Hoskisson argues that hypercorism (the altering of names to create familiar or pet forms; e.g., Susan = Susie) could help explain a persistent issue he sees with the proposed etymology of the name Cumorah, leading him to add the phrase “—of the Lord” to the previously suggested Hebrew meaning of “Rise up, Oh Light”. This makes it an even more fitting description of the Hill Cumorah and the divine book that rose from it.
In this article, Paul Hoskisson, primary author of the invaluable Book of Mormon Onomasticon, provides a suggested revision to a previously proposed interpretation of the name Cumorah. Noting that it’s impossible to attach definitive meanings to Book of Mormon names, he summarizes the suggested Hebrew etymology (qūm, “arise/rise (up),” + ʾôrah, “light”) and outlines his primary issue with it—that it combines a feminine noun (ʾôrah) with a masculine verb (qūm). Proper Hebrew subject-verb agreement would suggest that the word should be either the feminine Cumiorah, or the masculine Cumor.
To address this issue, Hoskisson suggests that the word Cumorah may represent a hypocorism—the practice where names are altered to create pet or diminutive forms (e.g., adding a -y to names when applying them to children; Mike = Mikey). Hebrew can create hypocoristic names, and doing so was a common practice in the biblical era. Hoskisson cites the example of Uri, which could itself mean “my light”, but may be a shortened form of ūrȋyāh or “the Lord is my light”, abbreviating the name’s theophoric element (the part of the name referencing deity).
This fact is relevant to the name Cumorah, as the -ah ending need not be the feminine affix heh, but could instead be a hypocoristic aleph, as suggested by an Ammonite name attested at the time of Lehi. If hypocoristic, it could be a shortened version of a no-longer-identifiable theophoric element, as is the case with the name Hannah (which can be short for Hanniel, “God is grace”). As the Hill Cumorah is in a Nephite area, one could assume that the theophoric element represents Jehovah or El. If so, the name could be interpreted in the masculine form Cumor, “Rise up, O Light,” with a hypocoristic suffix -ah indicating “of the Lord.” Hoskisson suggests that this updated meaning could refer as much to the Nephite record buried within the Hill as to the hill itself, concluding:
“Is it not then possible that Cumorah received its name proleptically in anticipation of the fulfillment of prophetic foresight…of what would take place there? … What more meaningful and significant name for that hill or area could there be than ‘Rise up, O Light of the Lord.’”
I can’t help but agree with Hoskisson that the proposed meaning is more than fitting for the hill that would produce the Book of Mormon, a book filled with Christ’s light that rose literally and figuratively from the dust. My only caution in this case comes (perhaps unsurprisingly) from the role that chance can play in producing potentially spurious interpretations, as persuasive as they might be. I took a hard look at the Onomasticon a few years ago, concluding that the odds of finding a seemingly meaningful interpretation for a random word in another language is decently high. Allowing for hypocorism would only increase that chance, adding yet another degree of freedom for analysts to find meanings that seem to be a good fit, even if that connection isn’t ultimately real. Nevertheless, it’s the job of the Hoskissons of the world to highlight all of the options available—to take us down every possible linguistic road, even if some of them end up being blind alleys. To that end, this article seems a valuable addition to the interesting question of Cumorah’s etymological origins.