Naming and Blessing Children

Note for non-LDS readers: In the LDS church, newborns are blessed via an ordinance performed during a Sunday Sacrament Meeting. The ceremony generally lasts less than 2-3 minutes, but it is an important cultural event for the parents. It’s common for family members and close friends to travel long distances to view or participate in the ordinance.
“The name by which he/she shall be known on church records is…”
This phrase has been incorporated into nearly every baby blessing I’ve ever heard in the LDS church. There’s no manual or set of guidelines that direct the ordinance performer to use this particular phrase, but it has become ubiquitous. This phrase has always irked me a little bit. Recently, however, I’ve gained a new perspective on the purpose of the ordinance that has helped me to better appreciate this particular phrasing.
The purpose of the ordinance, according to the Family Guidebook, is twofold:
1. Give the baby a name
2. Pronounce blessings on the baby as directed by the spirit
My troubles have stemmed from the combination of the first objective, and the particular phrase “The name by which he/she shall be known on church records is…” It seems to imply that the child doesn’t actually have a name unless it’s recorded on church records – that the procedure of giving a child a name somehow involves adding that name to church records – or even that the only purpose of having a name is so that we have something to write on our church records. To complicate things, I was taught as a teenager that the books from which we will be judged in heaven are identical to the records kept by the Ward Membership Clerks. The combination of these two ideas left me frustrated and confused, yearning for a recognition that naming the child and adding him or her to church records are separate and unrelated events – the former is important and was completed long before the baby blessing ordinance is performed, the latter is a mundane detail.
First, I didn’t understand the purpose of using an ordinance to give a baby a name. People that never participate in the ordinance still have names. Second, the ordinance is often performed several months after the baby is born and long after the parents have already legally named the child. The idea of officially naming a child 6 months after the parents actually chose the name, and 3 months after the baby was born and everyone has been using the name to refer to the child continues to seem somewhat strage. Third, what’s so special about having your name on church records? Non-members can have their names listed on church records, too. And Mormons are pretty well-known for their claim that children don’t actually join the church or become accountable for their actions until age 8. So what difference does it make if a child’s name is on church records?
I have come to understand that the ordinance performed during Sacrament Meeting a few months after the baby’s birth is not the baby blessing, but a baby blessing – one of many blessings to be pronounced on the child by his or her parents. The formal ordinance performed during Sacrament Meeting is primarily a rite of passage for parents rather than an official naming of the baby. It’s a chance for the parents, who have likely had sparse attendance at church since the birth as they navigate the wonderful pains of a growing family, to invite the entire congregation and ward family to join with the them in welcoming and blessing the child. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the miracle of child birth as a ward family.
And finally, perhaps representing a culmination of several months of celebrations and blessings for the new child, it becomes an opportunity for the parents to complete a little bit of paperwork. It’s an opportunity for the parents to formally announce the child’s name to make sure all members of the congregation know it. In this context, the phrase “the name by which you shall be known on church records” may be interpreted quite literally. The process of adding a child to church records is a mundane detail and a footnote to the overall miracle of child birth, but somebody’s got to tell the Clerk how to spell the kid’s name, right?

11 comments to Naming and Blessing Children

  • Kat

    Interesting thoughts. I have always thought that that is weird phrase. I just recently learned that it is not necessary to say in the baby blessing though. Since a baby blessing isn't actually a saving ordinance I agree with you that it is more of a right of passage.

    We will probably be blessing our baby at home with family, so we won't get to make sure the whole congregation knows our child's name.

  • Kat, thanks for your thoughts.

    I'm a really big fan of home blessings – primarily because they allow the child's mother (and other women) to play a much more prominent role in the ceremony & the ordinance than Sacrament Meeting blessings allow.

    As for the name thing – you'll just have to write it on her forehead with a sharpie every Sunday for the next few months.

  • Definitely interesting. I have never actually thought about the words spoken before. Honestly, I tend to space out during baby blessings because we have about a million of them a year in our ward and the dads go on and on and ON in their blessings. I would much rather have a home blessing as well, much more intimate and meaningful in my eyes.

    And speaking of non-members having their names in the records of the church … when I first moved out here, I was going through tithing settlement and I noticed my parents were given membership numbers and everything. ha! They have since remedied that!

    It was so good to see you and Melanie. Hope you guys had a great anniversary! We went to The Chef's Table and then to watch "Princess and the frog" … now I am waiting for my class to start! Gag! but I'm checking out early! :p

  • Reuben,

    While I enjoy your comments and insight regarding our shared religion, sometimes I believe you over think things. I have had three children, all three blessed during a Sacrament meeting. I have felt a wave of relief knowing my children would be found on the records of the church, as this will entitle them to countless blessings from the fellow members seated in the congregation. I know we are not alone in raising our children, but each individual will leave some kind of impression, I hope a positive one, on my children. In a world that pours out negative experiences, I know once a week my children will be surrounded by individuals who are trying the best to be who God knows they can be. No, a blessing is not a saving ordinance, a rite of passage was a great description. As my husband was not a member when our 2 oldest children were blessed, I had the opportunity to come to appreciate this blessing even more. We had lengthy discussions regarding blessings and baptisms, among other topics. These opportunities are a blessing to each one of us, not just the infant, and sometimes the wording is not what we should focus on, but the act itself and the worthiness of the Priesthood holder able to perform that service.

  • FF – thanks for your thoughts. I hope it is clear by my post that I am overall a very big fan of baby blessings performed in the church. I love watching them and hearing the wonderful blessings pronounced on the children. I agree that it is an extraordinary blessing to know that the ward family is helping us raise our children. I'm sure you have more insight into this than I do (since I don't have any kids…). I also agree that baby blessing ordinances are just as much (if not moreso) for the people performing and hearing the ordinance than for the infant.

    I realize that most people who use this phrase probably do it simply because it's what they hear other people say and don't mean anything in particular when they use it.

    I'd love to hear more about the lessons you've learned through your experiences with the ordinance – especially within the context of your husband not being a member of the church for 2 of them.

  • Very intriguing thoughts on this topic. I'm not sure, however, that it has ever been called an "ordinance." I am pretty sure that it is just a blessing.

    Where have you found church sources calling it an ordinance?

  • Sarah,
    From the Family Guidebook:
    Ordinances that require priesthood leader authorization are naming and blessing children, performing baptisms and confirmations, conferring the priesthood and ordaining to a priesthood office, blessing and passing the sacrament, and dedicating graves.
    The ordinance of naming and blessing children requires authorization from the presiding authority.

    It seems like this document places naming and blessing a baby in a slightly different category than healing or comfort blessings. Although, it's probably not worth getting worked up over the difference between blessings and ordinances – especially ordinances that are considered non-essential in LDS thought.

  • Reuben, while I usually disagree about your religious posts, I completely agree with you on this one.

    I did one home blessing (which I preferred) and one in sacrament meeting-and that was only because both parents and many family members were there, and they thought it had to be done in sacrament meeting.

    Anyway, just wanted to point on that I can comment without it being negative!!! Also, that I am bored and reading posts made long, long ago.

  • Huzzah! we agree on something!

  • Krit

    You don't know me, but I am also going to be blessing my baby soon and I was thinking about this "records" part. I doesn't need to be there, it is tradition. Not wrong or right, just tradition. My opinion? I just don't think it is fair to have paperwork included in an ordinance. Everything else is great!

  • @Krit – Best of luck on your ordinance & congratulations on the addition to your family.