New Names in the Latter-day Saint Temple Initiatory

Today we are talking about New Names. The naming ceremony is a portion of the initiatory ordinance in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’ll be going over the basics of this ceremony, and some of the exalted meaning that we can draw from it.

The initiatory consists of four main components: washing, anointing, clothing, and finally, naming. You’ll want to check out my other posts on those topics if you haven’t seen them already.

The Naming Ceremony

The naming ceremony bestows a new, sacred name on the participant. There are solemn promises and blessings made in conjunction with receiving this new name. In this brief ceremony, we promise to remember and hold this name sacred, to not disclose it to others.

There’s nothing inherently mystical or oracular about your new name. The temple didn’t receive special revelation about what your name should be, it doesn’t represent the name by which you were known in heaven. The names given in the temple are fairly ordinary. The point isn’t for the name itself to be revelatory. Rather, the name is a token, it’s a symbol of something greater than yourself. The experience overall is what is revelatory and meaningful. New names symbolize entering a new life, a new identity, and a new covenant.

Everything about the initiatory foreshadows and anticipates something greater in the future. The Washing cleanses us and prepares us to receive the rest of the ordinances of the temple. The anointing sets us apart as a future priest and priestess in God’s kingdom. The clothing is a first precursor to greater clothing and symbolic glory to be received later. The naming ceremony is likewise one piece of the greater puzzle. When you receive a new name, it’s a special experience in itself. However, it is also looking forward to the higher ordinance of the endowment ceremony, where this name will be used. We’ll talk about sacred names in context of the endowment ceremony in a future video. For now, I want to focus on its function in the initiatory ordinance.

New Identity

Names have cosmic significance in antiquity and today. One thing they can represent is obtaining a new identity. I trust you’re familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah in the book of Genesis.

Abraham

From Genesis 12–25, Abraham is the central figure. Abram is a nomadic herdsman in the land of Canaan. He left his idolatrous homeland and family in order to serve the one and true God. This God reveals himself to Abram and makes a covenant with him, the Abrahamic covenant. According to Abram’s faithfulness, God promises Abram posterity, land, priesthood, and many more blessings. To symbolize this covenant, God gives Abram a new name: Abraham. He also renames his wife Sarai as Sarah.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee (Genesis 17:5).

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be (Genesis 17:15).

These new names signify that Abraham and Sarah were never the same after their encounter with God. They are transformed and new beings. In addition, it signifies their belonging to God, as opposed to the idols of surrounding cultures. It signals our alliegance and new kinship with God. It represents us becoming something new. Ultimately, we’re becoming like God, and we’re becoming his.

Creation

In the creation account in Genesis, creation is not complete until the thing God created until it is given a name (Genesis 1:8, 10).

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Genesis 1:3–5)

Adam likewise names all the animals in the Garden of Eden as a crowning act of creation (Genesis 2:19). The final act of the creation was even Adam’s naming of Eve (Genesis 2:23).

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. (Genesis 2:19).

The final act of creation for the animals was to have Adam bestow upon them a name. The naming is also an act of stewardship, showing that Adam as the primordial man, was to have righteous dominion over the creations of the Earth.

Jesus’s New Name

Even Jesus received a special name from God to signal his identity and covenant with the Father. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’s baptism is seen as a sort of initiation. He’s initiated into God’s divine council, and this moment marks the beginning of Jesus’s journey as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Mark 1:9–11)

He is washed, symbolically anointed, he witnesses to a sign in the form of the dove, and is granted a new name, “Son.”[1]

Nuns and Queens

When taking their vows, initiated nuns receive new clothing, including a robe and veil. Many choose a religious name to signify their making a new covenant with God. It demonstrates their new identity as committed disciples, and it indicates their new relationship with Christ, which they sometimes describe as a marriage relationship.

Royalty will often take on an official name when they ascend to the throne, which may or may not be different from their given name. For example, Princess Alexandrina Victoria eventually became Queen Victoria. Prince Albert Edward became Edward VII upon taking the throne. Prince Albert became King George VI, and Elizabeth Alexandra Mary became Queen Elizabeth II when she ascended to the throne in 1953.

New Relationship

In addition to names signifying a new identity, they can also represent having a new relationship or belonging. In Isaiah, the Lord promises that those who love and serve the Lord, will be given a new name in connection with a place and family as sons and daughters.

Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls
a place and a name
better than of sons and of daughters:
I will give them an everlasting name,
that shall not be cut off.
Also the sons of the stranger,
that join themselves to the Lord,
to serve him,
and to love the name of the Lord,
to be his servants,
every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it,
and taketh hold of my covenant;
Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer:
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
shall be accepted upon mine altar;
for mine house shall be called
an house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:5–7)

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name. (Isaiah 62:2)

As we talked about, Abraham’s new name signaled his new identity, but it also signaled his belonging to God, as opposed to the idols of the surrounding cultures. It represented a new relationship and kinship with God. Adam’s naming of the animals signaled that he had sacred stewardship over them. Nuns’ new names show their relationship with Christ, and monarchs’ new names show their new relationship with the state.

When we receive a new name, we have a new relationship with the person we’re making a covenant with. In this case, in the temple when we receive our new name in the initiatory, we are signaling our new relationship with Christ. We are becoming more intimately connected than we were before; we are becoming like family.

Source of Power

Knowledge of a hidden name can be a source of power. This may seem like a strange concept, but we can illustrate this well with the familiar children’s tale of Rumpelstiltskin. In this story, Rumpelstiltskin manipulates and strikes shady deals with characters on the premise that they have no power over him since they do not know his name. Once they discover his name, he is bound to obey their request. Sometimes, the true names of people were kept secret because to know the true name of someone would grant that person power over the person’s being.

Ancient Egypt also had beliefs surrounding sacred hidden names. In the story of Isis and Re, the goddess Isis was able to extract the secret name of the god Re in order to gain power over him. In this myth, Isis contrives to make Re vulnerable by having him bitten by a snake. Isis uses the spit of Re to fashion a snake from the clay of the earth. Isis plants the snake in Re’s path as he is observing his creation. When Re is bitten by the snake, he is in intense pain, and calls the gods and children of the gods together to seek help. Isis offers to heal Re of the poisonous bit, but she can only do it if Re gives her his true name. Isis says to Re,

Tell me your name, my divine father.
A man lives when called by his name.[2]

Re explains,

My father and my mother told me my name
and I hid it from my children, in my body
to prevent it happening that a male or female magician strike against me.

After some negotiating, Re relents and gives his true, hidden name to Isis, on the condition that she only share it with her son Horus. With the true name of Re, Isis is able to rebuke the poison and heal Re of his fatal ailment.

In the Gospel of Mark, we already discussed how Jesus was given a new name at baptism: Son. The author of Mark continues to weave this sacred name motif throughout his Gospel. Whenever Jesus expels a demon, they often tried to exert power over him by uttering his hidden name. Jesus responds by silencing and exorcising the demon to prevent revelation of his hidden name until his crucifixion.[3]

For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known. (Mark 3:10–12)

And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:34)

Representation of Keys

In Matthew 16, Jesus indicates to Simon Barjona that he is going to be given keys by giving him a new name: Rock.[4]

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:17–19)

The book of Revelation and also the Doctrine and Covenants talks about names in connection with sacred, heavenly knowledge:

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Revelation 2:17)

Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word. (D&C 130:10–11 )

Sacred Identifier

Finally, names can be sacred identifiers of divinity. God also has sacred names. We already talked about Jesus’s sacred names in the New Testament narratives, but we also learn about God’s sacred name in Exodus 3. When Moses encounters the burning bush, God calls him to deliver Israel out of Egypt. Moses’s question to God is interesting. He asks,

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them,
The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you;
and they shall say to me, What is his name?
W
hatshall I say unto them?

And God said unto Moses,
I Am That I Am:
and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel,
I Am hath sent me unto you.

Exodus 3:13–14

The phrase “I am that I am” is a play on the Hebrew tetragrammaton or יהוה (yod hey vav hey, YHWH). This is sometimes pronounced as Yahweh, and anglicized as Jehovah. While the word’s meaning is uncertain, many have theorized that YHWH is connected to the verbal root “to be.” The meaning of YHWH’s name might then be something like, “the existing one” or “the one who is.”

This is a sacred name that God reveals to Moses, and that he charges the Israelite to keep strictly sacred.[5] At certain points in Israelite history, it was completely forbidden to utter the word at all, except by the priests of the temple at designated ritual times. Why is the name of God so sacred? Because names have power. God has revealed his name to us, indicating our readiness to enter into a holy covenant and relationship with him.

In John 17, Jesus’s High Priestly prayer, Jesus declared the sacred name of God to his disciples. In this situation, it seems Jesus may have done this to initiate the disciples into a holy knowledge of God’s glory, to help them eventually join Christ in full glorification and unity with the Father. In other words, this sacred knowledge of God’s name would assist them in their heavenly ascent towards admission into the divine council, or deification.[6]

I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world. (John 17:6)

And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26)

Conclusion

There are a few things we can apply to our temple worship here.

  • New Identity
  • New Relationship/Belonging
  • Source of Power (call someone to life)
  • Elite Status
  • Representation of Keys
  • Sacred Identifier

First, receiving a new name can represent receiving a new identity.

Second, it can also represent having a new relationship, or sense of belonging with the person you’re making a covenant with.

Like in the story of Isis and Re, it can be a source of power. In this specific case it could call someone to new life from death.

New names are an indication of elite status. We don’t really have evidence that regular citizens in ancient Egypt had hidden names. We get the sense that this was only something that was reserved for gods or divine beings.

New names can represent keys, which we’ll talk about later in a later post.

And they also can be a sacred identifier of a god. What’s interesting with Jehovah, is that he revealed his name to the Israelites; he did not hide it from them. But it also came with the charge to not take his name in vain and to treat it very sacredly.

So the next time you attend the temple remember that the new name can represent your new identity, relationship, power, and divinity.

Further Reading

Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye, “The Messianic Sacred, Not Secret: The Son as a Hidden Name in the Gospel of Mark,” Temple on Mount Zion Conference 2020.

Robert Kriech Ritner, “The Legend of Isis and the Name of Re,” in The Context of Scripture, ed.William W. Hallo (New York: Brill, 1993), 33.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Founded Upon a Rock: Doctrinal and Temple Implications of Peter’s Surnaming,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 9 (2014): 1–28.

William J. Hamblin, “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Scripture 1 (2012): 61–89.

Nicholaus Benjamin Pumphrey, “Names and Power: The Concept of Secret Names in the Ancient Near East,” Masters Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2009.

Bruce H. Porter and Stephen D. Ricks, “Names in Antiquity: Old, New, and Hidden,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (Salt Lake City, FARMS, 1990).

Gordon C. Thomasson, “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1 (1994): 1–27.

Truman G. Madsen, “‘Putting on the Names’: A Jewish-Christian Legacy,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (Salt Lake City, FARMS, 1990).

Alex Douglas, “The Garden of Eden, the Ancient Temple, and Receiving a New Name,” in Ascending the Mountain of the Lord: Temple, Praise, and Worship in the Old Testament (2013 Sperry Symposium), ed. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Matthew J. Grey, and David Rolph Seely (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 36–48.


[1] Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye, “The Messianic Sacred, Not Secret: The Son as a Hidden Name in the Gospel of Mark,” Temple on Mount Zion Conference 2020.

[2] Robert Kriech Ritner, “The Legend of Isis and the Name of Re,” in The Context of Scripture, ed.William W. Hallo (New York: Brill, 1993), 33. A free translation of the tale of Isis and Re can be found online at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/literature/isisandra.html

[3] Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye, “The Messianic Sacred, Not Secret: The Son as a Hidden Name in the Gospel of Mark,” Temple on Mount Zion Conference 2020.

[4] In this passage, he specifically calls him “Peter,” but then also plays on the Hebrew meaning of his name and bestows upon him another name of “rock.” Latter-day Saints often interpret the rock as referring to revelation. See Matthew L. Bowen, “Founded Upon a Rock: Doctrinal and Temple Implications of Peter’s Surnaming,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 9 (2014): 1–28.

[5] In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the spirit, being, essence, or intelligence of Jesus Christ is characterized as “The Word” (John 1:1).

[6] William J. Hamblin, “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Scripture 1 (2012): 61–89.

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