A note on terminology: Mormons and Latter-day Saints

Occasionally, I will take time to define some of the terms I use or explain my usage of certain vocabulary that may have a particular meaning in the LDS world or the counseling world. An important place to start is how I refer to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a therapist, I am conscious of the power issues involved in using labels, referring to collective identity (and the possibility of stereotyping), and using language to form and delineate in-groups and out-groups. For the purposes of this blog, I am assuming that the majority of my lay-readers will be members of the Church, and assuming most mental health professionals who read this blog will not be. Regardless of one’s background, however, I do strive to keep my posts informative, readable, and respectful.

In a recent interview Michael Otterson, director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussed the name of the Church and how it is referred to in the media and among the public. I was happy to see that the way I use these terms in my own writing is generally consistent with Brother Otterson’s description of how and when the terms Latter-day Saint, LDS, and Mormon are used.

I use the terms Latter-day Saint, LDS, and Mormon fairly interchangeably, depending on the circumstances, including who my audience is, the demands of writing space and grammar, and literary flow.

Latter-day Saint refers to a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while LDS is used as an adjective. At the same time, it is important to note that Latter-day Saints, Saints, and LDS are “in-group” terms. That is, while they are meaningful to members of the Church, they can be confusing to “outsiders” who may be unfamiliar with our usage for certain words (e.g., Latter-day Saints vs. canonized saints), acronyms, and jargon. Thus, they draw a line between the “in-group” and the “out-group.”

The term Mormon and can be similarly problematic. In addition to being both a prophet’s name, and part of the title of an essential book of scripture, Mormon is used as both an adjective (e.g., “Mormon church”) and a noun (referring to a member of the Church). While the usage and connotations of the word Mormon have changed over time (sometimes rejected, sometimes embraced by the Church), Mormon remains the most familiar term by which those outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to the Church and its members. While some Latter-day Saints may have ambivalent feelings about the term Mormon, I do not find it objectionable as long as it is used appropriately. And if using the term Mormon helps people connect with and understand the Church and its members better, I’m all for it.

For more information on usage of these terms, see the LDS Newsroom Style Guide.

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