Who owns the name "Mormon"?

A fledgling Mormon dating site reports that IRI, the intellectual property rights arm of the LDS Church, is attempting to shutter the planned launch of Mormon Match because of its use of the word "Mormon" and its appropriation of an image of the Salt Lake Temple.

Here's what the front page of the site-in-progress looks like now:

Mormon MatchFor a good discussion of the issues involved, see Holly Welker's post in Religion Dispatches. (I don't think RD's headline is quite accurate, though; as far as I know, the Church has not filed a lawsuit but applied pressure and commenced an "opposition proceeding." According to Courthousenews.com, the lawsuit in question was filed by one of the dating site's co-founders in response to that pressure, which would make the Church's intellectual property division the defendant, not the plaintiff, in the suit.)

At any rate, the question at issue is this: Who, if anyone, owns the rights to the word "Mormon"?

And secondarily, what would be the consequences if a judge determined that only the LDS Church had the right to use the word "Mormon" for commercial purposes?

For an illustrative snapshot, here are some ways the word "Mormon" intersects with my daily life.

And that's just a sampling. As you can see from this short list, liberals use the word Mormon -- liberally. Conservatives use the word Mormon -- also liberally.

Not one of the websites or organizations above is officially affiliated with the LDS Church, which also uses the word "Mormon" at will -- the Mormon Newsroom, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Mormon Times, etc.

But surely the official LDS Church and its various arms are not the only groups that can lay claim to the moniker. "Mormon" is how we Mormons find each other. It's probably how you found this blog post.

Many of the independent Mormon websites and periodicals sell products or advertising, making them commercial enterprises. When I go to the Mormon Mommy Blogs site, for example, I wade through ads for scrapbook tools and missionary gifts.

So, yes, someone over there is profiting, at least a little, from the word "Mormon." But without that word, I might never have discovered the site in the first place. My poor Primary kids would be at the mercy of my own stunted imagination, and then I'd teach horrible lessons, and then I'd have to explain to all the parents why a whole crew of six-year-olds left the Church.

You see where I am going with this argument. Where would the Church draw the line to prohibit individuals and businesses from using the word "Mormon"?

This interference with the Mormon dating site already seems like a heavy-handed and provincial action for a denomination that aspires to be a global religion.

It seems perfectly fair to me for the Church to request, as it has done repeatedly, to be called by the name it chooses for itself: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, thank you very much. There is no such thing as "the Mormon Church," at least in official usage. Fair enough.

What does not seem fair is to limit the use of the term "Mormon" to only those appropriations the Church formally approves of, which this statement suggests might be the Church's ultimate goal:

"We believe we are well within our rights to protect both the use of the name of the church and the image of the Salt Lake temple and to make clear that the plaintiff's business has no connection whatsoever to the church," attorney Robert Schick told the Houston Chronicle.

By all means, protect the name of the Church. But as the Church has taken great pains to point out again and again, "Mormon" is not the name of the church.
In fact, two websites you would think might raise the hackles of the Church's legal department -- LDSSingles.com and LDSmatch.com -- have not been "singled" out even though their names do approximate the official name of the Church.
Such a lack of clarity is enough to drive a Mormon -- er, Latter-day Saint -- er, Mormon -- to drink.