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Book of Mormon Names
by Paul Y. Hoskisson
The Book of Mormon contains 337 proper names and 21 gentilics (or analogous forms) based on proper names. Included in this count are names that normally would not be called proper, such as kinds of animals, if they appear as transliterations in the English text and not as translations. Conversely, proper names that appear only in translation are not included, such as Bountiful and Desolation. Of these 337 proper names, 188 are unique to the Book of Mormon, while 149 are common to the Book of Mormon and the Bible. If the textual passages common to the Book of Mormon and the Bible are excluded, 53 names occur in both books.
It would seem convenient to divide the Book of Mormon collection or listing of names (onomasticon) into three groups because it mentions (1) Jaredites, (2) the community founded by Lehi (which might be termed "Lehites"), and (3) the people referred to as the people of Zarahemla (who might be called "Mulekites"), each of which contributed to the history of the Book of Mormon and therefore to the list of proper names (see Book of Mormon Peoples). While this grouping can be made with some degree of accuracy for Jaredite names, it is not easy to maintain the distinction between Lehite and Mulekite, because a portion of the Lehites united with the Mulekites sometime before 130 B.C.; practically nothing is known about Mulekite names before that time. For the present, Lehite and Mulekite names must be treated together. Given this grouping of the Book of Mormon onomasticon, 142 of the 188 unique Book of Mormon names are Lehite-Mulekite, 41 are Jaredite, and 5 are common to both groups.
Much preliminary work remains to be done on the Book of Mormon onomasticon. The transliteration system of the English text must be clarified: does the j of the text indicate only the Nephite phoneme /y/ or can it also represent /h/ in the name "Job," as it does once in the King James Version? A reliable critical analysis of the text is needed: what is the range of possible spellings of Cumorah that might indicate phonemic values? Linguistic phenomena beg explanation: there are no exclusively Book of Mormon names that begin with /b/; but several begin with /p/. Q and x do not occur in any Book of Mormon name. V, w, and y do not occur in any exclusively Book of Mormon name. D, f, and u do not begin any exclusively Book of Mormon name.
The Lehite-Mulekite names often show greatest affinity with Semitic languages (CWHN 6:281-94). For instance, Abish and Abinadi resemble ab, father, names in Hebrew; Alma appears in a Bar Kokhba letter (c. A.D. 130) found in the Judean desert; Mulek could be a diminutive of West Semitic mlk, king; Omni and Limhi appear to have the same morphology as Old Testament Omri and Zimri; Jershon is remarkably close to a noun form of the Hebrew root yrs (see below). Some Lehite-Mulekite names more closely resemble Egyptian: Ammon, Korihor, Pahoran, and Paanchi (CWHN 5:25-34). Jaredite names exhibit no consistently obvious linguistic affinity.
Like proper names in most languages, the proper names of the Book of Mormon probably had semantic meanings for Book of Mormon Peoples. Such meanings are evident from several instances wherein the Book of Mormon provides a translation for a proper name. For example, Irreantum means "many waters" (1 Ne. 17:5), and Rabbanah is interpreted as "powerful or great king" (Alma 18:13). The single greatest impediment to understanding the semantic possibilities for the Book of Mormon proper names remains the lack of the original Nephite text. The transliterations of the English text allow only educated conjectures and approximations about the nature of the names and their possible semantic range. In addition, such postulations, if to be of any value, must be base on a knowledge of the possible linguistic origins of the names, such as Iron Age Hebrew and Egyptian for Lehite and Mulekite names.
The proper names of the Book of Mormon can provide information about the text and the language(s) used to compose it. When studied with apposite methodology, these names testify to the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon. For example, Jershon is the toponym for a land given by the Nephites to a group of Lamanites as an inheritance; based on the usual correspondence in the King James Version of j for the Hebrew phoneme /y/, Book of Mormon Jershon could correspond to the Hebrew root yrs meaning "to inherit," thus providing an appropriate play on words in Alma 27:22: "and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance." Similarly, one Book of Mormon name used for a man that might have seemed awkward, Alma, now is known from two second-century A.D. Hebrew documents of the Bar Kokhba period (Yadin, p. 176) and thus speaks for a strong and continuing Hebrew presence among Book of Mormon Peoples.
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Hoskisson, Paul Y. "An Introduction to the Relevance of and a Methodology for a Study of the Proper Names of the Book of Mormon." In By Study and Also by Faith, ed. J. Lundquist and S. Ricks, Vol.2, pp. 126-35. Salt Lake City, 1990.
Tvedtnes, John A. "A Phonemic Analysis of Nephite and Jaredite Proper Names." F.A.R.M.S. Paper. Provo, Utah, 1977.
Yadin, Y. Bar Kokhba, p. 176. Jerusalem, 1971.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Book of Mormon Names
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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