Book of Mormon surnames: the meaning of the -ites and “people of”


Any time the Book of Mormon text uses the suffix “-ite” or “-ites” or calls a group “the people of” (so-and-so), it means that that designated name is part of the surname of that person or persons.

Lehi had six sons, and their full names (given name plus surname) were:

Laman Lehi

Lemuel Lehi

Sam Lehi

Nephi Lehi

Jacob Lehi

Joseph Lehi

Zoram and the family of Ishmael was also added to the group, making two more genealogical lines:

Zoram

the sons of Ishmael

The descendants of these 8 genealogical lines were called*, as their surnames:

Laman-Lehi, or just Laman, known as Lamanites

Laman-Lemuel-Lehi, or just Laman-Lemuel, known as Lamanites and also as Lemuelites

Laman-Ishmael, known as Lamanites and also as Ishmaelites

Nephi-Lehi, known as Nephites and including both Sam’s (2 Ne. 4:11) and Nephi’s lines

Nephi-Jacob-Lehi, known as Nephites and also as Jacobites

Nephi-Joseph-Lehi, known as Nephites and also as Josephites

Nephi-Zoram, known as Nephites and also as Zoramites

Thus, the Jacobites, Josephites, and Zoramites were also called Nephites or the people of Nephi, because they actually had the name of Nephi as part of their surname.  And the Lemuelites and Ishmaelites were also called Lamanites for the same reason.

This custom of incorporating the name of the person whose path you followed into your surname was done throughout the entire Book of Mormon history.  Only when a name was incorporated into the surname does the text use -ite or “people of.”  Thus, those who believed in the teachings of Nehor are never called Nehorites or “the people of” Nehor.  It is merely stated that they were of the order of Nehor, or of the order of the Nehors.  This is because the name Nehor was not part of their surname.  On the other hand, the Amlicites/Amalekites had incorporated Amlici’s name into their surname.  The Amalickiahites did the same thing with the name of Amalickiah, and so did the Zoramites with the name of Zoram, and the Ammonihahites with the name of Ammonihah, and the Amulonites with the name of Amulon.  In like fashion, the people of Morianton had Morianton’s name in their surname, and the people of Zarahemla had Zarahemla in their surname.  Likewise also the Jaredites or people of Jared, and also the people of Nephihah.

However, there is no mention of Mulekites in the Book of Mormon.  And why is that?  Because the people of Zarahemla had Zarahemla in their surname, not Mulek.  We ignorant Gentiles, not understanding the use of -ites and “people of,” routinely and erroneously call Zarahemla’s people “Mulekites.”

Now, the city of Lehi-Nephi was called Lehi-Nephi because it was founded by two men (instead of the usual singular man): a guy named Lehi and his son Nephi.  Another city, called Ani-Anti, was also founded by two men: a guy named Ani and another guy named Anti.  The founders got the privilege of having their names incorporated into the surnames of their descendants, who were the people that occupied the land or city.

When the Lamanite converts wanted a name to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Lamanite population, they consulted with Aaron, and came up with Anti-Nephi-Lehi.  This took the surname of the descendants of Nephi and Sam (Nephi-Lehi) and incorporated the name of the founder or the leader (or the king) of their group, whose name was Anti, into it.  The new leader (the king’s son), was called after his father, Anti, and bore the new surname, Nephi-Lehi.  All who followed the king’s son, then, took his name as their surname, being called Anti-Nephi-Lehies.  This, of course, made the surrounding Lamanites quite upset, since this was a decidedly Nephite designation.  These “Lamanites” had lost their “Lamanitish-ness,” yet they were still residing in Lamanite territory.  They had not only given up Lamanite ways, but had given up the Laman-Lehi, Laman-Lemuel-Lehi and Laman-Ishmael designations (Alma 23:17)!  To the surrounding Lamanites, this appeared to be a Nephite invasion under the guise of preaching a religion.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, after they moved into Nephite territory, were called by the Nephites, Ammon-Nephi-Lehi, not Anti-Nephi-Lehi.  This is why the text says they were called (by the Nephites), Ammonites, or the people of Ammon.  The curse was lifted from these people (Alma 23:18), so their sons no longer had the dark skin and they fully identified as Nephites (Alma 53:16).

Dissenters from the Nephites always removed the name of Nephi from their surnames, replacing it with the name of a new man they followed.  Zoram and the Zoramites (Alma 30:59 & 31:1-8) are a prime example of this.  The removal of Nephi’s name from the surname was part of a curse put on Nephi’s enemies by God (Alma 3:17).  Conversely, the addition of Nephi’s name to one’s surname allowed the Lord to bless that person as if he or she were Nephi’s people (Alma 3:17).

The information in this post may be important for a couple of reasons.  First, anyone who wants to lay hold of the promises of the Lord to Nephi concerning those who are called by his name, need to do as the converted Lamanites did, and change their surname from whatever it currently is to one of the four Nephite designations: Nephi-Lehi, Nephi-Jacob-Lehi, Nephi-Joseph-Lehi or Nephi-Zoram.  Or, at the very least, the name Nephi needs to be added to one’s surname, such as Nephi-Smith, Nephi-Cowdery, etc.  Secondly, the appearance of the Josephite restorer may be a little easier to perceive if the man’s surname must be: Nephi-Joseph-Lehi.

Now, concerning that Josephite restorer, you will notice that Lehi said the following:

and his name shall be called after me

and it shall be after the name of his father  (2 Ne. 3:15)

Now, the surname Nephi-Joseph-Lehi has both the names of Joseph and Lehi in it, so regardless of whether the above text is interpreted as Lehi quoting Joseph, or Lehi issuing his own prophecy, the surname fits, for Nephi-Joseph-Lehi is called both after Joseph and also after Lehi.  One more thing—and I will use myself as an example—people are assigned two names: at least one given name and also a surname.  My given name is the same name as the given name of my biological father.  Our surnames are also the same.  So, let’s say that my given name is Philip and so is his.  If I were to change my last name to Nephi-Joseph-Lehi, then this prophecy might apply to me, for then my surname (Nephi-Joseph-Lehi) would be called after both Joseph and Lehi, fulfilling the first part of the prophecy, and the second part, which says,

and it [his name, meaning his surname] shall be after the name of his father  (2 Ne. 3:15)

also is fulfilled because my (new) surname, Nephi-Joseph-Lehi, is now after the name of my father, for now my name is Philip Nephi-Joseph-Lehi, and Philip is the name of my father.  A bit of clever word work, I admit, but it still makes the prophecy fit, which means that our usual interpretation of this passage, that it is always referring to a given name and not to a surname, may be incorrect.  This is because in the Nephite tradition, being called after someone else could refer to either being given the same given name as that person (Helaman 5:6—Nephi & Lehi), or having that person’s given name incorporated into one’s surname (Helaman 5:6—Nephi Nephi-Lehi & Lehi Nephi-Lehi).

This opens up the possibility that the Josephite restorer may have any given name whatsoever, such as Richard, Harold, Stephen, etc.  The only important thing is that his father also have the same given name and that his surname be Nephi-Joseph-Lehi, or, at the very least, Joseph-Lehi.

Now, having written all of this, everyone can now start the process of legally changing their surnames so that the prophecy of there being Nephites again in the land (2 Ne. 29:13) can begin to be fulfilled.  😉

[*  Please see the Slight post correction and additional info section found in the second comment below.]

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2 Comments

  1. The name Anti-Nephi-Lehies has always stood out like a sore thumb to me. Alma 23:16 says that “the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them.” So I always thought of it as another product of “design by committee.” But your explanation is the most intriguing and probably the best I’ve come across. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Slight post correction and additional info

    Having pondered the principles in the above post further–for I obtained the understanding given in the post just a few hours before I wrote it–I now understand and believe that the use of “Lehi” in a surname was strictly a formality, such as in genealogical records, and not the common every day practice of these people. When announcing their name, they dropped the “Lehi” bit off, for it did nothing to distinguish them from others, and this was the purpose of their surnames, to announce which group they were a part of, or who they followed, that they might be distinguished. This is the reason why the Book of Mormon record never uses the term, “Lehites.” (Now, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did use it, adopting the formal name of Nephi’s descendants, perhaps because they were partly of Laman (through Anti) and partly of Nephi (through adoption of Nephite ways and beliefs), and thus they had been brought together as the children of Lehi.)

    Also, the order of the names in the post is incorrect. The formal and common names of the descendants and followers of these men were:

    Laman-Lehi (formal) and Laman (common)
    Lemuel-Laman-Lehi (formal) and Lemuel-Laman (common)
    Ishmael-Laman-Lehi (formal) and Ishmael-Laman (common)
    Nephi-Lehi (formal) and Nephi (common)
    Jacob-Nephi-Lehi (formal) and Jacob-Nephi (common)
    Joseph-Nephi-Lehi (formal) and Joseph-Nephi (common)
    Zoram-Nephi-Lehi (formal) and Zoram-Nephi (common)

    The dashes (-) represented descent or association, such as, “who was the brother of,” or “who was the friend of,” or “who was the son of,” or “who is a follower of,” etc. Thus, Amulek’s genealogical heritage, found in Alma 10:2-3,

    I am Amulek; I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi; and it was that same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.

    And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.

    could be written, “Amulek Giddonah-Ishmael-Aminadi-Nephi-Lehi-Manasseh-Joseph.” Someone named Zoram-Nephi meant, “descendant of Zoram, who was the friend of Nephi.” Someone named Jacob-Nephi meant, “descendant of Jacob, who was the brother of Nephi,” and so forth. (The Josephite restorer will have both Joseph and Lehi in his name, so he will be called either, “Joseph-Lehi” or “Joseph-Nephi-Lehi,” either way adopting the formal use of Lehi’s name. One name means, “descendant of Joseph, who was the son of Lehi” and the other name means, “descendant of Joseph, who was the brother of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi.”)

    Dissenters who stopped calling themselves Nephites, simply dropped off the final “-Nephi” from their names. A guy named Aaron, who began following Amlici, would change his name to Aaron-Amlici, which means, “Aaron, follower of Amlici.” This was how they distinguished themselves one from another, by adding or subtracting from their names. (The Gadianton robbers were a secret society, therefore they did not alter their names to indicate that they followed Gadianton.)

    To follow the Nephite pattern, therefore, a modern Gentile would have to add “-Nephi” to the end of his or her given name or surname, not to the beginning. That would proclaim oneself as a Nephite, according to their manner. Thus, Joseph Smith, proclaiming himself as a Nephite, would call himself either Joseph-Nephi Smith or Joseph Smith-Nephi, both of which mean, “follower of Nephi.”


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