Where does the name Anti-Nephi-Lehies come from?

I just want to take a moment to talk about one of my pet-peeves about how people read the Book of Mormon. This is a minor thing, really not very important at all. It is the origin of the name of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

In The Book of Mormon, a large group of unbelieving Lamanites are converted to the gospel and leave their homelands to live among believing Nephites. In order to distinguish themselves from their heritage, they take the name Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

Readers of the Book of Mormon are often confused by this. Why would a righteous people take a name that seems to imply that they are against Nephi and Lehi, the first prophets in the Book of Mormon?

I have often heard it described that “anti” in this sense means to be a mirror image, or even more unbelievable, actually means to be in a likeness. However, this use of the prefix “anti” is almost never used in the English language. Since the word “anti” is an English word, we have to assume that Joseph Smith translated it from the reformed Egyptian original, and would have chosen a different prefix to imply that the people wanted to be like Nephi and Lehi.

If the prefix “anti” is meant to have an archaic English meaning, then one would assume that newer translations of the Book of Mormon would use words that would convey the true meaning of the prefix “anti” more effectively. But, in the two foreign Books of Mormon that I own (Russian and Icelandic), both do not translate the prefix “anti” into its Russian or Icelandic equivalents. They keep it as a transliterated “anti” instead of trying to use an equivalent word. What is going on?

I have two ideas.

  1. The term “anti” actually refers to a geographic location. That would explain its seemingly contradictory meaning and why the term is continued through translations.
  2. “Anti” is actually meant to be opposite of, but opposite in the geographic sense. Throughout the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites live in the land of Lehi-Nephi. Thus, it seems possible that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were so named because they were geographically opposite of the land Lehi-Nephi. This also accounts for why Anti-Nephi-Lehies change their name. A few years after their conversion, the people move into the land of Jershon (Alma 27:26) where they become known as the People of Ammon. Why would they change their name like that? It is likely that this is because they no longer lived in the land opposite of Lehi-Nephi. In foreign translations, the name is kept out of tradition and for ease of correlation.

Either of these two theories may be correct. Whichever one is right, it seems obvious that the name Anti-Nephi-Lehies refers to geography, not to any convoluted interpretation of the English language.

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