“It’s OK to call us Mormons.”
“On second thought, don’t call us Mormons.”
“OK, call us Mormons.”
Seldom a day goes by that someone doesn’t presume to chastise us for our use of “Ex-Mormon” in our title, “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass: Confessions of an Ex-Mormon Ex-Polygamist Ex-Wife. They argue that since Joanne was a polygamist, she wasn’t a “real” Mormon. Obviously these people have not bothered actually reading the book.* If they had, they would know that prior to joining a polygamist cult, Joanne was a member of the mainstream Mormon Church. So even by that narrow definition, she qualifies as ex-Mormon.
But that narrow definition doesn’t hold up. Usage, not fiat, is what gives a word its meaning. Bristle all you want, but if enough people use “Mormon” for any group that believes in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, then that is what “Mormon” means.
The issue came to a head when the 2002 Olympic Winter Games focused media attention on Utah. Hoping to distance itself from myriad polygamist sects and minimize its own polygamist doctrines and history, the church tried to have the use of “Mormon” first one way and then the other. They only succeeded in confusing things.
Trying to have it one way, they instructed members and the media to drop “Mormon” and use the full name instead. That would be like telling everyone to quit saying “laser” and to say “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” instead. It didn’t take. The nickname was too convenient and too firmly ensconced ever to go away.
So in 2002, trying to have it the other way, the church tried to register “Mormon” as a trademark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office declined their application. They said that “Mormon” denotes a category of organizations, not a specific one. It was, they said, a generic word like “Presbyterian” or “Methodist,” which cannot be owned or protected.
The church wisely backed off and recommenced indulging, and even using, “Mormon.” It was history repeating itself. Originally a term of derision, “Mormon” quickly morphed into a handy, neutral nickname. It wasn’t long before the early church informally referred to itself as the “Mormon Church” and its followers as “the Mormon people.” Outside its failed attempt at eshcewing the name in 2002, that is how it has remained.
*We have found that the book’s harshest critics haven’t read it. This should tell you something.