Evidence #384 | December 12, 2022

Many Names

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Scripture Central


Joseph Smith’s ability to keep track of hundreds of names in his dictation of the Book of Mormon, without confusing or forgetting them, provides evidence of its miraculous translation.

The Book of Mormon is filled with various types of data, including a large assortment of names. As explained in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “The Book of Mormon contains 337 proper names and 21 gentilics (or analogous forms) based on proper names. … Of these 337 proper names, 188 are unique to the Book of Mormon, while 149 are common to the Book of Mormon and the Bible.”1

These names refer to individuals, social groups, locations, and in some cases specific items or objects, such as the “Rameumptom” upon which the apostate Zoramites offered their prayers (Alma 31:21). In many instances, names are given in the text and then never referenced again, such as the name Abish which is only mentioned in Alma 19:16.

Abish by Krista Jones. (Image via Book of Mormon Central Art Contest 2018)

In other situations, names are integrated throughout the Nephite record with surprising consistency. This can be seen in the book of Ether.2 Its opening chapter presents “twenty-seven unusual names” as part of a genealogy, and then these same names are repeated—in precisely reverse order—throughout subsequent chapters and interwoven with the names of additional characters. The genealogy can therefore be seen as providing a “framework for the chronicle of Jaredite kings.”3 As assessed by Grant Hardy, the flawless reproduction of these names, intermixed with all sorts of other names and information, provides a “striking example of narrative complexity.”4 

Impressive naming consistencies can likewise be seen in references to lands and cities,5 social and religious groups,6 Nephite record keepers,7 the designations given to Nephite weights and measures,8 and so forth. All in all, the Book of Mormon’s presentation of its hundreds of names, virtually without error, is remarkable.9 It would have been quite a feat for Joseph Smith himself to fabricate this type of content, not only because it would entail the creation of so many unique names,10 but also because of the sheer difficulty of keeping track of them all.

It is certainly true that other texts, both fiction and non-fiction, also have large quantities of names that feature similar consistencies.11 But it isn’t just a matter of quantity; it is also about the mode of production. According to witnesses, Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon to various scribes in a fast-paced translation12 without relying on any notes or outlines13 and without making any substantial revisions.14 In other words, he really only had one attempt to get all these names right, and he had to do it without anything to help him remember the more obscure characters or toponyms.

It should also be remembered that names are just one type of data-rich content in the Book of Mormon. The text is filled with other complex and consistent features, such as three calendar systems with hundreds of dates,15 a developed system of weights and measures,16 multiple migrations,17 complex narratives,18 cohesive doctrines,19 dozens of editorial promises,20 various underlying source texts,21 hundreds of poetic structures,22 pervasive intertextual relationships,23 multiple literary genres,24 scores of internally fulfilled prophecies,25 and so forth.26

Image via Book of Mormon Central.

Joseph Smith’s ability to dictate the Book of Mormon’s 337 proper names under these unusual and constraining circumstances and alongside so many other complex features, without forgetting or confusing to what or whom the names referred, provides evidence of the Book of Mormon’s miraculous translation.

Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.

Wilcox, Brad, Wendy Baker-Smemoe, Bruce L. Brown, and Sharon Black, “Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 30 (2018): 105–124.

Sharon Black and Brad Wilcox, “188 Unexplainable Names: Book of Mormon Names No Fiction Writer Would Choose,” Religious Educator 12, no. 2 (2011): 119–30.

Melvin J. Thorne, “Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 179–193.

Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Book of Mormon Names,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 1:186–187.

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