Evidence #341 | May 23, 2022

Desert Naming Practices

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Scripture Central


The way that Lehi’s family gave names to places in the wilderness is consistent with the naming practices of Bedouin desert peoples.

In his account of his family’s journey through the wilderness, Nephi indicates that they gave names to the places where they camped or dwelt for a time. Locations named in this manner include the Valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 2:14), the river Laman (1 Nephi 2:8), Shazer (1 Nephi 16:13), and Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:5). The only exception seems to have been the place which “was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34).

Valley of Lemuel, by Joseph Brickey.

Some readers have wondered why Lehi and his family would apply their own names to various places in their travels rather than adopt already existing names.1 This practice, however, as shown by Hugh Nibley,2 is consistent with the cultural practices of Bedouin travelers who, like Lehi, traversed the Arabian Peninsula and other Near Eastern settings.

Bedouin Naming Practices

C. Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence, in their report of the desert region south of the Judean desert, observed that “below the Negeb proper,” the region through which Lehi may have traveled, “and divided from it on the west by a broad depression, is a mass of steep white hills, grouped in a cluster of peaks and ridges that have different names among the different Arab tribes, and from different sides.”3 They further state, “probably, as often as not, the Israelites named for themselves their own camps or unconsciously confounded a native name in their carelessness.”4

Image via myjewishlearning.com. 

Taufik Canaan found that in the desert “one and the same place may have several names, and the wadi running close to the same, or the mountain connected with it, will naturally be called differently by members of different clans.”5 This was frequently the case although such a name was “neither generally known or commonly used.”6 W. E. Jennings-Bramley also notes a very widespread desert practice “which no Bedouin would dream of transgressing” in which “any water you may discover, either in your own or in the territory of another tribe, is named after you.”7 Canaan also notes that Bedouins “often coin a new name for a locality for which they have never used a proper name, or whose name they do not know.”8


Once considered strange and a cause for skepticism to nineteenth century readers, Lehi’s practice of naming localities and topographical features where they camped and traveled is consistent with what we now know about the customs of those who have dwelt in the desert. Like many other elements in Nephi’s account, the attestation of similar naming practices among Bedouin peoples of the region where Lehi would have traveled adds another golden thread to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 74–76.

1 Nephi 2:81 Nephi 2:141 Nephi 16:131 Nephi 16:341 Nephi 17:5

1 Nephi 2:8

1 Nephi 2:14

1 Nephi 16:13

1 Nephi 16:34

1 Nephi 17:5

  • 1 John Hyde Jr., Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (New York, NY: W. P. Fetridge & Company, 1857), 223–224; T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 630.
  • 2 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 74–76.
  • 3 C. Leonard Woolley and T. H. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (London: Harrison and Sons, 1914), 52, emphasis added.
  • 4 Woolley and Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin, 69.
  • 5 Taufik Canaan, “Studies in the Topography and Folklore of Petra,” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 9 (1929): 139, emphasis added.
  • 6 Canaan, “Studies in the Topography and Folklore of Petra,” 140.
  • 7 W. E. Jennings Bramley, “The Bedouin of the Sinaitic Peninsula,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 41, no. 4 (1908): 257.
  • 8 Canaan, “Studies in the Topography and Folklore of Petra,” 140.
Customs and Ceremonies
Desert Naming Practices
Book of Mormon

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