Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Tao of Sariah or Why Joseph Smith Didn’t Make It Up Part II

By Sariah S. Wilson

Since Jeff has already accused me this week of being a raging egomaniac, might as well take advantage of it. So I’d like to talk about my name.

My name is usually mispronounced - although that trend shifted a bit when I was in high school and Mariah Carey became famous. It was such a relief to say “Sariah, just like Mariah with an S.”

Since there are so few women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, it does crack me up when I meet someone who is LDS and they wonder where my name came from. Mostly everyone’s read at least 1 Nephi. (When I worked at the MTC I used to remind the elders who asked about my name that Sariah is in the summary on the first page.)

How I got my name: For eight months of my mother’s pregnancy, I was Jennifer Christine. Jennifer, because back then it was oh-so-popular, and Christine for my father’s mother who died when he was little. My mother absolutely knew I was a girl. They didn’t even consider boy names (except for my dad who liked Bonzo Rex). My mom’s boss at the time said it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been a boy - my mother still would have dressed me in pink clothes.

Just before I made my appearance in the world, my father was at church and sitting in a priesthood meeting. He heard someone say, “Her name is supposed to be Sariah.” My dad started looking around to see who was talking to him. He realized that no one had spoken to him, chalked it up to weirdness and went back to listening to the lesson. He said he heard the voice again, “The baby’s name is supposed to be Sariah.” At that point he figured out where the message was coming from, and when he came home and told my mom, let’s just say she wasn’t thrilled.

But Sariah it was. As the attending nurse put my mom’s firstborn daughter (which was me) into her arms, the nurse asked if my mom had chosen a name. When my mom said they had, the nurse said, “Well, I hope it’s not Jennifer. I have an entire nursery full of Jennifers.”

My parents always told me that Sariah meant princess, since that’s what Sarah means and Sariah seems to be a derivative of that. It wasn’t until I got into college that I found out differently.

First and foremost - a little Hebrew language lesson here (with information being shamelessly stolen from Jeffrey R. Chadwick’s article over at FARMS called “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri”) - Sariah is from the Hebrew sryh. I think some detractors said Joseph Smith had made up the name, since the Bible has no mention of any female names with sryh. (The Old Testament does, however, have 19 mentions of male variations of sryh.) This then had to be proof that Joseph was a false prophet.

But then came the Elephantine papyri. Elephantine is an island in the Nile, and the papyri are records of a Jewish community that lived on the island and date from about 459 BC to 399 BC. There is a significant line in one of the documents which when translated reads, “Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of Harman.” She’s mentioned because she contributed a fairly significant amount of money to “the Lord God,” most likely for the temple that existed on the Elephantine island. These papyri were not discovered until the 20th century (before 1903). So in one fell swoop you have a female sryh and a Hebrew temple being built by a Jewish colony (flattening those arguments that Jewish colonists would not have built a temple because they believed that Solomon’s temple was the only temple that could exist).

So when you look at the components of the name, there are a couple possible meanings depending on how you read it. The first professor I talked to told me that Sariah meant “princess of God” which for some reason reminds me very much of She-Ra, Princess of Power (now on DVD). The next professor I spoke to a couple of years later said that another way to read the name means, “Jehovah is my prince.”

I think it is one of the things I love most about Hebrew names - the meanings behind them, the powerful messages that are conveyed in a few syllables. Jehovah is my prince. He is The Prince.

And think of all the things you might not have learned today if I’d stayed a Jennifer.


At 9/03/2006 6:30 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

We named our oldest daughter Jessica Christine. I've always thought children needed pretty names with good scansion.

At 9/03/2006 4:22 PM, Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I think it is one of the things I love most about Hebrew names - the meanings behind them, the powerful messages that are conveyed in a few syllables.

Oh, me too! I'd like for our children to have one Hebrew name with such a significance. Matching it the other name is proving troublesome though. Saraia is beautiful. *adds that to her list for consideration*

At 9/04/2006 12:57 PM, Blogger KB said...

Enjoyed this. I think all my kids ended up naming themselves--each has their own story.

My son has a very common name, Christopher. It was on our list because neither I nor my husband actually hated it. (We tended to strongly dislike each other's preferences in names.) So my son is born, with no decision from us. My psychic mother is over in the corner of the room, chanting "Christopher, Christopher" over and over in her mind. I wanted Bryan. My husband wanted Jesse. Finally, we're both too tired to fight any longer and we go with Christopher (out of the blue?), at which point my mother jumps up and starts dancing around the room.

At three weeks, Christopher almost died. This experience absolutely cemented my testimony and he is forever a visual aid to me for the power of God. Afterward, we discovered his name meant "light of Christ" and that many members of our extended families, our ward, friends and even friends of friends who had never met us had significant testimony building experiences because of him.

At 9/04/2006 9:00 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

What a fabulous story, kb! You said all your kids have them -- naming themselves. Tell us the rest!


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