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Where do Mormons get their name from?

March 25, 2009 at 9:53 pm

LDS ScripturesTo most of the world Mormons are called Mormons, but what is a Mormon? What significance does that word and name have? Most people don’t know or realize that the Mormon religion has a name other than “Mormon”. The actual and preferred name of the religion is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. This name is long and doesn’t roll off the tongue so easy, but it is named so for a reason.

Mormons believe that a religion, if they are followers of Christ, should be named after Christ. In one of the Mormon volumes of scripture, there is a passage that states,

“Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake. 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. Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name…” (3 Nephi 27:7-9)

Well, that explains “The Church of Jesus Christ” part, but what about the “of Latter-Day Saints”? Mormons believe that their church is a restored church, and that they don’t take any of their roots from other Christian churches. Many Christian churches can trace their religious lineages (See Figure 1 below) back to the Reformation period, Catholicism, and the beliefs established by the Nicene Creed. Mormons reject the definition of God as declared by the Nicene Creed and, therefore, do not claim religious roots in any of the religions established on those lines. Mormons claim their religion is a true restoration of the church created by Jesus Christ. During Christ’s day, the followers of Christ were often referred to as “Saints”. This is common in Paul’s epistles. Therefore, the Mormons refer to themselves as “Latter-day Saints”, because they are followers of Christ in modern times, or the latter days. Mormons often use the nickname “LDS” to refer their religion as well, and many of them prefer this nickname instead of “Mormons”.

Figure 1: Religion Family Tree

Figure 1: Religion Family Tree (©2008 The Evangelical Covenant Church)

So, that all makes sense, but let’s go back to the “Mormons” nickname. Where did that come from? It was actually a name given to them by the people around them when the Mormon church was first being established. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, brought forth what Mormon’s believe to be an additional volume of scripture called The Book of Mormon. It is from the title of this book that Mormons got their nickname, and that name has just seemed to stick for 2 centuries. The Book of Mormon has been described as another testament of Jesus Christ and a companion to the Bible. Mormons still believe and esteem the Bible as the Word of God and believe it to be a true record of God’s dealings with the ancient Hebrews, as well as a record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon is another record of Christ teachings, but it is a record of the people of the ancient Americas. Mormons believe that after Jesus Christ was crucified and was resurrected, that he visited people in other parts of the world, one of such places being the ancient Americas. Read the introduction to the Book of Mormon or visit Mormon.org for more information about the Book of Mormon.

Well, Mormons get their name from the Book of Mormon, but where does the Book of Mormon get its name? The Book of Mormon was called such because the text of the Book of Mormon as received and translated by Joseph Smith was largely written by an ancient American prophet named Mormon. Mormon abridged the many records of the people onto a single set of metal plates made of gold. His son Moroni completed the record and buried it before he died. Since most of the abridged record was created by Mormon, the Book of Mormon is named after him. The full name of the Book of Mormon as published by Joseph Smith in 1830 is The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

No that we understand where Mormons get there nickname and where the Book of Mormon gets its name, it is still an interesting trail of scriptures to find out where the ancient prophet Mormon received his name. This is not something of any particular importance, but I find it interesting and will now explain. I’ve looked through the different verses in the Book of Mormon to solve this riddle, and have traced a few of those verses as far as possible.

The prophet Mormon, from which the Book of Mormon receives its name, received his name from his father. A verse in the Book of Mormon reads:

“And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me” (Mormon 1:5 emphasis added)

However, earlier in the Book of Mormon, Mormon interjects (as he often does throughout his abridgment) that his name comes from a significant geographical landmark:

“And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression.” (3 Nephi 5:12 emphasis added)

From these two verses, we can assume that he was named after his father, who was named after this “land of Mormon”. In fact, it possible and very likely (though it is not specifically mentioned anywhere) that there were other people named Mormon throughout the timeline of the Book of Mormon, because names were important in that culture, and many of the significant names are repeated throughout the volume.

This event that occurred in the land of Mormon was a significant one, and one that was obviously well-remembered since both Mormon and his father were named after this event. This event is summarized in the following scripture:

“And after this manner he [Alma] did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.” (Mosiah 18:16)

This was obviously a beautiful event, and the name, Mormon, was most likely a favorable name to have.

Verse 4 in the same chapter tells us where the land of Mormon received its name. It says, basically, that the land of Mormon “received its name from the king” (Mosiah 18:4) meaning that the king named the land “Mormon”. This is the part that I get stuck at, because I don’t know which King this is talking about. It would most likely be referring to the current (or recent) King of the land Alma was from. However, the reason why he named the land “Mormon”, or the meaning of the word “Mormon” still remains a mystery to me.

So, let’s recap: Mormons get their name from the Book of Mormon that gets its name from the prophet Mormon in the Book of Mormon, who gets his name from his dad. They both get their name from a significant landmark in the Book of Mormon called land of Mormon, which was named that by a king. That is a pretty interesting chain of connections, but that is how it is. Anyways, the church’s real name, The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, is a much more meaningful name and should be used whenever possible. For those of you that have not read the Book of Mormon, I strongly encourage you to do so. The Book of Mormon, as well as the other LDS scriptures (including the King James Version of the Bible) are available online for reading at http://scriptures.lds.org/.

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