The naming and blessing of a child is not an ordinance necessary for salvation. Why, then, is it important?
, associate professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.
The naming and blessing of children is a commandment from God. In April 1830, the Lord said through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.” (D&C 20:70.)
Although evidence of naming and blessing of children is not abundant in early church records, such blessings did occur. Oliver Cowdery, who served as clerk of the Norton, Medina County, Ohio conference, held on 21 April 1834, recorded, “President Smith then laid hands on certain children and blessed them in the name of the Lord.” (History of the Church, 7 volumes, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, 2:54.)
At a church meeting held on the evening of 13 March 1843, the Prophet blessed another group of children. Of that occasion, he wrote:
“Twenty-seven children were blessed, nineteen of whom I blessed myself, with great fervency. Virtue went out of me, and my strength left me. …
“(The next day) Elder Jedediah M. Grant enquired of me the cause of my turning pale and losing strength last night while blessing children. I told him that I saw that Lucifer would exert his influence to destroy the children that I was blessing, and I strove with all the faith and spirit that I had to seal upon them a blessing that would secure their lives upon the earth; and so much virtue went out of me into the children, that I became weak, from which I have not yet recovered; and I referred to the case of the woman touching the hem of the garment of Jesus. (Luke 8).” (History of the Church, 5:303.)
Joseph Smith followed the commandment and example of the Lord himself. Indeed, the Savior blessed children both in ancient Israel and on the American continent, and said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. …
“And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mark 10:14–16.)
The Book of Mormon describes the Redeemer blessing little children during his ministry among the Nephites. (See 3 Ne. 17.) Jesus invited the people to bring their children to him (3 Ne. 17:11), then, kneeling with the multitude, he prayed to his Father (3 Ne. 17:15). After his prayer, the Savior blessed each child one by one. (3 Ne. 17:21.) A fire “encircled those little ones about … and the angels did minister unto them.” (3 Ne. 17:24.)
Jesus blessed little children even though they “are redeemed from the foundation of the world.” (D&C 29:46.) His example of blessing children, wrote Elder John Taylor, “should be studiously complied with without hesitancy or objection” by priesthood holders. (Millennial Star, 15 April 1878, 40:235–36.)
I have found it interesting that in the scriptures a new name is often involved when a covenant relationship is formed. When Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth (see Gen. 1:28), Adam was given the responsibility of naming the animals. (See Gen. 2:19–20.) Likewise, in receiving Eve as his wife, Adam named her. (See Gen. 3:20.) God himself, after creating bodies for our first parents, “blessed them, and called their name Adam.” (Gen. 5:2.)
Later, when Jehovah entered into a covenant relationship with Abram, he changed Abram’s name to Abraham. (See Gen. 17:5.) The Lord did the same thing with Jacob when He extended to Jacob the same covenant He had made with Abraham. (See Gen. 35:10.)
We follow a similar pattern when entering into covenant with Christ in the waters of baptism. At that time, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and that becomes the name by which we are called. (See Mosiah 5:7–12.) The higher covenants of the temple also involve the giving and receiving of names.
In each of these cases, the one giving the name assumes responsibility for protecting, loving, and nurturing the one receiving the new name. And the recipient of the name, in turn, is to honor the namegiver and follow his counsel.
In this context, it is appropriate that when one of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children enters mortality, he or she is given a new name by one bearing priesthood authority—ideally, the one who helped create the body for the child and the one to whom God has entrusted His child in mortality. At its best, this new relationship between father (and mother) and child should extend into eternity as part of a covenant relationship called the patriarchal order. President Joseph F. Smith described that relationship in these words:
“The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is, then, a particular reason why men, women, and children should understand this order and authority in the households of the people of God and seek to make it what God intended it to be, a qualification and preparation for the highest exaltation of his children. In the home, the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority supreme. …
“This authority carries with it a responsibility, and a grave one, as well as its rights and privileges, and men cannot be too exemplary in their lives, nor fit themselves too carefully to live in harmony with this important and God-ordained rule of conduct in the family organization.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 1971, pages 22–23.)
President Smith also noted that it “is in every way proper” for a father to pronounce a name and blessing upon his child during the monthly fast meeting, for it “is in the nature of a father’s blessing.” (Ibid., page 29.)
This does not mean that a child is deprived of this blessing if his or her father does not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood or is otherwise unable to officiate in the blessing. The bishop, who holds the presiding priesthood keys in the ward, has the right to designate another elder to give the blessing. In all cases, the elder who blesses the child should prepare to be guided by the Spirit.
Parents can help a child to receive those sacred blessings promised him or her that depend upon the child’s faithfulness. In Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 [D&C 68:25–28], parents are given a clear commandment to teach their children:
“Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …
“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.”
In summary, the naming and blessing of children is a commandment of God. It is proper for a worthy father to name and bless his children. Blessing of children was done during the time of Christ, and it occurred in the early years of the restored Church. The ordinance has become a regular practice followed by Church members ever since.