“The People of Nephi”

At this early point in the history of the Nephites, it is likely that they named themselves for the person and not the land. However, it is also quite likely that after the death of Nephi, the designation of the land would continue, and the name "Nephites" would come to be more associated with a place than a person. Indeed, later in the Book of Mormon it is clear that Nephite becomes a political name much as one would expect of a place-associated name. Had it remained personal, it might be a race-designator, but that will become a much lesser meaning of the term over time. At this point in the beginnings of Nephites and Lamanites, there is no purpose in making the distinction. Land, person, and ethnicity were all bound up in the same group. Time would serve as the distinguishing factor.

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon