“Call Themselves the People of Nephi”

Brant Gardner

Almost certainly these initial Nephites named themselves for the person and not the land. As time passed, the term “Nephite” became a generic designation for a religio-political affiliation rather than being tied to either the land or the name of the king. When Mosiah1 leaves the city of Nephi and arrives in Zarahemla, the designation “Nephites” goes with him, even though they are no longer in the city of Nephi. Indeed, it is later clear that Nephite is a political name (Jacob 1:13–14; see also“Excursus: Ethnohistory and the Book of Mormon,” following 1 Nephi 18), as one would expect of a place-associated name. A person-associated name might be a race-designator, but that meaning diminished over time. At this point, however, land, person, and ethnicity were all bound up in the same group.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2