Wednesday, March 13, 2019

LDS hyphen history and the name of the Church

Unless you live off the grid you are probably familiar with the LDS Church's recent announcement about re-emphasizing the official name of the Church as found in scripture. Removing and stopping the use of the terms like Mormon or LDS was to put greater emphasis on the name of Christ in the Churches official name.

The amount of news articles on this, the media posts, the number of buildings, programs, manuals, e-mails addresses, and web addresses needing to be changed makes this no small feat.  As I read about all of this it led to a research project.  Some of my findings about the history of the Church's various names over the years are below.  Along with some hopefully useful info about some of the events that happened in between the name changes.  I used large images so the text and dates would be easily readable.

Before I go on, someone asked my why I would write some of the things I write.  Sometimes what I write may causes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to loose some of it's shine.  I admit that.  I promote faith in Christ.  There is a difference between faith in Christ and faith in the Church.  To me they are totally separate.  If your faith centers in Christ than the Church loosing its veneer doesn't sink your boat.  If your faith is in the Church then your faith might be affected by the truth.  So with that in mind, this research project is intended to find the truth, and show that faith in Christ is the only sure foundation.  With that as the foundation we're free to just look at history and see what we find.  

First name:
"The Church of Christ” (Book of Commandments, 1833). Also D&C 20:1 refers to "The Church of Christ".  (The Lectures on faith not included in the 1833 Book of Commandments.  The lectures would later however be sustained and added to the cannon and be the "Doctrine" portion of the "Doctrine and Covenants)

Second name:
On May 3rd 1834, official action modified the name of the Church. In a priesthood conference, a motion passed “by unanimous voice” that the Church be known as “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” (The Evening and the Morning Star, May 1834, 2:160.)

(Side note) A Kirtland editorial which contained the announcement about the name change explained that the change stemmed from a misleading nickname: the “Mormonite” church. This change would also help distinguish the Church from all other American Christians, including Congregationalists and reformers or protestants who also designated themselves as “The Church of Christ". Also since Paul and Peter used the Greek word saint (“a holy person”) to refer to believers in Christ, the term Latter-day Saints implied that Church members were modern followers of Christ. This change was by vote, not by revelation.

Also seen here, in Brigham Young's membership certificate:

Another related point here is on March of 1836 (D&C 109:79) during the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer Joseph prayed for the Lord to put His name upon the Church. The request makes sense in light of what you can see and read above as the Church didn't carry Christ's name at that point.  The dedicatory prayer was itself revelation (see section 109 heading).  So this gives interesting insight into how the Lord viewed things.   

79 And also this church, to put upon it thy name. And help us by the power of thy Spirit, that we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne, with acclamations of praise, singing Hosanna to God and the Lamb!

Third name:
Revelation April 26th 1838 D&C 115:4.  “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.  No hyphen, lower case “t” on “the” and capitol D.  See screen shot below of the original revelation.


In January 1841, 3 years after section 115 revelation about the name of the Church, section 124 had this warning about possible rejection as a Church if there was a failure to build the Nauvoo Temple.  It seems that something said at one point in time doesn't necessary equate to an eternal endorsement.  People's choices matter.

31-32 But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.

Joseph Smith and Hyrum were killed in 1844, 3 years after that warning. The 1844 edition of the D&C was near publication but had not been published at the time of Joseph and Hyrum's death.  Neither had the Nauvoo temple been completed but that's a whole separate topic.  The name of the Church as it appears on the 1844 edition of the D&C matches the revelation from 1838 (section 115)

Fourth name:
1852-1876 "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"  (with hyphen and eventually standardized lower case "d" and upper case "T" on The)

It wasn't until incorporation in 1851 by the legislature of the State of Deseret that the church standardized the spelling of its name to include the hyphen and British-style lower-case "d". In January 1855, the legislature of Utah Territory re-enacted the charter which incorporated the church under this name and spelling. (J. Reuben Clark Law Society, "Law and the Church as an Institution",

In 1876, the LDS Church issued a new edition of the D&C which contained the current capitalization and hyphenation of the church's name.  This was a change from the 1838 revelation and the 1844 edition of D&C seen above.

Hyphen or no Hyphen? 

This raises the question of why a hyphen needed to be added, and why the D&C revelation in section 115 got changed.  As well as the capitalizing of THE church. Or is all this punctuation just a silly detail that carries zero importance?  I'll share some information and you can decide.

After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, various Mormon offshoot groups claimed the term “Latter Day Saints.” By 1849, after the exodus to Utah, Church leaders had begun using the name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” with a small d and a hyphen, to distinguish the Utah-based church from other groups.[linkSince different branches had very different views it's no doubt they would want to distinguish themselves.

Divisions, especially religious ones create messes.  No one wants to be wrong especially when the stakes are as high as in matters of salvation and religion.  It brings up a statement from the Lord in 1831 "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine." Divisions seem to be the opposite of being one.  But even if/when a people are not one and thus are "not the Lord's" I don't think that means he abandons them. Seems they more just didn't become all that he desired. So when each group after Joseph's death claimed to be correct in their own views and positions it goes right back to the dilemma Joseph Smith encountered when the restoration began of which of all the Churches was right, for they can't all be. To Joseph's surprise he learned none of them were. But that's a separate tangent.

Back to the name of the Church.  The question then becomes this: Who's to say for sure which (future) Church splinter group the Lord was referring to back in the April 1838 revelation when the Church name was given?  There were power struggles even before Joseph's death and worse after.  After 20-30 years multiple sects had arisen, some big and some small, some strong some weak, some wealth and some not.  Some claim transfiguration moments to prove authenticity, while others claim other rights or bloodlines to be Josephs' successor.  It's not as neat and tidy as how it's often presented.

As covered above, in 1876 the Brigham Young led group published a new edition of the D&C that showed an alteration of the punctuation in the revelation (given 38 years prior) about the Church's name.  That change inside the already canonized text was to match up with the unique Church designation the Utah-based group had formally adopted by that point.  Now incorporated with spelling including the hyphen, the name did not and could not refer to any other branch. So the back-changing of punctuation in the original revelation would have the effect of causing it to appear to have always been referring exclusively and only to those under Brigham Young's leadership.  I'm not passing an assessment of this, just pointing out the effect it has when you change revelation years after the fact.

The Joseph Smith papers shows examples of revelations being altered by someone else, long after they were given.  Altered in such a way as to support a narrative and events that came later.  That is beyond scope here but worth noting.  This type of thing did happen.

On another side note the current (and previous) Church Style Guide requires the "T" on "The" to be a capitol. Which in some ways is a faith claim to theological superiority: this is “The” church of Jesus Christ.  But that's also an aside you can read about here.

As an example of Mormon denominations with competing names and why the hyphen matters; the name of the Church without the hyphen is used by a branch of Mormonism known as the Strangites.  Hence the hyphen to distinguish them. This is reminiscent of the change in 1834 to avoid being seen as or mixed up with other denominations or other Christians.

It would be unusual if Brigham Young didn't attempt to secure the name without the hyphen (seeing as the original revelation didn't have it).  Perhaps there were legalities, trusts, properties, real estate contracts which necessitated a differentiation (since unity was out of the question).  In the same way perhaps as the recent efforts to try and secure various web addresses to replace the Mormon or LDS themed URL's.  That effort too has run into trouble with yet other Mormon denominations who already owned some of the desired URL's.  More on that below.

Mormon branches don't like being mixed up with each other.  They often excommunicate each other's members if a person switches.  So for some people being associated to the wrong one can be offensive especially if there are emotionally charged differences between them.  But, on a positive and encouraging note, there is a grass roots effort to bring unity and help find common ground between all the different branches of Mormonism that have Joseph Smith as their founder.  See here.  I see great hope in that.

2018 Statements by President Nelson regarding the Name of the Church. 

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months” (Russell M. Nelson, in “The Name of the Church” official statement, Aug. 16, 2018,

General Conference address Oct 2018: 
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church.5 
Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended. 
What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.  
His reference to the "Church of the Latter-Day Saints" interestingly hearkens back to 1834 when by unanimous vote that actually was the official name of the Church. His strong words echo what David Whitmer said in his 1877 Address to all believers (page 73).  Also interesting is leaders of the church were doing the things mentioned by President Nelson as early as 1834 and really started heavily sponsoring Mormon nicknames in the years leading up to President Nelson's tenure as President.  Such as the worldwide "I am a Mormon" profile campaign, and the "Meet the Mormons" full length feature film. Curiously the terms "Mormon" or "Mormonism" were used positively by Joseph Smith (one example) and President Hinckley.  It's also been used over 15,000 times in general conference talks over the years according to news sources.

A case could be made that superficial things like benign use of Church nicknames like "Mormon" do not offend God and never did. D&C 59: 21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

To recap, the issue of the Name of the Church was raised yet again in 2018, with another effort to distinguish (viewed by some as "brand differentiation" in 2019 vocabulary), and just like the mid 1830's there is effort to avoid nicknames involving the word Mormon and be different from others.  The Church's 2018 announcement doesn't help explain the past name issues, or draw unity, but instead almost brings additional trouble to the topic in some ways due to closely related references and links to other Mormon denominations.  For example depending on whether you use "the" as part of the Church's name in the current web address it could take you to the wrong Church's site.    is not the formerly known LDS Church.         is the formerly known LDS Church. 

The top link is a break off Church from Joseph Smith but is a separate break off from the Strangite branch linked earlier.  There have been upwards of 80 different sects of Mormonism of various sizes link, the largest of course is the one with headquarters in Salt Lake City. 

Deciding on and then using the correct name of the Church as a large corporation in 2019 is more complex than I would have originally thought.  The Church's legal corporate entity has yet a different name than anything discussed here. "The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  It's unlikely that name will undergo a change as a result of President Nelson's announcement but I can't say for sure.  The things we do know are going to change ranges from choirs, to building/college names, websites, published materials, and then the issue of historical documents and archival names and references that will seemingly always carry things like "LDS" on them.  The potential scope is enormous.  But that is beyond the scope here. 

Christ's Words in the Book of Mormon about the Name of the Church. 

In addition to the trouble the name of the Church has had in the past 200 years, a couple thousand years ago the name of the Church was similarly accompanied with issues. Jesus's disciples in the Americas asked the Lord about it because there had been disputations among the people about the name of the Church. This topic is recurring it seems, across generation and time.

Of the Name of the Church Christ responded to the disciples: (3 Nephi 27)
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. 
His statement is crystal clear.  So what then does this mean for the "Of latter-day Saints" part of the name?  Is it partly Christ's Church and partly the church of the people called Saints?  Food for thought.

There's also that "if" at the end. "If it so be that they are built upon my gospel".  Getting the name of Jesus Christ in the Church name of course is no guarantee that it's built upon His gospel.  The way to begin to measure or asses how in line a church is with that part of the statement is addressed by Christ in his next statement:

And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.  

It was curious to me that this portion (the "if") of Christ's statement is absent from the 2018-2019 statements from the Church as well as missing from President Nelson's conference talk.  Curiously the talk in conference quotes everything from 3rd Nephi 27:7-8 except the last 11 words of the sentience. The "if" part.  Perhaps an editorial error, you decide.

But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return

The difference in fulfilling the "if" is the difference between being hewn down and cast into the fire vs the works of the Father being shown in it.  At some point it will be very obvious whether a Church did or did not fulfill the contingency.  But by then it might be too late, and pretty fiery hot.

The expected presumption by any active member will be that the Church of course "must" already be built on Christ's gospel.  I mean look how big it is, look at the growth rates, the enormous financial wealth, look at all the scriptural titles we have for top leaders in the Church. As if those measurements were 100% aligned with God's measurements.  Silly or heretical to even question whether it's built on Christ's Gospel, right?

According to scripture the name of the Church is only indicative of something if the church is also built upon Christ's Gospel. And we have Christ telling us that if the "if" clause is met, the Father will show forth His own works in it. Not our own works, not our architectural wonders, not a Church built city in Florida, but the Father's own works.  What works are those I wonder?

But to wrap up, when you read President Nelson's remarks above about using the correct name of the Church hopefully this background is both helpful and interesting.   Technically the LDS Church is not using and has discarded the correct name as found in revelation. When the winds of change come, and they are surely coming, our foundation must be Christ, not men, and not Churches, regardless of their name.   


  1. regarding the Church name post. D&C 115:3 should always be considered along with Matthew 12:30. Because this name indicates that the church was CURSED (or against the Lord) at that time the Lord named his church that name. The opposite of gathered (blessed) is scattered (or cursed).

    D&C 115:3 3 And also unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called, and unto all the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world;

    Matt 12:30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

    1. Just for clarity, can you give your reasoning for how or why the name given in section 115 indicates that the church was cursed?

  2. In the Matthew scripture, the Lord equates those not with him is against him - he that gathereth NOT with me scattereth abroad. So, the opposite of gathered - being with/for the Lord - is being scattered (cursed). Correlate that with the scripture in D&C 115 - the exact same term is used "scattered abroad" indicating that they are the opposite of gathered, being with/for Him, but He did the opposite - scattered them.

  3. Notice that the name of the church in D&C 115, doesn't include "the." So is "the" part of the name or not?

  4. Comment to reviewer:
    So verse 3 doesn't have "the" but verse 4 does. I guess you could still ask whether the Lord was actually including "the" in the name of the church.

  5. I am sorry to keep writing. It is interesting how this shows up in the scriptures.
    D&C 115:3 (my) "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"
    D&C 115:4 (The) "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"
    D&C 128:21 (this) "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"