Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What does the word "Mormon" mean?

I've heard the definition attributed to Joseph Smith that the word "Mormon" literally means "more good."  That's nice, but it probably doesn't mean much to people outside the church.  On my mission I would tell people that the name came from an ancient prophet who compiled the teachings and history of an ancient American people that knew about Christ, similar to what the Bible is.  But the fact that it was just some guys name also doesn't seem to be all that great. 

I read an article by Garth Norman and Alan Miner the other day on the site of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum about the baptism at the Waters of Mormon.  I was familiar with a lot of what was written (where Alma got his authority, why he baptized himself at the same time he did Helam, etc.) but was intrigued by his analysis of the word Mormon.

In 3 Nephi 5:12 it says,
"And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression." 
Miner and Alan further explain,
"Today, we associate the name of the Book of Mormon as did the Nephites of old, with the restoring of the covenant among the people.  The name of the book is a type for its purpose: to restore a knowledge of the covenants to the remnant of the seed of Lehi.  Therefore the name, Book of Mormon, symbolically means the Book of the Restoration of the Covenants.  [Raymond C. Treat, "Covenants: Key to the Restoration of the House of Israel," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments , Vol. 2, pp. 52-53]"

"A study of the title page of the Book of Mormon tells us its main purpose is to restore a knowledge of the covenants to the house of Israel.  This adds weight to the understanding that the name Mormon was always associated with the place of the restoration of the covenant to the Nephites.  In fact, the name Mormon may have become synonymous with the concept of the restoration of the covenants.  [David Lamb, "The Meaning of the Name Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments , Vol 2., p. 45]"
So, the next time someone asks you what the word "Mormon" means (or better yet, the next time you ask someone if they know what it means), I think this definition is the best one, IMHO.


  1. I always took from Mosiah 18:4 that Mormon meant "infested by wild beasts." Not particularly edifying, I know, but given current limitations on researching Nephite languages, all we have is conjecture anyway.

  2. Maybe Mormon's father though he was infested with wild beasts when he was little. I sometimes think that of my kids :) So maybe "Mormon" doesn't literally mean a renewal of covenants, but it definitely should be a reminder of what took place at the waters of Mormon.