Excerpts of The return of 'Mormon' by Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune
After a decadelong moratorium, Mormon is back. The name, that is.
Where LDS leaders once were pushing members to call themselves Latter-day Saints, rather than Mormons, now the church-owned Deseret News has created the Mormon Times. "Mormon Messages" is on YouTube. The "Mormon Channel" is on the radio. And the faith's missionary Web site is mormon.org.
Last year, some 26.8. million people searched for the word "Mormon," 5.3 million hunted for "Mormons," and 1.3 million scouted for "Mormonism," noted Michael Otterson, managing director of LDS Public Affairs.
Although about 32 million searched for "LDS," church officials believe most of those were members. Few search for the official name.
"It's simply a reality that people think of Mormons, they don't think of Latter-day Saints," Otterson said Thursday. "Mormon is here to stay."
Some wonder why the Utah-based church tried to jettison the nickname in the first place, especially after spending years and untold millions creating a "Mormon" brand. The tag line for its award-winning "Homefront" TV spots, for example, was, "Brought to you by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons."
"Branding is a very difficult, lengthy and taxing process of attempting to influence the consumer mind at a basic level," said Kenneth Foster, a marketing research expert in Salt Lake City and a Mormon. "The church can't really back away from the use of the term Mormon, given the ingrained history of the term and resources the church used to establish it. A better strategy may be to embrace and revitalize it."
Mormon seemed a benign enough nickname until the 1990s, when critics increasingly charged that the church was not Christian.
To help counter that claim, LDS officials unveiled a new church logo in December 1995 with the words "Jesus Christ" enlarged.
As Salt Lake City was gearing up for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the LDS First Presidency asked members to call themselves Latter-day Saints and to stop using "the Mormon Church," giving preference either to the church's lengthy full name or LDS Church in its place, Brigham Young University journalism professor Joel Campbell said in a speech last year at Utah Valley University. The church asked journalists to use "The Church of Jesus Christ" as the preferred shorthand.
That never took hold.
LDS officials still urge journalists to use the church's full name on first reference.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gone to significant lengths to protect its rights in the name of the church and related matters," Elder Lance Wickman, a church attorney and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, wrote in an appeal to the news media. "Specifically, we have obtained registrations for the name 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,' 'Mormon,' 'Book of Mormon' and related trade and service marks from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and corresponding agencies in a significant number of foreign countries."
Wickman's letter further requested that journalists "refrain from referring to members of that polygamous sect as 'fundamentalist Mormons' or 'fundamentalist' members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
That angered many FLDS members, who consider themselves to be living "pure Mormonism."
"Despite a hundred years of trying to live down polygamy, the LDS Church has had very little success in breaking down the popular stereotype that Mormon equals polygamy," said LDS sociologist Armand Mauss, of Irvine, Calif.
Then the FLDS "scandal increasingly contaminated even the term LDS," Mauss wrote in an e-mail. "As that occurred, the insistence on avoiding 'Mormon' in order to avoid 'polygamy' ... became futile."
"Our avoidance of the M-words leads to the loss of major opportunities to counter those negative images," Decoo wrote in a 2004 essay posted on the Mormon blog, timesandseasons.org. "We give the field away to our enemies and detractors, for they are free to tie only scurrilous stories to these words."
Decoo agreed with a statement made in 1990 by late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, "Regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the church. ... We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster."
Apparently, that's exactly what today's Mormon leaders are again trying to do - especially online.