MORMON

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Lehite PN & GN 1. Man, ca. 300 AD (Mormon 1:5)
2. Prophet/general, son of No. 1, ca. 322–386 AD (Words of Mormon 1; Moroni 8:1)
3. Land near the city of LehiNephi, ca. 184 BC (Mosiah 18:4; 3 Nephi 5:12)
4. Forest, situated in land of same name (Mosiah 18:30)
5. Waters, situated in land of same name (Mosiah 18:8; Alma 5:3)

No one can do better than simply quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith on this subject: “I may safely say that the word Mormon stands independent of the learning and wisdom of this generation.—Before I give a definition, however, to the word, let me say that the Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, “I am the good shepherd;” and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to bad. We say from the Saxon, good; the Dane, god; the Latin, bonus; the Greek, kalos; the Hebrew, tob; and the Egyptian, mon. Hence, with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word Mormon; which means, literally, more good” (T&S 4 [15 May 1843] 194).

The question could be raised here whether the Prophet used the word “literally” in the same technical sense we use it today in translation work, namely, a word for word rendering. Or could it be that he used the word in the less technical sense of really, actually, etc. There are ample examples of the latter usage by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries, but as far as I can determine, only a few of the examples exist of the technical sense, and even in these instances,the word is used as much in the sense of actually, really, as in the sense of word for word.[1] *A search of the OED and the 1828 Webster would be advisable. In other words, the word “literally” can be understood in Joseph Smith’s statement to mean “actually” and not necessarily “word for word.” If this is the case, then Mormon can mean “more good” in the sense that it “literally” stands for that which is more good, i.e., anything with the name “Mormon” should be better.

Notwithstanding the Prophet’s warning, many attempts have been made to provide an etymology based on our secular knowledge of ancient Near Eastern languages. The results are at best mixed.

Both Egyptian and Semitic languages often prefix some non forms with m. If this is the case with the name Mormon, then the root would be rmn or rmh (The root cannot be taken from rām [2]).

Possible is Egyptian mrmn, “truly beloved,” or “love is established” (BU, “The Name Connection,” New Era, June 1983, p.*), or “strong/firm love” or “love remains steadfast/firm” (RFS). The translation “love is established forever” reminds us of the words of Paul, “charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8) (BU). Interestingly, it is Mormon who uses the same words in a letter written to his son Moroni, adding, “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Moroni 7:46–47) (JAT). Less likely is Egyptian mr (> Nubian and Coptic mur, mor), “bind, girth” or m`r > Coptic mor, “gird, surround” (RFS). On the element mr see Nibley, SC, 194, n. 107.

On a limestone stele of the 19th to 21st Egyptian dynasty in the Museum of Gizeh the name m-rmnu appears, accompanied by the title “door keeper.” In an out-of-date article W. Spiegelberg, “Zu den semitishcen Eigennamen in ägyptischer Umschrift aus der Zeit des ‘neuen Reiches’ (um 1500–1000),” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie ************, p. 51, treats the name as Semitic in Egyptian transcription, but does not give a meaning. He transcribes it into Hebrew characters with mr/lmn(w). See ABM, footnote 29 to Chap. 22. The meaning remains obscure.

Notice the biblical PN mirmāh (1 Chronicles 8:10); the name of two priests in 1 Esdras 8:61 and Nehemiah 10:5, merēmōt (JH; the name also appears as mrmwt on a 6th c. BC ostracon from Arad [Aharoni in Freedman & Greenfield, p. 32 and Figure 53 {mistaken for fig. 54}]) (JAT, RFS); and the PN at Ugarit, marimana (JH).

Nibley has written that “Mormon may be of Hebrew, Egyptian, or Arabic origin” (ABM, 239). He noted the PN mrmlw in conjuction with the PN hnfy, on a Nabataean monument (ABM, fn. 27 to Chap. 22), and noted that the name mrm appears on 7 ESA monuments, corresponding to Arabic maram, “intention, wish, desire,” cognate with Egyptian mr with the same meaning. Hence Mormon would mean “desirable, good” (ABM, 239, esp. fn. 29 to Chap. 22).

Cf. Book of Mormon Moron(i), MORONIHAH, MORIANTUM, MORIANTON, et al. Per RFS, see also AMMON, AMMONIHAH, MOSIAH, AMMORON, AMORON, RAMEUMPTOM

Notes

  1. Three examples will suffice here. “Between Commerce and Mr. Davidson Hibbard's, there was one stone house and three log houses, including the one that I live in, and these were all the houses in this vicinity, and the place was literally a wilderness. The land was mostly covered with trees and bushes, and much of it so wet that it was with the utmost difficulty a footman could get through, and totally impossible for teams” (HC 3:375). “They then commenced to whip me with large gads which they had for the purpose, and literally mangled me from my shoulders to my knees” (HC 4:181). “These sacred and important promises are looked upon in our day as being given, either to another people, or in a figurative form, and consequently require spiritualizing, notwithstanding they are as conspicuously plain, and are meant to be understood according to their literal reading, as those passages which teaches us of the creation of the world, and of the decree of its Maker to bring its inhabitants to judgment” (Papers of JS Hist34/HISTORY, 1834 1836 50/50, 2). “I would mention here also in order to correct a misunderstanding, which has gone abroad concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is not a composition of mine or of any other man's who has lived or does live in this generation, but that it is a literal translation taken from the last leaf of the plates, on the left hand side of the collection of plates, the language running same as XXtheXX <all> Hebrew writing XXlanguageXX in general. And that no error can henceforth possibly exist I give here the Title so far as it is a translation” (Papers of JS Draf39/HISTORY [1839 DRAFT] 241/241, 2). From these quotes, it can be seen that the word “literally” can be used in the sense of “actually, accurately or really.” But notice also the following use of “literally” by Joseph Smith that approximates the technical usage today: “I shall read the 24th. ch of Matthew and give it a literal rendering and reading, and when it is rightly understood it will be edifying (he then read & translated it from the German) I thought the very oddity of its rendering would be edifying any how“And it will preached be; the Gospel of the Kingdom in the whole world, to a witness over all people, and then will the end come” (Words J Smith 1844/Words J Smith 1844 366/366, 1).
  2. Explanations from North-west Semitic rām, “to high, exalted,” cannot be used to explain Mormon because the ā is part of the root and phonemic, and therefore must be represented in some form, i.e., there must be a vowel between the r and the m. Mormon has no such vowel. Therefore, the following deriviations must be discarded: Hebrew merômān* (can't find: check spelling of suffix), “exalted” (JAT); Hebrew mārôm, “high, lofty, sublime” (ref. to God in Psalm 92:9), plural merômīm, “lofty,” (of seat of Yahweh,*cannot find in Ps. 7:8) (RFS); and the “waters of Merom” (mērôm) in Josh. 11:5, 7, located near the head of the Jordan River, north of the Sea of Galilee (RFS).