By using LDS (and its dozens of weird translations in other languages) we fraction the perception of what the church is into a myriad of little sects – JUNS, OSZA, HLD, SPD, HLT, SDJ, KMNAKN, FMMMHN… Good PR requires a strong, well-known brand name, to which good things are attached. Mormons and Mormonism are known all over the world, but as detractors revile those names, we need to provide counterweight.

    My proposal: when in need of an adjective, use “Mormon” as much as possible, and avoid LDS. Language is dictated by use, not by norms. At the same time, of course, squeeze in the full official name of the Church.

  48. A friend of mine went on a mission to South Africa, where some of the locals referred to them as “Normans.” I thought that was funny.

  49. Sorry, but what bothers people about the term “Mormon church”?

  50. Kinda O:
    “Mormon church” is just a nickname. It is misleading in that it doesn’t convey the true character of the church.