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Mormon is a term used to describe the adherents, practitioners, followers or constituents of Mormonism. The term most often refers to a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which is commonly called the Mormon Church. The LDS Church believes that "Mormon" should properly be applied only to its members. However, the term is often used more broadly to describe any individual or group that believes in the Book of Mormon, including other Latter Day Saint groups. According to the Book of Mormon, Mormon is the name of the prophet who compiled the book of scripture known as the Book of Mormon.
Origin of the term
The term "Mormon" has its origins in the Book of Mormon, which is believed by Latter Day Saints to be a historical and religious record translated by Joseph Smith, Jr. into English by divine inspiration from golden plates that he received from the Angel Moroni. The book relates a history of three civilizations in the Americas from approximately 2700 B.C. until about 420 A.D., written by their prophets and followers of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is another scriptural witness of Jesus Christ that is comparable to the Bible, which they also believe to be the word of God. The book gets its name from Mormon, the prophet said to have abridged the record during the 4th century.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the earliest published usages of the term "Mormon" to describe believers in the Book of Mormon was in 1833 by the Louisville ( Kentucky) Daily Herald in an article, "The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons".
The term "Mormon" is most often used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The LDS Church holds that it is incorrect to apply "Mormon" to other groups or their members. The AP Stylebook agrees, specifying that the term "Mormon" is not properly applied to other Latter Day Saint groups founded after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr.
Nevertheless, the term is also often used to refer to fundamentalist groups who continue to practice plural marriage, a practice that the LDS Church officially abandoned in 1890. These groups, while numerically much smaller than the LDS Church, continue to use the term "Mormon" and claim to represent "true Mormonism" as taught and practiced by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
The term "Mormon" is generally disfavored by other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, which have distinct histories from that of the LDS Church since Smith's death in 1844.
The terms "Mormon" and "Mormonite" were first used in the 1830s as pejoratives to describe those who followed Joseph Smith and believed in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.
The official name of the Salt Lake City, Utah-based church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the term "Mormon Church" has long been attached to the church as a nickname, it is an unauthorized title, and its use is not encouraged by the church, although the use of "Mormon" in other contexts is not generally considered offensive and is commonly used by the church's members. LDS leaders have encouraged members to use the church's full name to emphasize the church's focus on Jesus Christ.
Some scholars, such as J. Gordon Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons. In this scheme, the Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest of these groups, and the only group to initially reside in Utah. The Missouri Mormons include those who chose not to travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and others.
The terms "Utah Mormon" and "Missouri Mormon" are problematic because the majority of each of these branches' members no longer live in either of these U.S. states. Although a majority of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church has a worldwide membership with the majority of its members outside the United States. Nor are most "Missouri Mormons" based in Missouri. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ, which considers Sidney Rigdon to be Joseph Smith's rightful successor, and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), which considers James J. Strang to be Smith's rightful successor.
Addressing some of the limitations of the Utah/Missouri designations, some historians have now coined the terms Rocky Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints to rename the "Utah" and "Missouri" branches of the movement. These new terms have begun to gain a following among historians today, but similar to the above mentioned titles, they are not of common usage among the majority of those who call themselves Mormons.
Meaning of the word
The May 15, 1843 issue of the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons contains an article purportedly written by Joseph Smith, Jr. where he extols the following meaning of the word "Mormon" (T&S 13:194):
It has been stated that this word [mormon] was derived from the Greek word "mormo." This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon.... [The] Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, "I am the good shepherd;" and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to "bad." We say from the Saxon, "good"; the Dane, "god"; the Goth, "goda"; the German, "gut"; the Dutch, "goed"; the Latin, "bonus"; the Greek, "kalos"; the Hebrew, "tob"; and the Egyptian, "mon." Hence, with the addition of "more," or the contraction, "mor," we have the word "mor-mon"; which means, literally, "more good."
B. H. Roberts removed the quote from the History of the Church, claiming to have found evidence that W. W. Phelps wrote that paragraph and that it was "based on inaccurate premises and was offensively pedantic." LDS Church Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley noted that the "more good" translation is incorrect but added that "Mormon means 'more good'" is a positive motto for members of the LDS Church.
Meaning in the Book of Mormon
According to the Book of Mormon, a man named Mormon compiled nearly 1000 years of writings as well as chronicled events during his lifetime. The text of the Book of Mormon consists of this compilation and his own writings with some additional writings. For his work, the book is named after him.
The first usage of the name 'Mormon' in the actual text of the Book of Mormon is as a place name in Mosiah 18:4.
And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.
Confusion with other religious groups
Despite some misconceptions over similar nicknames and stereotypes, Mormons are not in any way associated with the Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends), Mennonites, Amish, or Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormonism originated separately from these groups, and is distinct in culture, practice, theology, and worship.
In some countries, Mormon and some phrases including the term are registered trademarks owned by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. In the United States, the LDS Church has applied for a trademark on "Mormon" as applied to religious services; however, the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application, stating that the term "Mormon" was too generic, and is popularly understood as referring to a particular kind of church, similar to "Presbyterian" or "Methodist", rather than a service mark. The application is on appeal as of mid-2007.