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Lehite PN 1. NEPHITE, ca. 87 BC (Alma 2:22)


There are several possible etymologies for the NEPHITE PN ZERAM, all of which are plausible but not wholly persuasive.

The HEBREW word for a heavy rain or cloudburst, זרם zerem, would at first glance seem to provide a suitable root. But the noun is a qatl form which would not yield the vowels of ZERAM (JH and PYH). On the other hand, it could be assumed that NEPHITE and/or Joseph Smith’s pronunciation of a qatl form could have been similar to ZERAM. If this etymology holds true, the name could be analogous to the Semitic weather deity Hadad/Ḫaddu/Adad, which probably means “thunder.”[1]

The root zrʿ also provides a possible meaning. In its noun form זרע zeraʿ, “seed; posterity, offspring,” with the 3mp pronominal ending, Like zerem, zeraʿ is a qatl form.[2] When receiving a pronominal suffix, the זרע zeraʿ becomes zarʿ, as in Isaiah 61:9, zarʿām, “their seed.” This is a possible meaning for ZERAM, i.e., “their seed” meaning the “chosen people,” if the NEPHITES by this time, despite the pronominal ending, had reduced the vowel in the first syllable to the seghol that characterizes the biblical HEBREW segholate form, or if Joseph Smith pronounced it that way in the translation process.

From the same root, זרע zrʿ plus the noun ʿam, “people,” yield “descendant of the people.”[3] However, this etymology would require even more NEPHITE phonetic shifts than the previous suggestions, that is, the dropping of a syllable, zeraʿʿām > *zerām.

Possible is an etymology from zwr, which in the adjectival form zār means “other, strange, peculiar.” To explain the ending –am, ʿām, “people,” could be posited. But the meanings that derive therefrom, e.g., “stranger of the people,” do not seem to work, and the word order does not conform to HEBREW usage.[4]

Other HEBREW lexemes that appear much less likely as etymological possibilities include: ṣrh, “need, anxiety,” plus the noun ʿam, “people,” rendering the name “Need of the people,” or in a stretch possibly, “desire of the people.” The PN Zereth ṣrt, (1 Chronicles 4:7) “remains unexplained” (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.). Zeri ṣry, (1 Chronicles 25:3) “balsam, mastic balsam” (HALOT), and Zeruiah ṣrwyh, (1 Samuel 26:6) “fragrant with mastic” (HALOT) would take a bit of explaining. Even less likely are derivations based on the following PNs Zerah zrḥ (Genesis 36:13) and Zerahiah zrḥyh (1 Chronicles 6:6 in KJV, but 1 Chronicles 5:32 in Tanakh), because the het would most likely not elide and the m would remain unexplained. The North-west Semitic root zrwʿ, “arm,” like the following PN, would require a u or o vowel[5] and not the e-a sequence in ZERAM. For the same reason, the feminine PN Zeruah ṣrwʿh (1 Kings 11:26), does not work well.

Cf. Book of Mormon ZORAM, et al. and perhaps ZERAHEMNAH, ZARAHEMLA

See also Zeram Variants


Deseret Alphabet: 𐐞𐐀𐐡𐐊𐐣 (ziːrʌm)


  1. In Ugaritic, hd is another name for the weather deity, Baʿl (see Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz, Analytic Ugaritic Bibliography, AOAT 20/6 [Neukirchen-vluyn: Botzon&Bercker Kevelaer, 1996], 635). In the Old Testament, Yahweh acts as a god of the weather, appropriating Baal epithets for his own use.
  2. Zeraʿ is a qatl form, therefore the original vowel of the first syllable, /a/, returns when a suffix is added.
  3. For names ending in “people” see Jeroboam and Rehoboam.
  4. HEBREW word order would normally be ʿām+zār “strange/foreign people.” The biblical PN Hadoram, hdrm (2 Chronicles 10:18), could be cited as a possible analog, hdr+ʿm, “splendor, glory, honor of the people.” However, hdrm is probably not relevant because Hadoram most likely should be parsed as hdd+rm.
  5. The El-Amarna form shows the original vowels, zu-ru-uḫ (EA 287:27; 288:34, as cited in DNWSI 342).
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