Minutes, , Geauga Co., OH, 3 May 1834. Featured version published in The Evening and the Morning Star, May 1834, p. 160. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter, 30 Oct. 1833.
On 3 May 1834, JS and others held a in , Ohio, to discuss the name of the church, which to that point had been called the , based on Book of Mormon precedent and JS’s revelations. At this 3 May 1834 conference, with JS serving as moderator, the elders unanimously passed a motion that the name of the church be changed to the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The minutes do not give the reasoning behind this change, and few other records discuss it, but two editorials published in the May and June 1834 issues of The Evening and the Morning Star provide some possible reasons. According to the editorials, which were written by , the change occurred in part because church leaders believed it “reasonable” that God “should call his people by a name which would distinguish them from all other people.” This suggests that the name change may have occurred to avoid confusion with ’s restorationist movement, which was often referred to as the Disciples of Christ or the Church of Christ.
According to ’s editorials, the new name was also “meant to represent the people of God, either those immediately dwelling with him in glory, or those on earth walking according to his ”—namely, Saints. Designating these Saints as “Latter Day Saints” presumably distinguished them from the ancient Saints, or early Christians, while also highlighting church members’ beliefs about the imminent return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
Whatever the reason for the change, the term Latter Day Saints was not entirely new. In September 1833, for example, a council of the decided to begin a new periodical titled the Latter day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, and a letter in the April 1834 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star talked about “the organization of the church of Christ, or the church of the LATTER DAY SAINTS.”
Despite the name change, some—both within and without the church—continued to refer to the organization as the Church of Christ and its members as Mormonites or Mormons, but after this conference, the use of the name Church of the Latter Day Saints became increasingly prevalent. In 1838, a revelation changed the name of the church to “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” thus combining the two earlier names.
As clerks of the conference, and kept the minutes, though their drafts have not been located. In accordance with a resolution of the conference, Cowdery published the minutes in the May 1834 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star.
Harrell, Quest for a Christian America, 5; Foster et al., Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 125. Before converting to the church, many Saints in Ohio had belonged to Campbell’s movement. (Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 209–215.)
Harrell, David Edwin, Jr. Quest for Christian America: The Disciples of Christ and American Society to 1866. Nashville, TN: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1966.
Foster, Douglas A., Anthony L. Dunnavant, Paul M. Blowers, and D. Newell Williams, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.
Hayden, Amos Sutton. Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio; with Biographical Sketches of the Principal Agents in Their Religious Movement. Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875.
Minutes, 11 Sept. 1833; Letter to the Church, ca. Apr. 1834; see also Editorial, The Evening and the Morning Star, Apr. 1834, 150. Revelations dictated prior to 3 May 1834 also referred to church members as Saints.a. But it is possible that the April edition of The Evening and the Morning Star was not published until after the 3 May conference was held. The issue contains a reference to the Philadelphia Saturday Courier of 19 April 1834, indicating that the issue was not published until at least late April.b
Many outside the church referred to members as Mormonites, but Cowdery’s editorial declared that the church did “not accept the . . . title,” nor would its members “wear it as [their] name.” (“The Saints.—Again,” The Evening and the Morning Star, June 1834, 164.)
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
MINUTES of a of the of the , which church was organized in the township of , Seneca county, New-York, on the 6th of April, A. D. 1830.
The Conference came to order, and Joseph Smith Jr. was chosen Moderator, and and , were appointed clerks.
After prayer the Conference proceeded to discuss the subject of names and appellations, when a motion was made by , and seconded by , that this church be known hereafter by the name of THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS. Appropriate remarks were delivered by some of the members, after which the motion was put by the Moderator, and passed by unanimous voice.
Resolved that this Conference recommend to the Conferences and Churches abroad, that in making out and transmitting Minutes of their proceedings, such minutes and proceedings be made out under the above title.
Resolved that these Minutes be signed by the Moderator and Clerks, and published in The Evening and The Morning Star.
David Whitmer, who was living in Missouri in 1834, later said that changing the church’s name came solely at Sidney Rigdon’s instigation. Because the minutes capture none of the discussion surrounding the change, the extent of Rigdon’s and others’ advocacy for the change is unknown. (Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 73.)
Whitmer, David. An Address to All Believers in Christ. Richmond, MO: By the author, 1887.