What’s in a Name? Confusion and Testimony

Imagine for a moment that you are reading through Tolkein’s masterworks The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings. You are a few pages into The Fellowship of the Ring and learn that Frodo’s best friend is named Bilbo – just like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, but not the same Bilbo – a different Bilbo. Later, you discover that Gandalf’s last name is Oakenshield, and Smeagol’s real name is Peregrin Took.

Confused? I would be. Thankfully, Tolkien put enough time and effort into all of the names that there was little confusion. (Except maybe the Sauron/Saruman similarity – which is mildly confusing.)

Authors put a lot of time and effort into naming their characters. I have a lot of writer friends, and once in a while they will reach out for help in finding just the right name for a particular character in their novel.

Name selection is important. As my friend Dennis (Who has read approximately one zillion good and bad novels) mentioned to me, “A memorable name can help make a memorable character. After all, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. isn’t nearly as interesting as Indiana Jones.”

Why am I writing about names? Because some of the names in The Book of Mormon are confusing, redundant and downright weird.

For example: In the photo above, you see the prophet Alma baptizing people in the “Waters of Mormon,” in the “Lands of Mormon.” No, not THAT Mormon. We are never told who the “Mormon” was that the waters were named after. (Mosiah 18)

We can be sure, however, that the waters weren’t named after the same man who compiled The Book of Mormon. How do we know this? Because Mormon, the prophet, was born 400 years later than when Alma was baptizing. Rather, it is possible that the prophet Mormon was named after the Lands and Waters of Mormon. Confused?

Wait! There’s more! How about Laman and Lemuel going to get the plates from Laban? (1 Nephi 3:13-14) Of course, don’t forget there was Lamanite King named Laman 400 years after Nephi’s brother.

And what about Nephi? Which Nephi? Well, there is THE Nephi that starts us off, there is the missionary Nephi, who served with Lehi, (Not Nephi’s dad, but another Lehi.) And of course, there was another prophet Nephi when Christ visited the Americas, whose son was named Nephi. I’m not even gonna bring up Nephihah.

You have two Almas, a pair of Ammons, three Coriantumrs, two Coriantums, and three Helamans.

Two Giddonahs are plenty, three Jacobs (one good, two bad), a pair of Pahorans, and a few Zorams round things out. There are more examples, but I’m sure you get the idea.

If you look at the names Joseph Smith used, and the redundancy with which he used them, there are only two conclusions:

  1. Joseph Smith was the worst author ever, and, unlike every author who ever wrote a novel, he did not pay attention to the names of the 300+ characters he included. Or…
  2. The Book of Mormon is not a novel at all, rather it is a historical record.

I choose the second option. Why? History is not as clean and neat as a novel. I know for a fact that in real life, names can be confusing and redundant. For example, the boxer George Foreman named all five of his sons “George.” (Link)

When I hear someone say, “Hang on a second, which Nephi are we talking about?” It makes me smile.

Why? Because to some, the redundant naming might seem to indicate that Joseph Smith was simply a terrible author. But to me, the potential confusion, redundancy and sheer oddness of the names is a small testament to me that The Book of Mormon is not a product of one man’s imagination, rather it is a product of history. Sloppy, inconsistent and repetitive history.

I know men named Leslie and women named Sam, and vice versa. I know that family names move through generations, and are often duplicated. I have learned that doing family history presents some of the same confusion that I highlighted in The Book of Mormon. It isn’t clean and tidy, like a novel. It is family history, after all.

A final note, yes there are strange names in The Book of Mormon like “Shiz” and “Gidgiddonah.” Those names must be real, because (other than in Utah and Idaho), nobody would name their kids something that weird.

My testimony of The Book of Mormon does not depend on oddities like I have discussed, as a real testimony is based on revelation and is spiritual in nature. But noticing little things like this provide another small piece of kindling on a healthy bonfire of faith and testimony.

I love it.

About the author


  1. Another little witness that the Book of Mormon is a true history! And still another is one my grandpa (a BofM scholar all his life) pointed out is that Joseph Smith “wrote” that Lehi and his family came to a “river of water”. Being born and raised in New England, Joseph wouldn’t have known any other kind of river. What river doesn’t have water in it? Well, desert dwellers know that there are wet rivers and dry river beds. Nephi noted in the record what kind they came to and camped by. Joseph’s experience didn’t teach him that little detail.

    Keep up the good work of sharing your testimony!

  2. I don’t try and get too confused! I Love The Book of Mormon! These people were all converted to the Savior and wanted to change their lives! I know that we all have a testimony of the power of this Book! As we studied today the great plan of Salvation! Even Eve partook of the fruit as part of the plan so through her even though we die will be raised again from her seed even though Jesus Christ! He died so we might live! ?

  3. I love this part: small piece of kindling on a healthy bonfire of faith and testimony. Thank you!

  4. I’ve wondered if Mormon’s parents named him after the Waters of Mormon to remind him (and themselves) of the covenants made there which changed so many lives. Especially in a time of apostasy and rebellion, such a name would have been a powerful testimony of who he was and what he stood for. (Sort of like naming my son Brigham–so there’s no way for us to deny our faith or our foundation.)

  5. Great observation! With the level of detail and consistency in many things, it’s inconceivable that Joseph would have made the names so confusing if he were making it up. This adds one more bit of logical confirmation of what the Spirit will testify. Thanks, MMM. Or Brad. Or… what’s in a name, anyway? 😉

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I love Family History and checking out names! You have a neat sense of humor that also has Gospel truth.

  7. I LOVE this stuff. Love love love! But yeah, a testimony of Truth through ongoing revelation still trumps all the historical funky stuff one might discover about people and things (think OT talking donkeys). Rock on ?Saints!

  8. I have visited a place in Missouri that some believe may be the waters of Mormon. The water and the landscape is beautiful.

  9. “No, not THAT Mormon. We are never told who the “Mormon” was that the waters were named after.” I don’t even know if Mormon WAS a “who” initially…it always sounded to me from this verse that Mormon might be the Nephite word for “where the wild things are” 🙂

    4 And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.

    1. 3 Nephi 5: 12 And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression.

      We know that Mormon was named after the land of Mormon/waters of Mormon?

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)

%d bloggers like this: