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Why would Joseph Smith use “Sariah” as a female name?

The Book of Mormon only names several women, one of which is “Sariah”. While the name may sound similar to “Sarah” it has traditionally been known as a male name, written as “Seraiah” in the Bible. 

But the name of “Sariah” is a hit for Joseph Smith because it has been discovered as an authentic ancient Semitic feminine name. 

Tvedtnes, Gee, and Roper explain:

Previous to its discovery as a woman’s name at Elephantine, Sariah was known from the Bible as a male name, transliterated Seraiah in English, though spelled the same in Hebrew…was originally written without vowels. Indeed, the name seems to have been common in the time of Jeremiah, a contemporary of Lehi and his wife Sariah (see Jeremiah 36:26; 40:8; 51:59, 61; 52:24), and is attested on seals and bullae of that time period.

It may seem strange to modern readers that a male name could be given to a woman, but the phenomenon is common in many languages, including English (e.g., Jan, Kim, Bobbie), and is known from the Bible (e.g., Abijah is a man’s name in 1 Kings 14:1 but a woman’s name in 2 Chronicles 29:1). Even the name Solomon (Hebrew ∕lmh) is attested on a bulla in the Moussaieff collection as the name of a woman, the “daughter of Shebniah.”

Tvedtnes, Gee, and Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” 43

How would Joseph have known this? Why would he have used the male name Sariah if it would just be a stumbling block for the readers?


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