“The W and I,” Ensign, Sept. 1976, 24–25
Why are there no proper names in the Book of Mormon beginning with the letter W? In a book that introduced some 200 new names, surely there should have been a few beginning with W—especially if the book were a fraud, and the author, knowing only the English language, had to produce that many new names to write his book.
This strange omission, which I had learned about from an article years earlier, impressed me down through the years, and I used it often as a missionary tool.
Then one morning in 1974 I awoke at 2 A.M. and began thinking about the phenomenon again. As I lay there in the darkness, with no distractions, it came to me that Nephi had said he made a record “in the language of my father.” (1 Ne. 1:2.) I reasoned that the language of his father was a most logical choice, for everybody in the little company with him understood it perfectly. Then I remembered that when Nephi and his brothers went back to Jerusalem to get the records of their fathers, Nephi had said, “And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers.” (1 Ne. 3:19.)
Then it came to me like a bolt out of the blue: Nephi was writing his record—which became our Book of Mormon—in the same language that the Jews were using to compile their history—which later became our Bible!
Mentally I began going through the Old Testament recalling all the proper names I could, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with Malachi. No names beginning with W! It was exciting. “If this proves out,” I thought, “it will be amazing.” I decided to get up and read the genealogies in the Bible. I read a lot of them. Again, no names beginning with W. I must confess I had never read them before; they were too monotonous. But now I was reading with a purpose.
As the days went by and I continued to think about it, I wondered if there were any other correlations between the Bible and Book of Mormon. I remembered the pronouncing vocabulary in the Book of Mormon, listed alphabetically, and decided to see if the W was actually missing as the first letter in the names of people or places. I was amazed to discover that six letters were not used: F, Q, V, W, X, and Y.
Our library had a good Bible concordance, so I researched the above six letters and found that the following were used:
F—two in the book of Acts—both Roman names, one a governor of Judea—and one in 1 Corinthians, a Greek name.
Q—one, Quartus, a Roman soldier. (I discounted both the F’s and the Q because they were named in a different language.)
V—these gave me a little more trouble. In the book of Esther was the name Vashti—the wife of King Ahasuerus before he married Esther—and the name Vajezatha. (I discounted these, because both names were Persian.) But Numbers recorded the name Vophsi; Chronicles contained a Vashni, the firstborn son of Samuel; and the book of Ezra showed a Vaniah, son of Bani.
W, X, Y—there were no names of people or places in the Bible beginning with these letters.
I was concerned about the V. I wondered if it had been used and forgotten by the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
When I have tried to explain this strange phenomenon to others, many have said, “But there is a W in the word Hebrew, and also one in Matthew.” But, I have explained, these Ws have a U sound. Moreover, I am told that the -ew suffix is found only in their English form. The Y is present also in the names Egypt and Babylon, but they are renditions that have been made in English with little regard for the Semitic spelling.
Others have not understood the point and have said that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are full of words containing all of these letters. I admit that this is true. There are as many of all these letters in the Book of Mormon as there are in tonight’s newspaper. When the Prophet Joseph translated the accounts told in the Book of Mormon, he could only do so by using the English alphabet. For instance, when he told of the great storm on the ocean he could only describe it by using the English words wind, waves, water, etc. But these words are not proper nouns. I can only surmise that when the Prophet received names in the translation, these were given to him the way they sounded to the people of old, and as he tried to put them down in English, he did not have to use any of the six letters mentioned above.
I was fortunate in being able to explain my discovery to Dr. Hugh Nibley of Brigham Young University. I did not have to talk long before he exclaimed, “This is great! You have been inspired!” And he explained the following facts about those six letters:
F: This sound occurs as ph after vowels, but never in initial position.
Q: This sound, even when spelled with Hebrew Koph, is usually transliterated as K.
V, W: This sound, represented by the Hebrew letter Waw or Vav, is used fewer than a dozen times in the Hebrew Bible as an initial consonant. It is commonly used for the vowels o and u.
X: There is no equivalent to this letter in Hebrew.
Y: This would be Hebrew yod, but it is usually transliterated as the consonant J (e.g., Joshua, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus). As a vowel it is seen as i, but only in medial and terminal positions (e.g., Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Eli, Lehi, etc.)
It was gratifying to find a scholar who would corroborate my findings. The “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” have become “one in mine hand” (Ezek. 37:19); and these two “sticks,” as they were being produced an ocean apart, also became one in language and purpose.