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My Sunday school teacher once talked about the origin of the word "Adam" being associated with "Adom", which takes on the meaning of "dominion". Biblically speaking, I think this unconventional explanation could be quite appealing to Christians alike, but I'm really doubtful of its validity.

As Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, Adam originated from "Middle English, from Late Latin, from Greek, from Hebrew Ādhām", meaning "man" (New Oxford American Dictionry, 2nd ed).So this is the first time I heard it explained otherwise. Any evidence of that?

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3 Answers 3

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The Oxford English Dictionary supports the etymology given by M-W. The core meaning of Adam is ‘mankind’. There may be further connections with words from various languages meaning ‘earth, ground’ and ‘ruddy’. I’m not sure if it has any relevance, but Edom is another name for Esau.

There seems to be no recent etymological connection with words like dominion, which derives from Latin dominium, meaning ‘property’, and, ultimately, from dominus, meaning ‘lord’. There may just be the possibility that in Indo-European dominus had something in common with the word that produced Adam, but, unless someone knows better, that is speculation.

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The connection is spurious for the simple reason that Adam has its roots in Hebrew, an Afro-Asiatic Semitic language; whereas Dominion has latin roots and thus is ultimately an Indo-European word.

The etymology of Adam comes from the classical Hebrew word for earth, man, soil (Genesis 2 speaks of God forming Adam out of "the dust of the ground".) This word is related to adamah which means "ground" and dam which is the Hebrew word for blood.

Dominion comes from the latin word dominus (lord/master) which literally means "master of the house" (domus = home, hence the english words domestic and domicile.) Another english word which is derived from this root is timber — material used to build the home.

Both the Semitic origins of Adam and the Indo-European root dom are likely at least 5000 years old. There is a minority of linguists who believe that the Indo-European and Semitic language families descend from a prehistoric language ancestral to both, but I don't think this is accepted in the mainstream.

In any case, it's beyond speculative to try and connect these roots.

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Adam אָדָם was generally held to be related to adom אדום. But adom means "red", not "dominion".

I have no idea whether this has been disputed since, as my knowledge here comes from religious and magical writers rather than linguists, and frankly religious and magical thinkers are very bad at etymology; creating links where there are none, and adding meaning where there are mere links. (At least it's better than the guy who argued angle the astrological term was cognate with angel).

Still, adom אדום (red) > adama אדמה (red arable earth) > Adam אָדָם at least was a traditional etymology, whether modern thinking agrees or no.

Jumping from adom to dominion makes no more sense than linking it to the West African name Adom. Less really, as it's easier to see how a name from the Abrahamic religions could influence another name.

The association between Adam and dominion is of course Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26-28 KJV).

The Hebrew here is

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְעֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־ הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־ הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־ הָאָֽרֶץ׃ וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים אֶת־ הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמֹ֔ו בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹתֹ֑ו זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־ הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְעֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־ חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־ הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Which the dictionary tells me are forms from רָדָה (radah) meaning "rule" though with a variety of different connotations, suggesting "dominion" may be too harsh a nuance, or may not, as one chooses to interpret it. Either way, it's got nothing to do with אָדָם and nothing to do with dominium ("to own") from which we get dominion ("to own and rule" [from domus (home), cognate domestic]) beyond that being a possible translation.

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Adam meaning earth, soil is what I have heard. I noted a couple of years ago an Israeli movie with "Adam" in the Hebrew title (Adama Meshuga'at), but the English translation for the title was "Sweet Mud". –  GEdgar Feb 22 '13 at 16:13
    
@GEdgar Adama certainly means earth. And the associations I give about are certainly widely stated. Now, whether some expert in Hebrew etymology would agree or say that recent studies dispute it is another question. "Common knowledge" isn't always right. –  Jon Hanna Feb 22 '13 at 16:20
    
אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם - Lord of the Universe. Adon Olam. I think people have mixed up adon with adom giving the mistaken impression of dominion. The two are generally unrelated, though. –  David M Apr 10 at 12:14

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