|Lehite PN||1.||Son of LEHI I, brother of NEPHI I, ca. 600 BC (1 Nephi 2:5; Alma 3:6)|
The eyymology of this name remains open. In north-west Semitic languages the element sumu/samu/šumu is well attested in texts that predate the Hebrew Bible, namely Amorite and Ugaritic.1 The meaning however remains uncertain, though it has been linked to the common Semitic vocable šm, meaning "name."2 If SAM is related to biblical Samuel (see below), then samu may be a theophoris element.3 Or the name itself could be hypocoristic. The final /u/ of sumu/samu/šumu is most likely a nominative case ending and need not be considered when determining etymology.
The vocable šm appears in Aramaic names in Egypt, e.g., šm, šmṭb, and šmʾdd.4
Because the English name Sam is a shortened version of the Hebrew Samuel, it has often been assumed that this is the origin of Book Mormon SAM. While there is no evidence that the ancient Hebrews ever shortened Samuel to Sam, the Amorite PNs containing the element sam- would support the sugestion that SAM could be a hypocoristicon meaning, "Name of..." See the Amorite PN sa-mu-ú-i-la.5
Other etymologies have been suggested. Early on it was suggested that SAM is EGYPTIAN.6 Nibley suggested the Egyptian title s3m, "uniter."7 Others have referred to the Arabic SAM, which is the Arabic form of the biblical name SHEM.8 However, it is unlikely that the Lehites would have used the Arabic form of SHEM when the Hebrew form of the name is attested at the close of the Lehite period, late in the Book of Mormon (JAT).9
1. See Huffmon, Names, 247-49; and Gröndahl, Peronennamen, 193f.
2. Huffmon, Names, 247.
3. HALOT, sub שמואל
4. Bezalel Porten and Jerome A. Lund, Aramaic Documents from Egypt: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002), 414-415.
5. Huffmon, Names, 247.
6. Reynolds and Sjodahl, 1:16&26; and Reynolds, Story of the Book of Mormon, p. 298.
7. LID, 30&45.
8. ABM, 59-60.