Introduction

INTRODUCTION

We who created and who maintain this onomasticon work under the belief that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document whose cultural roots, except for the Jaredite cultural legacy, reach back to 7th Century BC Judah. Nevertheless, this material is not presented as an apologetic work, neither is it polemical. Therefore, we welcome irenic, constructive suggestions for two reasons: First, this onomasticon will remain an ongoing work as new understandings and evidence becomes available. And second, we claim no omniscience when it comes to ancient onomastics.

This introduction will explain how the website works. For a discussion of why a study of the proper names of the Book of Mormon merits consideration, please see the “Forward.”

Each name in the onomasticon has its own entry page.

Navigation within the onomasticon is facilitated by the hot buttons in the left sidebar.

An entry can be accessed from the main page by clicking on the letter of the alphabet that begins the name/word being sought in the “Name Index” or “Variant List,” and then clicking on the desired name. At any time while in any other page, an entry can be accessed by entering in the search box in the left sidebar the spelling from the 1981 or 2013 Book of Mormon edition and clicking on “Go.” By clicking on the “Search” button, a page appears that contains all the pages in the onomasticon where that name/word appears. Each page listed in the search results can be accessed by clicking on the bolded, blue type for that page.

The “Reverse Alphabetic Name Index” and the “Reverse Variant Index” allow searches by the last letter of the name or word being sought.

The “inactive” (grey font, rather than blue) letter boxes of the indices means that no names or words begin/end with that letter of the alphabet.

ARRANGEMENT OF THE ENTRIES

The entries are arranged in alphabetical order with each entry on a separate page. The data for each entry are arranged according to the following schema:

Entry The name or word appears at the top left of the page in capital, bolded letters:

Attestations of the name or word are given in a box immediately below the entry. Attestations are listed in the chronological order of their appearance in the Book of Mormon (Jaredite names before Lehite names). In the first column of each attestation the name or word is assigned to one of four basic groupings: Lehite, Mulekite (however, normally Mulekite names are included with Lehite attestations, unless strong reasons suggest otherwise), Jaredite and biblical. An effort has been made to list every attestation.

Etymology. Unless otherwise noted, the discussion of the name begins with a brief summary of the more likely etymological probabilities. This is followed by a synopsis of other proffered etymologies, listed in no strict order, though in general the more recent suggestions appear first. If the Book of Mormon name is solely a translation instead of a transliteration, speculative reconstructions of a vorlage may be offered if the context provides any clues.

After the etymologies are provided, on a separate line there is often a list of words or names that may be related to the subject entry

Variants. The different spellings of the name/word, if such exist, are listed. By clicking on the variant, a page appears that lists all the variants for that name/word and where and when they occur. If no variants are listed, none exist.

Deseret Alphabet. In order to provide some sense of 19th century pronunciation, the Deseret Alphabet spelling of the name, with variants if there are any, is followed in parentheses by an International Phonetic Alphabet transcription.

Notes, if there are any for the entry.

Bibliography, if there is one for the entry.


MAIN PAGE:

In addition to the “Name Index,” etc., six appendices are provided: Names by Plates, Chart, Bibliography, Abbreviations, Principals, Fun Facts, and Hebrew transcriptions.

The first appendix, “Names by Plates,” lists all the names and words alphabetically by plates: small plates, plates of Mormon (large plates), brass plates (names and words that occur exclusively in the quotations taken from the brass plates = Old Testament), supposed names from the brass plates but not in the Old Testament, plates of Ether, and finally, names which appear in the quotations designated as Isaiah.

The second appendix, “Chart,” lists every name or non-English word in the Book of Mormon (368 in total) in the left hand column, and then provides a breakdown of the source of the name or word and how it is used. There are columns that number the names/words so that the sum at the bottom of each column represents how many occurrences of that type of name/word are attested.

The “Bibliography” lists many of the scholarly works that have provided data for the etymologies.

Abbreviations” list unpacks the numerous abbreviations employed in the etymologies. The abbreviations are also hot buttons that will take you to a page with the compete entry.

Principals” lists those who manage the Book of Moron Onomasticon. To contact any one of them, email <onoma@byu.edu>.

Fun Facts” contains a few interesting ideas the principals have gathered during our work on the etymologies. We hope you will enjoy at least a few of them.

Hebrew transcriptions” (not yet fully populated) presents a chart with transcriptions into Roman characters of the Hebrew renderings of Book of Mormon names in the various translations of the Book of Mormon into Hebrew.

METHODOLOGY

It is entirely appropriate that a note about a requisite methodology for the study of Book of Mormon names be mentioned in this “Introduction.”

Requisite to any study of the Book of Mormon onomasticon is accurate control of primary philologic possibilities. For example one older Book of Mormon commentary states that the name Jershon means “Land of the exiled, or of the strangers.” This unlikely etymology is probably based on the assumption that a Hebrew vorlage for the Nephite Jershon contains the Hebrew lexeme gēr, meaning “stranger” or “to sojourn.” This Hebrew lexeme begins with a gimel, /g/, which normally is transliterated in the King James Bible with a g (as in Gershon) and not a j. As discussed below the j in the Hebrew names of the King James Bible usually represents the Hebrew yod, /y/. Therefore, based on the normal transliteration techniques employed in the King James Version and assuming they apply to the Book of Mormon (an unproven though plausible working assumption to be used with caution), the meaning “exile” or “stranger” for the derivation of Jershon is not likely. In addition, the sound /š/ in Jershon would still remain unexplained.[1]

When discussing the theophoric element designating the name/title of the God of Israel, that is, the Old Testament tetragrammaton, and its variants, we follow the scholarly convention and use the consensus form yahweh rather than the traditional Jehovah.

Inseparable from a control of the primary languages is a knowledge of which languages apply to the Book of Mormon onomasticon and to what extent they apply. When considering possible language sources for the Book of Mormon, Hebrew of the Biblical period is the first choice. Nearly equal in consideration to Hebrew is Egyptian, followed by the other Semitic languages in use at or before the time of Lehi, namely, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite, Akkadian, Aramaic, etc. Semitic languages first attested after the time of Lehi, such as Classical Arabic, the later Aramaic dialects, Ethiopic dialects, etc., are not as relevant as the earlier languages, but may be used with extreme caution. Other non-Semitic languages with which the Hebrews could have had contact before the time of Lehi, such as Hittite, Greek, Hurrian, Sumerian, etc., should be a last resort.

Even with these precautions, problems cannot be avoided. A name can have several etymologies based not only on several roots in one language, but it may also be traceable to more than one language. For example, one author has seen in the name Alma an Arabic etymology,[2] while in Hebrew there could be, theoretically, as many as four possible etymologies,ʾlm, ʿlm, ǵlm, or ʾlmʾ.[3]

This onomasticon owes much to Royal Skousen’s work on the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon, particularly his Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (hereafter ATV), in six parts (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2004-2009) for making all the possible variants of the names readily accessible. ATV can be found online at <[1]>. For instance, any etymology of the toponym Cumorah must be based on an acceptable reading of the received text. The present editions (1981 and 2013) of the Book of Mormon are unanimous in reading Cumorah. However, this place name is spelled three different ways in the printer's manuscript. Thus, Mormon 6 contains the spelling Camorah and Cumorah in vs. 2, while vs. 5 has Comorah. In the 1830 edition Camorah is standard throughout the Book of Mormon. Cumorah appears in all subsequent editions.[4]

In addition, thanks to Royal Skousen’s work, we have become aware of variations in the spellings of words and names that have slipped into the present editions seemingly without justification. For example, the present spelling of the Nephite weight shiblum is most likely a mistake for shilum. The original manuscript of Alma 11:15-19 is badly damaged, but it seems that Oliver Cowdery originally wrote, [shi]bl[u]m, then overwrote the b with an l, and then crossed out the l, leaving [shi]l[u]m. For the second occurrence in the original manuscript Cowdery wrote shilum. The printer’s manuscript simply has shilum. The typesetter of the 1830 inadvertently inserted the b probably because of the b in the preceding shiblon.[5]

Second only to the need for a critical edition is the need to posit a theoretical model for the possible transliteration into English of the names as they might have been on the vorlage. Thus, does a j in a name in the Book of Mormon represent the phoneme /j/ or /y/ or /g/ or /h/ or even the h as in the English word hue? The j in the transliterated Hebrew names in the King James Bible usually stands for a /y/, the Hebrew letter yod. It is notable, however, that the King James renderings are not consistent. The initial Hebrew phonemes of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Job (of the book of Job) are /y/, /y/, and /ʾ/ respectively. Extrapolating from this example, we can expect relative but not absolute consistency in the transliterations of the Book of Mormon onomasticon.

A further complication involves the commingling of Jaredite names among the Nephite names. Until possible language and culture affinities[6] for Jaredite can be determined, all suggestions for etymologies of Jaredite names must remain more speculative than substantive. It also appears that Jaredite names surface rather early in the Nephite history, as early as Alma 1.[7] It is also possible that some Jaredite names were translated into an equivalent Nephite name. The names in the Nephite record that appear to be transliterations from Jaredite sources should not necessarily be considered with Nephite names when etymologies are proposed.

CONCLUSION

An understanding of the proper names in the language of the vorlage of the Book of Mormon can reveal, via literary nuance, aspects of Nephite/Lamanite culture that remain unrecognized by casual readers. However, such results are valid only to the extent that the conclusions are based on sound methodology. This study has proposed a requisite methodology, i.e., control of the posited primary languages, discretion in determining the primary languages, thorough and rigorous examination of all the philologic possibilities in the various source languages, and a knowledge of all variations in the received texts.

Needless to say, this onomasticon is in its infant stages, a first tentative attempt at defining the relevancy and establishing a methodology for a study of the proper names of the Book of Mormon. Much work still remains to be done.

This introduction would not be complete without a word of caution, both in which tools are employed and the ways in which the tools are used. Yet the study of the onomasticon of the Book of Mormon is a must if we are to understand the world of the Lehites and Jaredites.

We hope this introduction to the onomasticon will lead to even more significant progress in the study of the proper names and non-English words in the Book of Mormon.


  1. The Hebrew root yrš, meaning “inherit,” provides the most likely etymology of the name Jershon. For the full discussion see the entry for Jershon in the onomasticon. The folk etymology of Gershom in Exodus 2:22 is “a stranger in a strange land,” possibly taken from reading the name as gēr + šam, “sojourner there.” HALOT does not offer an original etymology. Noth, IPN, 223, takes Gershom to mean a bell, from an Arabic root.
  2. Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1965), p. 59.
  3. For the preferred etymology, ǵlm, consult the onomasticon entry for Alma.
  4. For this information I am indebted to Robert Smith. Cumorah appears in 6:2, 6:4(2x), 6:6(2x) and 8:2; Camorah in 6:2; and Comorah in 6:5 and 6:11. This type of information is contained in ATV.
  5. See Royal Skousen, ATV 3:1810. For calling my attention to this issue I thank Robert Smith.
  6. The popular conception in the Church is that the Jaredites departed from Mesopotamia. Hugh Nibley, an LDS scholar, believes that the Jaredites departed from somewhere around Lake Van. (See his treatment in Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), pp. 143-272.
  7. The Small Plates in the form we now have, 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon, do not contain any obviously Jaredite names. Beginning at least with the book Alma Jaredite names begin to appear among the Nephite personal names, e.g., Korihor (= Jaredite Corihor in Ether 13:17) in Alma 30 passim. See also Coriantumr in Helaman 1:15ff and Ether 12-15 passim.