|Lehite PN||1.||Son of LEHI no. 1, brother of NEPHI no. 1, ca. 600 BC (1 Nephi 2:5; Alma 3:6)|
SAM is most likely a shortened form of the biblical name Samuel, even though neither SAM nor Samuel reflect the Hebrew pronunciation, šĕmûʾēl that might be expected from the plates of Nephi. That SAM is the English version of what was on the Vorlage of the Book of Mormon is supported by examples of other names in the Book of Mormon that also take King James biblical spellings rather than reflecting the Hebrew pronunciation, such as Jacob, not the Hebrew form Ya’akob, and Messiah and not Mašiaḥ. Additionally, besides the regular though mutable nature of the sibilants /š/, /ś/ and /s/ in and between the various Semitic languages, the change from the Hebrew /š/ in Samuel to /s/ (as in English) occurs in the Greek text of the Old Testament because Greek has only one character, sigma, for transcribing the Hebrew sibilants. Therefore, the explanation of SAM as the English equivalent of a hypocoristicon (shortened form) of Samuel has merit.
If SAM is a hypocoristicon from Samuel, SAM would represent the common Semitic vocable šm and would most likely mean “the name,” “Name,” or even “descendant/offspring.” SAM may even be a theophoric element in its own right.
Hypocoristica are well known in the Semitic languages. Though SAM does not occur in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew name šm does appear in a biblical period signet ring, but the authors read the name as Shem, the same King James Version pronunciation as the son of Noah. The Arabic pronunciation of Noah’s son is Sam. The element šm also seems to occur in other west Semitic languages. See the Aramaic name šm, along with longer forms, šmṭb, and šmʾdd; the Amorite PN sa-mu-um (with the masculine singular nominative ending –um); and the Ugaritic name elements sumu/samu/šumu.
Other etymologies have been proffered, including the suggestion that SAM is Egyptian. Nibley has interpreted the Egyptian title as sm3/s3m, “uniter.”
Minaean ESA PN ʿmsmy may hold promise. But the PN smc cannot be appealed to because it would require dropping the last phoneme of the vocable.Confer SHEM and MOSIAH.
- The same is true in Latin, which has only one character for sibilants. However, on occasion the vocable šm did come into the King James Version with initial /š/ and not /s/, e.g., Noah’s son Shem and Shemida in Numbers 26:32. This latter name also occurs on several ostraca found in Judah where “the orthography suggests an original vocalization: Šēmyādāʿ.” See Schmuel Aḥituv, Echoes From the Past: Hebrew and Cognate Inscriptions from the Biblical Period, trans. Anson F. Rainey (Jerusalem: Carta, 2008), 267.
- Dana Pike, email communication, 13 May 2011.
- , sub שמואל. See also Scott C. Layton, Archaic Features of Canaanite Personal Names in the Hebrew Bible, Harvard Semitic Monographs 47 (Atlanta, GA: Shcolars Press, 1990), 78, 86, and note 232.
- , sub שמואל. For a discussion of the possibility that šm is a DN, see Layton, 85-86.
- Some critics of the Book of Mormon have therefore made fun of the name SAM for appearing in a “supposedly” ancient text when it is obviously a modern English form. For example, “‘Sam, Josh, and Gid.’ . . .There’s Yankee for ye. Rather out of place, however, in ancient writings . . . . Sam, Josh, and Gid, are half names, or Jonathanisms,” Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed, Internally and Externally (New York: 1838), 14; and “This name Sam, by the way, sounds very modern” Edgar E. Folk, The Mormon Monster, or the Story of Mormonism (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), 186. These two quotes are from anti-Mormon authors; but as is often the case, criticisms from sources that are not cumbered by authentic information can point to the genuinely ancient nature of the Book of Mormon.
- See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 9/1 (200): 51 and p. 79, note 60 (Israel Museum No. 68.35.199).
- Bezalel Porten and Jerome A. Lund, Aramaic Documents from Egypt: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002), 414-415.
- Huffmon, Names, 247.