What works besides ‘Mormon’? Ziontologist? Saint? Ex-Mo? It may be harder to find a new word than to stop using the old one

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune The Book of Mormon sits within reach of a Latter-day Saint missionary as she speaks to contacts. Thursday, March 8, 2018.

So if “Mormon,” “Mormonism” and “LDS” are out, what’s in?

Go ahead. You find an appropriate one-word stand-in for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its people and its principles.

It must be clear and universally acceptable. It must tie the Utah-based faith to Christianity and its own history without confusing it with other denominations.

Oh, and it must be short, recognizable and straightforward. You know, like “Mormon.”

Moments after church President Russell M. Nelson announced last week that God told him to reinforce the faith’s full name and eschew its long-standing nicknames, speculation sprang up about alternatives.

We posed the question on social media and got hundreds of responses — some creative, some snarky, some silly, but none satisfying.

The Church Formerly Known as Mormon? May have worked for rock artist Prince, who died in 2016, but it violates church leaders’ request by including the very word they are trying to downplay.

Because “Latter-day Saint” is approved, how about Latter-day Saintism? Nah, too easily confused with more devilish devotions.

Ex-Mo or anti-Mo? Don’t go there.

Latter-day Sainthood (Laddies or Latties, for short)? Too haughty and presumptuous, perhaps.

Ziontology? Clever, yes, but ask Scientologists how that would fly.

TCOJCOLDS (pronounced Taco J. Colds)? An anagram lover’s dream but a marketer’s nightmare.

You see, if there were an obvious solution, it probably would have been trotted out already — and caught on.

A name or emphasis change is hardly an unreasonable request, but it’s especially tough for institutions to implement (think the New Coke).

Back in the 1990s, some folks quietly questioned the decision by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to switch to the Community of Christ, a vague-sounding nomenclature that meant reporters routinely would add (formerly RLDS) to explain the religion’s roots.

The problem for the Salt Lake City-headquartered faith is that “Mormon” is the most commonly used one-word moniker both inside and out of the 16 million-member church. It is familiar, easy and distinctive — and has been part of the lexicon for nearly 200 years.

Latter-day Saint authorities propose using “the Church” or “the Church of Jesus Christ” for shortened references, but the latter has a long association with other Christian faiths and the former is vague and could mean any church anywhere.

Besides, “The Church” traditionally refers to the Roman Catholic Church, which, with its 1.2 billion members, is by far the world’s largest Christian faith.

Lots of groups would lay claim to the “Church of Jesus Christ,” including Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and the numerous Churches of God in Christ (which often take a parenthesis to know they are Pentecostals).

A Latter-day Saint offshoot even has the website address thechurchofjesuschrist.org.

All this breeds confusion, not the clarity Nelson craves.

Some wonder if reporters or academics could say, on second references, The Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon), tying the two together — as earlier Latter-day Saint media ads did.

Would it be OK to dub the group Jesus Mormons? Nope, there’s that pesky term again.

How about Latter-day Saint Christians? That’s feasible. After all, church officials said “Latter-day Saints” is an acceptable substitute for members.

In fact, before the church’s full, formal name was spelled out in 1838 by founder Joseph Smith, many members called it the “Church of the Latter-day Saints.” But church brass specifically rejected that name for the institution in the style guide that accompanied Nelson’s pronouncement.

Through the decades, the term “Mormon” — the name of an ancient prophet in the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon — became dominant and “Latter-day Saints” faded from public recognition.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the church pushed the public and members to drop “Mormon” in favor of “Latter-day Saints” or “LDS Church” as an attempt to counter the perception that members and their church were not part of the Christian family. It even adopted a new logo that emphasizes Jesus Christ by casting his name in larger letters.

The effort mostly failed. By 2010, the church reversed itself and wholeheartedly re-embraced “Mormon.” It spent millions promoting the “I’m a Mormon” ad blitz and two feature documentaries titled “Meet the Mormons.”

So is “Latter-day Saints” — or just “Saints” — a good replacement for all that? Meet the Saints. I’m a Saint.

Some members feel squeamish about calling themselves “Saints,” fearing that it sounds self-laudatory and self-serving.

Indeed, “Saint” generally is associated with an especially holy Catholic or Orthodox Christian — not to mention a prominent pro football team.

As to the word “Mormonism,” it covers many traditions and beliefs that track their origin to Joseph Smith, including the Community of Christ, ahem, RLDS.

Some have suggested members be called “Brighamites,” a throwback tag given to the main body of Latter-day Saints who followed Brigham Young along the Mormon Trail (the church gives a pass to the trail reference since it’s historic) to the Great Basin.

Clearly, coming up with a worthy replacement for “Mormon” is a tall order. Even the church-owned Deseret News needs time to devise one for its weekly Mormon Times content.

“We are currently evaluating potential names for this section,” Editor Doug Wilks writes, “and will make a change in coming weeks.” (The newspaper has dropped Mormon Times from its website.)

“Mormonism” has been a handy term, says Latter-day Saint scholar Richard Bushman, an emeritus history professor at Columbia University, to describe a bigger religious reality than a single faith group.

“We are a church. We are a gospel. We are a priesthood and an organization,” he says in the latest Salt Lake Tribune “Mormon Land” podcast. “But something larger has been created from that. ... We are a people, almost an ethnicity, and a culture that emanates from the people.”

Nelson’s injunction is no trivial exercise, Bushman says. It is forcing Latter-day Saints to “rethink who we are and what these words amount to.”

Stuart Reid, a former public affairs official who helped with the church’s earlier effort to drop “Mormon,” sees Nelson’s motivation as more expansive than a simple rebranding.

It is the result of “revelation,” Reid says in the same “Mormon Land” episode. The prophet is preparing the faithful “for the Second Coming of Christ.”

Language does evolve so there’s no telling how outsiders or insiders will describe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come 2050.

The word “Mormonism” could be little more than a vague echo of bygone days — or, if Reid is onto something, maybe the end of the world will already have happened.