What’s in a name?

At the risk of making a big deal out of a small deal, I have a few thoughts to add to Carolyn’s excellent post on yesterday’s updated usage guidelines from Pres. Nelson.

The good news is we have Jesus Christ in our name. The bad news is it’s the part of our name that doesn’t get acronymized. TCoJCoLDS doesn’t exactly role off the tongue. Nor does CoJC, and anyway that acronym is already claimed.

So what do you do when the whole world leaves Jesus Christ out of your name, gets your name wrong, or calls you a Mormon?

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 8.00.57 PMIt’s been an issue for as long as the church has been called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “LDS” and “Mormon” are the most “user-friendly” terms to refer to our religion, if we assume that the easiest, most convenient moniker is the one most likely to be used in conversation. Which is usually true.

But if we’re ever going to be able to accept those names, we’re going to need to first accept a few truths about our brand. 

Truth #1: The name isn’t the brand

The meaning of a brand supersedes its name after very few mentions. J. Crew means nothing, apparently. Steve Jobs thought the word “Apple” sounded fun. A soccer team in the Intermountain West is called Real Salt Lake because it sounds soccery. Domo means “Thanks for all the free money” in Japanese. (Or something like that.)

Brands are established by their relationship with customers, their reputation, and the values they espouse. A brand’s actual name only affects long-term brand equity if it’s a really bad one. Speaking of which…

Truth #2: There are only really two ironclad naming rules

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 8.05.20 PMPeople make a lot of money coming up with naming rules and conventions, but for just about every rule you can think of, there will be a very successful brand that breaks it. Hard to spell? Difficult to pronounce? Weird racist overtones? Strange punctuation or symbols or capitalization? No vowels? Clumsy acronym? There are iconic brands that have broken all of those rules.

The only real rules that matter: 1. Make it clear. 2. Make it memorable.

In other words: If people are misusing or getting your name wrong, it’s not their fault.

Truth #3: The key to a strong brand is love and trust

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 8.04.28 PMWhich isn’t easy to build. You can build awareness whenever you want—pay enough money or do something crazy and everyone will know your name. Convincing people that you’re worth trusting is hard, it generally takes time, and there’s often risk involved.

Whatever people call us or think of us, our goal is for them to associate us with Jesus Christ, the head of our church. But there are lots of ways to drive that association beyond expecting people to say our very long name.


  1. I see you have several posts. I am wondering why your name is not under “Authors”. I like reading bios. Who are you?

  2. Sadly the Jesus Christ part is one of our biggest failings, imo. The name wouldn’t matter if the actions were better focused.

  3. I dunno who told you about domo. Is there a kanji you are basing it on? Here’s all I could find: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/どうも

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I appreciate someone who actually knows a thing or two about branding weighing in on this; thanks.

  5. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

  6. Rusty Clifton says:

    Branding 101: your brand is the consumer’s perception of you (the sum total of the their experiences with your entity, whether actual or perceived), NOT what you dictate or insist that your brand is. Our perception of Comcast is that they’re lousy at customer service. That’s not what their messaging says, but that’s their brand.

    There’s nothing wrong with Church leadership wanting outsiders to more clearly perceive members as followers of Christ, but as Kyle points out, the name is almost superfluous in its impact on the brand. There are a hundred other things that will affect peoples’ perceptions of Mormons more profoundly than the name and that leadership is willing to abandon “Mormon” shows how truly stuck in a Mormon bubble they are. I mean, when was the last time President Nelson had regular genuine interactions with non-Mormons that didn’t recognize/care about his status, or about Mormonism in general? Decades?

  7. Thanks for that, Rusty, helpful insight!

    Hi Meredith, I was a perma here for a few years but now I mostly lurk. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  8. I was just commenting got my husband that I think it’s far better for people to know I love them and that I love Christ than it is for them to know the name of our church. Perhaps, if my life reflects Christ-like compassion, empathy, and kindness, what religion I follow will actually matter to those I interact with. Like so many others have mused, what does our name matter if our words and actions negate Christ?

  9. Rusty, you use the ‘M’ word in your comment (multiple times!), thus identifying yourself as someone who is not a TBMoTCoJCoLDS. Thus, you and your comment are suspect and in need of correction, which I am providing to dissuade you from your wicked ways.

    Also, clearly President Nelson associates with non-(that word you used). As to non-MoTCoJCoLDS, however, I don’t know.

  10. Kyle M., reading between the lines I get the sense that the Church is saying (at least in part) “we can’t control ‘Mormon’ so we’re going to revert to names we can control.” Does this become self-fulfilling? In the next Mormon Match-type litigation, does the Church lose out of the gate? After this announcement, is there still grounds to object to the next commercial use of “Mormon”?

  11. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I mean, when was the last time President Nelson had regular genuine interactions with non-Mormons that didn’t recognize/care about his status, or about Mormonism in general? Decades?

    That’s what I take away from this stuff. There’s a real gilded cage around the Q15, and because they all live in and around SLC* it’s pretty much impossible for them to have any sort of genuine interaction with people who don’t know exactly who they are. The only non-Mormons in the area who wouldn’t recognize a member of the First Presidency (and probably all of the Q15) are immigrants/refugees who live in a very different world from the incumbent white population, whether LDS or not.

    I do wonder if the Church has considered moving the Missionary Department outside the Wasatch Front. (The fact that the Utah missions have some of the highest convert baptism rates in the world is mostly a function of Ethnic Mormons™ coming back to the Church after their parents left it–as was the case for Pres. Nelson!) Imagine if they moved it to Chicago, or Houston, or Atlanta–i.e., a big, cosmopolitan city, but not crazy expensive like NYC/SF/LA/DC–and employees of the Missionary Department actually had to have meaningful interactions on a daily basis with people who know little or nothing about The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ™.

    (*I know that Elder Uchtdorf does, and presumably Elder Soares has moved to Utah by now. It would be very interesting if a member of the Twelve were to be based permanently outside of Utah; this would be the first time probably since the 19th Century that this is the case.)

  12. Excellent post, Kyle. Your expertise here is really valuable. But I also have to complain a little bit about the situation.

    Having lots of equity in intellectual property is one practical problem. A lack of professional expertise in the principles of branding is also a problem. Here’s another problem. The church is not an event, a product, a slogan, a trademark, or a brand. It is more than all of those things. It is a faith, a culture, and a way of life. It is certainly something that can be branded, but if we reduce it to that then it is no longer the church.

    Branding is essentially a commercial concept. Branding is about methods of persuasion in a marketplace. I have nothing against branding. Done well, it can be beautiful, sophisticated, enriching, and honorable. But the thing about branding is that it treats its subjects as things to be sold. There is a narrow limit to how far we can take branding when it comes to the church, because the church is not just a thing to be sold. Ultimately, the church is its people. I am one of those people. And I will not be treated as a thing to be branded or sold. It will not do to say that we should give up the words “Mormon” and “Mormonism” because these words, with all of their rich significance, do not suit the institution’s current branding goals.

    What’s in a name? I’m certain of this: “Mormon” means a lot more to me than it does to almost any outsider. Which means, I think, that announcing this change as essentially a branding initiative gets it entirely backwards. It’s true that the church ought to take to heart everything that Kyle writes here. But even more important is accounting for all the ways that it is more than just a branding initiative, because that’s where it will stick, if it sticks at all.

  13. Loursat, my most immediate reaction was to complain about the effect on me. But then I remember a conversation I overheard in which friends—a Mormon woman and her very alert and tuned-in non-Mormon husband talked about me, about whether I am “still” Mormon. He laughed at the question, saying there was no way I could ever not be Mormon. I find comfort in that recognition by a friend. One facet of my identity is “Mormon.” It has nothing to do with what the Church says or does, or which pew I find on Sunday. It’s not a choice or decision, but a recognition. And Mormon is the word.

  14. Ironically I am not even sure we got “How to Mormon” right. When Joseph Smith embraced and taught that Mormon meant More Good, I assume there was an expectation of being more than the other churches around them. Perhaps more inclusive – Elijah Able comes to mind. More harmonious. More genuine. Who knows? I don’t think we even achieved that. Now the assumption is we change program names (not just the churches name) but keep the same habits – we become a low end Nordstom’s store. I’ve been to those and it ain’t great. You just pay a lot of money and get less ambiance and service.

    My Mormon people gave their lives for this faith. I am with Christian – active or not – I am Mormon through and through. From this day forward I am going to do better at “more good”.

  15. Big daddy says:

    All the worries in the world and you and your senile leader are worried about what people are calling you, simple solution how about morons. See problem solved, SMDH, remember this is the same idiot that said “man has made laws that made the parkland shooting possible!” What you folks need is a leader that Isnt 200 years old and semi-literate or that at least researchs issues before putting his foot in his mouth and showing his ignorance. War, starvation, racial and sexual stupidity and y’all are worried about a name!

  16. One interesting thing of note here is the Melchizedek Priesthood was given it’s name because high priesthood of the holy order of God and Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God resulted in too frequent use of the word God, and it would seem not unreasonably, too many words in the middle of a sentence.

    So there is at least some interesting scriptural/prophetic rationale for specifically NOT using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently; if you want to apply the same principle, that is.

    But the same being who gave this earthly organization it’s name specifically asked us not to shorten it by use of the word Mormon. There’s really no better reason than that — branding rationale or otherwise.

  17. A man has been on a hunger strike outside the Salt Lake temple for the past three weeks trying to draw attention to the Protect LDS Children movement and sexually abusive worthiness interview practices in the church. Articles on BCC about this? Zero. The Lord’s prophet, even President Nelson, comes just about the closest I’ve ever seen any president of the church come to claiming bonafide revelation, at least in my lifetime, and within 24hrs there are two articles on BCC ridiculing him. Hmm. Navel gazing hypocrisy? Blah blah, something about Christ, blah blah. I kind of think this is all just a role playing game for you guys and gals. What’s this, you want to rename the House of Gryffindor? I protest!

  18. Molly Bennion says:

    When I asked a trusted friend if he had seen the announcement yesterday and after I had launched into a short position paper on the need to earn the name of Christ, to be the outlier among Christian churches too mired in scandal and petty politics rather than engaged in service to the needy, he responded “I saw it and ignored it. It didn’t seem important.” Much better said.

  19. > The Lord’s prophet, even President Nelson, comes just about the closest I’ve ever seen any president of the church come to claiming bonafide revelation, at least in my lifetime

    Scalding hot take. Saying “The Lord has impressed upon my mind” in a press release is as close as prophets get to claiming revelation? Yikes. My impression is that that’s not true at all, and this kind of phrasing is commonplace. A quick web search makes it seem like President Hinckley used “I feel impressed…” many, many times for the same rhetorical effect.

  20. Pro forma boundary maintenance, that’s all. Honestly…

  21. Big Daddy, Andrew:
    Time spent with cats is never wasted / Freud

  22. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Andrew – this is the closest a prophet has come to revelation in your lifetime? Isn’t that just horribly sad? Shouldn’t we expect more from a prophet, both in content, and frequency?

  23. Andrew, what’s your point, exactly?

    Loursat, thanks as always for the thoughtful response. I take a broader view of “brand” than just a commercial context (IMO Jesus was a great steward of his own brand). But it sounds like we have the same strong feelings about “Mormon” as an identifier, and the yearning to see our community and our evangelism transcend marketing..

  24. jaxjensen says:

    “… remember that time when Pres Nelson thought that IHOB was a great PR move and tried to emulate it?”

  25. I just can’t get worked up over this right now. In my life this ranks as really superficial. And as I read all the reactions on the interwebs, I’m kind of glad about that.

    The rest of you may carry on and sort this out to whatever end, and I won’t judge. (much) I still hope for better light and knowledge from present day revelation, but no expectations of that.

  26. Kyle, maybe you’ll have opportunities to share some more insights on this subject as events develop. I always welcome the chance to hear a thoughtful professional talk about the dignity of their profession.

  27. Jaxjensen, thanks for the belly laugh this morning!

  28. LoTab and GoTab are pretty good acronyms.

    Lord’s Tabernacle Choir or Gospel Tabernacle Choir. Much better than just Tab, but it will probably end up being called that.

    I look forward to handing out truthrestored.org pass along cards.

  29. The last two posts have been fun. Most of the discussion has been on opinion and sharing creative and funny thoughts. I would like to know how each of us are moving ahead with President Nelson’s statement and direction. It would be interesting to see the raise of hands from those who will ignore compared to the people who will support the prophet. In the end opinions do not matter, how we choose to act does.

  30. jaxjensen says:

    ” I would like to know how each of us are moving ahead with President Nelson’s statement and direction.” I’m still going to answer yes to anyone who asks me if I’m a Mormon. And if I want to know about somebody else, I’ll probably ask “Are you Mormon?” I’ve always told people the full name of the church though, rather than call it the “Mormon Church” … so really I’m not going to change anything really.

  31. I’m waiting to see what President Nelson’s direction actually is. So far we’ve seen a request to news media that they follow the revised guidelines in the church’s style guide, and we’ve seen a statement about unspecified future actions to be taken by organizations within the church. We have not been told why President Nelson thinks changes are necessary. We do not have any indication at all of the ways that he hopes we might change our personal behavior with respect to the name of the church. I’ve made some comments in jest and I’ve expressed some skepticism about what we’ve seen so far, but I think it’s best not to assume that we know what President Nelson has in mind.

  32. It seems like without “additional information about this important matter,” the average church member (“Joe Mormon”) doesn’t yet know how to move ahead with Pres Nelson’s statement and direction. It seems like the style guide was intended for the media.

  33. In any formal writing I will follow the style guide as it is revised from time to time. However, I have always done so at an 80% compliance level. There remains a question of whether anything could cause me to be punctilious about it.

    In casual conversation and writing I will use Mormon or LDS or Church or whatever I think communicates. To be fair, I don’t (yet) see any instruction to do otherwise. But I’ve always come down on communication rather than rules, and expect I will continue in that vein.

    About myself I will use “Mormon” or (for the adjectival form I sometimes need) “Christian Mormon,” as I have for decades through seasons of style changes. I am having a bemused experience thinking whether my “Mormon” is the same as the style guideline’s “member of . . .” or “Latter-day Saint.” My decidedly heterodox position, which is still well described by “Mormon” (in my opinion) may have been outed just by style change.

  34. jaxjensen says:

    Christian… do you think using “Christian Mormon” does the exact opposite of what the church wants done? They want Christ emphasized more so that people will just naturally equate Mormons as Christian. That phrase makes it sound like Mormons aren’t typically Christian, but you happen to be one, and thus identify yourself as a Christian Mormon. (I do note that I know plenty of Mormon who I would consider unchristian – and acknowledge that there are probably some who think that of me).

  35. jaxjensen: Probably. It’s hard to escape the implication that “Christian Mormon” is something different than “Mormon” and when you try to fill in meaning, your “not typically Christian” reading works.

    However, if intent matters, I come to “Christian Mormon” by a different way. I identify as Christian for religion, and Mormon as a sort of ethnicity. “Christian Mormon” then means that as a Christian I am choosing to practice in the Mormon tradition (where I know the hymnal). That route to the naming recognizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christian. On the other hand, it is probably contrary to Church position in a different way, by treating the Church as one of the traditions I can freely choose among, rather than the one I must choose, or the true or necessary or only path.

  36. That’s a very interesting perspective, Christian – thanks for sharing it.

  37. Geoff - Aus says:

    I live in Australia, where the church claims mormons are 0.57% of the population, but the census had 0.28% admitting to be members. Some people have heard of mormons. If I say I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, most people look confused, if I add mormon some are less confused, LDS usually is meaningless to.
    Not sure how this will work in reality?

  38. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’ve previously send an email to a news agency pointing them to the previous style guide after they used an explicitly mentioned “avoid using” term. If they didn’t know about, or weren’t following the previous style guide, I doubt they’ll follow the new one. Especially in places like Australia (as per Geoff’s comments) where to people still confuse us with other smaller religions like the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  39. Some random comments:
    “That’s what I take away from this stuff. There’s a real gilded cage around the Q15, and because they all live in and around SLC* it’s pretty much impossible for them to have any sort of genuine interaction with people who don’t know exactly who they are.”

    But aren’t the Q12/15 meant to be “travelling ministers”? Shouldn’t that mean that way more than just Mormons should know who they are?

    “Saying “The Lord has impressed upon my mind” in a press release is as close as prophets get to claiming revelation?”

    Kind of like the whole “ministering” thing rather than “home teaching”, it seems like we’re so starved for revelation that we take even the slightest possibility of some and wave it around like it’s the day of Pentecost. I suppose that we should be getting way more revelation in our personal lives, but maybe that in itself is a sad reflection of the church.

  40. Aussie Mormon says:

    I think it goes further, and that people think that revelation has to be some grand huge thing[1]. The entire church is meant to be run via revelation. Anything from the Doctrine & Covenants sections relating to setting up the church, to who is being called to positions in wards, to personal revelation. A Bishop prayerfully pondering and have a name come to his mind for Relief Society President is no less revelation than the Prophet/President praying and having an impression come to his mind about the direction the church needs to take. The only difference is the area of responsibility.

    [1] The Lord telling us anything is pretty huge, but the topic doesn’t need to affect a lot of people.

  41. While Sam Young has been fasting for something like 18 days now, and has invited each Apostle to visit with him, and has shared more than 3,000 stories from abuse victims, and has been doing his best to bring attention to the matter…. the church has ignored him. And then they announce that the Lord impressed upon the Prophet how important it is for people to refer to the church as “The Church Of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints”… because this is the most pressing matter??? This is the priority of the church? What people call the church and it’s members? Not the starving man across the street, standing up for thousands of abused children, some now adults. This man standing up for LDS youth who have committed suicide because of the end results of interviews? This is the priority? Really? He is across the street, pounding the pavement, much like Samuel on the Wall…. and the church ignores him and the victims, both on their web page, and in this hugely ARROGANT way, by posting how important it is to make sure you call the church by the right name. If anybody still believes they are prophets, seers, and revelators, they need to reexamine the evidence.

  42. Is the “Ancient of Days” (e.g., Daniel 7:9-14), meaning Almighty God and/or Adonai confused? Is it actually possible for Him to provide conflicting, or contradictory revelation?

    (Please see: Numbers 23:19; Luke 19:9-10; John 6:35-40; Galatians 3:5-9; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; 3:15-17; Titus 1:1-3; Titus 3:5-7; Hebrews 6:13-18; 13:8; Malachi 3:6) BTW: I’m referring to Yahweh and/or the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus,” Israel’s Messiah!

    You said: “Whatever people call us or think of us, our goal is for them to associate us with Jesus Christ, the head of our church.” (BTW: “OUR church”? Come again?? See Colossians 1:15-27; Ephesians 1:15-22; 2:11-22)

    Yet the eternal, unchanging Word of God states: “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15/NKJV)

    “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16/NKJV)

    So in closing, I must stress the following: If you folks comprising the 21st-century version of the “TCoJCoLDS” (recently formed during the mid-19th century) honestly believe what you say about the “Holy One of Israel” – and His clearly confusing actions with human beings throughout redemptive history, including Joseph Smith et al. – then rationally/logically He’s nothing more than some capricious cosmic charlatan, or liar, virtually NO different than Lucifer, or Allah; thus absolutely NO one can be certain of what He’s communicated to them, at ANY time! (i.e., please consider the unambiguous words of Yeshua-Jesus, in John 8:42-59)

    “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.”

    (Proverbs 30:5-6/NKJV; also Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Matthew 24:35; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Revelation 22:18-19 [read in the KJV], if you’d rather see the exact message in that version, since it’s NO different? However, your “Book of Mormon,” “Pearl of Great Price” & “Doctrine and Covenants,” obviously qualify for the above stern rebuke/warnings.)

    “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

  43. Mormon Christian sounds better to me than Christian Mormon.

  44. FWIW this is from a DesNews article today about Sam Young by Tad Walch: “…his actions endangered his standing in the church, also often called the Mormon church.”

    I guess the term ‘Mormon’ will die a slow death.

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