Invoking the name of the Lord, a quantitative history

[Please note that fourteen years after this post was written, I published an expanded study with the Journal of Mormon History.  Go read that article] Invoking the name of the Lord is common in Mormon parlance. Whether prayer, testimony or discourse, terminating one’s words with the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” or a variation thereof is standard practice. This practice as currently employed is, however, a relatively recent innovation in the Mormon tradition.

Almost three years ago and on business trip I reviewed discourses from 1852 to 1970 and cataloged the occurrences of the now ubiquitous benediction (1). The result was a group of frequencies for various usages. I categorized them quaternarily:

In this usage, the orator invokes the Lord’s name as a conclusion to a blessing (e.g., “I bless you all in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” JD 8:39). There were only 16 instances of blessings being used to terminate a discourse in the references searched.

This usage is synonymous to prayer. From the 1850’s on, a minority of discourses were terminated in supplication to the Lord. This practice gained in popularity until the 1940’s, when almost all discourses were in this way terminated. Examples of usage include: “I pray that God may enlighten our minds, guide our feet in the way of truth, and save us in his kingdom, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” JD 8:6; “May God help us to live the life of a Saint and finally save us in his kingdom, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” JD 21:91; and “God help us to treasure this testimony, I ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Conference Report, April 1920 pg. 83.

Closing a discourse with a testimony or witness started at the turn of the century, but did not become common until the late 1910’s. An Example of such usage is, “I bear this testimony humbly, in the fear of God, and in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Conference Report 1920, pg. 46.)

Starting in the 1950’s, authorities terminated their discourses with “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen” or by sticking the incomplete sentence: “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen” at the end of the talk.


I found that the vast majority of 19th century Mormon discourses were not terminated by invoking the name of Jesus Christ. Normally a discourse would be terminated by the utterance of “amen,” without the qualifying appellation (e.g., “God bless you all. Amen.” JD 10:32), or without any amen at all. However, invoking the Lords name became more popular with time and by the 1940’s all talks were closed in supplication. Below is time-line of notable occurrences in the history of this usage.

1853 – (2) Parley P. Pratt issues a discourse at the temple grounds in which he terminates in the orphan usage. As this is the only usage for the next 67 years, I tend to think this was a transcription error.
1857 – (3) Heber C. Kimball curses the leaders of the US government in the name of the lord. This is the only instance of “cursing” I found in my query.
1858? – (4) Orson Hyde has the first recorded concluding testimony. This does not happen again until the turn of the century.
1900 – (5) William H. Smart delivers the next closing testimony.
1920 – two uses of the orphan (only one other in the next 33 years).
1953 – (6) Bruce R. McConkie is the first to consistently use it as the orphan, but in doing so, he uses, “In the name of Jesus Christ.” as a sentence in and of itself. He continues to be the only one for the next five years to use it as the orphan (however, from there it grows in popularity until the end of the observed period).

The following are graphical representation of that study I did 3 years ago. I recognize that in reporting frequency, not percentage occurrences the data is difficult to compare between years. Even though it was a ton of work, I decided to go through every discourse given from 1853 to the present and quantify all occurrences for a percentile analysis. After making it through seven years of discourses, I got caught up in other, more compelling, research projects. Still, I have included the data for those seven years in the third graph.





  1. The data comes from searching electronic copies (Gospel Link 2001) of:

    Journal of Discourse 1-26 (1853-1886)
    Collected Discourses 1-5 (1886-1898)
    April General Conference Reports (1898-1915, 1917, 1918, 1920-49, 1951, 1953-70)
    June 1919 General Conference Report

    I did not have 1916, 1950 or 1952 Conference Reports on the computer I traveled with. I limited the query to one conference per year, because I’m lazy and tabulated all this by hand. Results are from querying the aforementioned references to find instances of “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “amen” that occur in the same paragraph. Consequently some variations of the closure (e.g., in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen, etc.) were not tabulated.

  2. But remember, O ye Saints of the Most High! remember that the enemy is on the alert. That old serpent and his angels, who have ruled this lower world, with few exceptions, for so many ages, will not tamely, and without a struggle, submit to have the kingdom, and seat of government, and sanctuary of our God, again erected on our planet, no more to be thrown down or subdued, till every square yard of the vast dominion shall be reconquered by its rightful owners. No! From the moment the ground was broken for this Temple, those inspired by him [Satan] have commenced to rage; and he will continue to stir up his servants to anger against that which is good, but, if we are faithful, the victory is ours, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. (Parley P. Pratt, JD 2:47)
  3. Did I ever wrong them, a man or woman of them, out of a dime? No; but I have fed thousands where I never received a dime. Poor rotten curses! And the President of the United States, inasmuch as he has turned against us and will take a course to persist in pleasing the ungodly curses that are howling around him for the destruction of this people, he shall be cursed, in the name of Israel’s God, and he shall not rule over this nation, because they are my brethren; but they have cast me out and cast you out; and I curse him and all his coadjutors in his cursed deeds, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the Holy Priesthood; and all Israel shall say amen. (Heber C. Kimball, JD 5:34)
  4. This is my testimony, and the testimony of the living God through his Apostle to all connected in the name of Jesus Christ; and the Spirit beareth record. Amen. (Elder Orson Hyde, JD 7:53)
  5. The spirit bore witness to us that that word was from God and that it was not of man. I do not feel that I have power to take up your valuable time this morning, but I did want to bear this testimony unto you, and I do it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. (William H. Smart, Conference Report, April 1900, Third Day—Morning Session, 50)
  6. There is no greater gift that a person can earn and enjoy for himself, in mortality, than the gift of the Holy Ghost, which gift is the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead, and which gift is actually enjoyed only on condition of individual righteousness.
    In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. (Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, April 1953, Second Day—Morning Meeting, 76)


  1. As a side note, and if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that almost all contemporary uses are as the orphan.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    J., what’s your view on the data? Are we diluting the name of the Lord?

  3. Fascinating, J. I have wondered why we end talks and testimonies like we do, but I never thought to research it.


  4. Steve, that is a fascinating question. I have found sermons in the 19th century where authorities claimed that the Saints were over-using titles like Prophet and Seer. Perhaps their disinclination to invoke the Lord’s name was tied to that same feeling.

  5. Ah, Stapley!

  6. David Grua says:

    J. – Fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting it. A few questions:

    1. Have you looked for any secondary literature on how Protestants are using the Lord’s name during this period?

    2. “by the 1940’s all talks were closed in supplication” – Any hypotheses as to why this is occuring in the 1840s?

    3. I’m intrigued that there is only one reference to cursing. Have you found in researching other sources any anecdotal evidence that Mormons are cursing the Gentiles in their every day speech/prayers? Specifically, I’m wondering about the accuracy of “Bishop Samuelson” cursing the Gentiles in his family prayer.

  7. SC Taysom says:

    J., this is an excellent application of quantitative methods to a rhetorical problem. Develop an argument about what it all might mean (per Steve Evans’ prompt), and I think you have a publishable paper. Ok, I know that blog posts count as publishing, but you know what I mean :)

  8. SC Taysom says:

    Are you using just the published discourses? I think that Brigham Young’s gave something along the lines of 800 sermons that were recorded and existed as manuscripts but never published. I don’t think that this undermines your data, but it might lead you to soften the language about the totality of the survey.

  9. David, unfortunately, I did this on a whim and haven’t done much literature searching on the topic. I should emphasize my qualifications in footnote 1, that I did a specifice search for the bulk of the data set. There were likely other cursings that didn’t meet the search criteria or that occurred in other places than the end of a given talk. Also, in the seven year study in the third graph (the most complete study), I only looked at the last paragraph of the discourses as well.

    Any hypotheses as to why this is occuring in the [1940’s]?

    Nope. When I started the project I thought it would be a great study…actually, I still think it would be good. But I haven’t done any of that yet (and as I mentioned, have been doing other research).

  10. Taysom, you are right.

  11. fwiw, It doesn’t surprise me that BRM might have been responsible for popularizing the orphan practice, since he is the one who seemed most comfortable assuming his words were the actual words of the Lord.

    I think there is a natural inclination to assert authority, and invoking His name to conclude our own words is a way to make that assertion. I go along with it as custom, but I am much more comfortable limiting it to prayers and ordinances. (Much like the Jewish prohibition of using “Yahweh” – mentioned in the Sunstone thread. I’ve messed up two attributions to bloggers’ comments in the past couple of days, so I won’t try it this time.) If the prophets were to request more limited invocation, I would embrace it fully; it is does not, I will continue with the current practice in order to reflect the cultural sensibilities of those to whom I am speaking.

  12. I’d be interested to know whether it is just a recent phenomenon that many people seem to feel a need to put some descriptive phrase in front of the Lord’s name, notably the “Thy Son” that has apparently seeped from prayers to incorrectly pepper the testimonies and talks of half the people in my ward.

  13. J.Stapley — wow! And I thought I knew what you were up to.

  14. Yeah, MBD, that one makes me cringe every time.

  15. Fascinating, J. Now I can say I know somebody who says “quaternarily”.

    It is my impression that other Christians are comfortable just saying Jesus, but we almost always say Christ, too. I think I remember Spencer W. Kimball saying that was the correct way to refer to our Savior. But then I’ve heard others, Especially Elder Maxwell, close their talks “in Jesus’ sacred name”.

  16. kris, no one knows my history.

  17. Mark, I may be the only one you will ever know who uses that word. It doesn’t show up in the dictionaries, but I’m ok with that.

  18. J.–I knew you were a geek, but this is a new and delightful level of geekery. It makes me wild with glee that such a person as you exists!

  19. J, if you do write this up, you’ll want to check in with the Shepherds’ book on General Conference rhetorical shift, and a JMH paper on temple dedications. Both highlight an increase in mentions of Jesus in these official settings around the 1960s. Temple dedication prayers often, starting with Manti in 1888, include special emphasis on the invocation of “the name of Jesus Christ” (SLC, Alberta, Arizona all include it by 1930). This phrase enters a strict formula for temple dedications by 1980 or so.

  20. Looking back, there’s

    Nauvoo (OHyde, 1846): “Gather us in Thy Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.”

    St. George (Wells, 1877): “Thy name shall have the
    honor, the praise and glory, for we ask all in Jesus’ name, and unto Thee and our blessed Lord and Savior, and to the Holy Spirit be all power, might and dominion worlds without end. Amen. ”

    Logan (Taylor, 1883): “in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. Amen”

    Manti (Snow, 1888): “And to Thy name be the honor and glory and praise for ever and ever, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, Amen.”

    Ran out of time–you’ll need to deal with the temple prayers. Perhaps they are a source for the phrase; you’ll also want to review patriarchal blessings and blessings of healing to the extent they’re recorded anywhere.

    Thanks to Nick L for his compilation of temple prayers all those years ago.

  21. Incidentally, Staples, your neologism doesn’t make much sense because your four domains aren’t hierarchical. Unless there is a pun I’m missing and you’ve filtered it through three different languages or syntactic structures.

  22. A beauty of a MHA paper, as I remember. While the Saints recorded much, you are right, Sam, that prayers come up short, so dedications, blessings, and Patriarchal blessings would be a great place to look.

    Now, regarding the neologism…the root, quaternarius, does not imply hierarchy among four. And while quaternary is used in some cases as being hierarchal, it isn’t always (or most of the time from what I can tell). No?

  23. Only use I know of for quaternary in English relates precisely to hierarchy, whether a typical nested hierarchy or at a minimum ordinality. It’s specifically 4 as greater than, comprising, or after 3, rather than simply a collection of 4. I think the closest neologism would be quatrifurcate in the sense you’re intending.

  24. Good stuff J.

  25. I think if there were two categories, binarily, would be workable. We have unarius, binarius, ternarius and quaternarius. I do concede that the most common usages (e.g., protein structure, geological eras) are ordinal, but you have non-ordinal usages as well (e.g., quaternary alloys, quaternary systems).

  26. Jonathan Green says:

    What about the possibility that it’s not (or not just) the invocation practices that have changed, but the transcription practices? I can think of two reasons why someone recording a speaker’s words might omit a closing formula:

    1. It’s just a formula that isn’t actually part of the speech and that isn’t worth recording.

    2. It’s one thing to close a speech by invoking the name of God, where it’s an essential element of the compact between the speaker and the audience in physical attendance, quite another to put that invocation into writing, where it might be perceived as gratuitous. Because the communicative situation is fundamentally different, perhaps it’s not surprising if opening and closing formulas, particularly those that might tread on holy ground, are treated differently.

    This is just speculation on my part, but it’s probably something worth addressing in some future version of the research project.

  27. J. This is a dumb question, so I apologize up front, but I seem to recall GBH saying something to the effect that when he was a child it was more popular to just say “In Jesus’ Name, Amen” for prayer. Did this apply to talks as well? Did your study take things like that into account, or where you holding strictly to “In the name of Jesus Christ”?

  28. I love this, of course. Thanks for going to the trouble, Jonathan. It brings to mind a McWhorter linguistics lecture I listened to recently that described how all grammatical words start out as content words. The main example was the French negative marker pas which started out just meaning step, and still does when used for that purpose, but now just means not. The lecturer said that content words are used to spice up sentences: “I’m not walking.” “I’m not walking a step.” Then, they become habitual, lose their content meaning, and get used places that originally wouldn’t have made sense: “I don’t know a step what you’re talking about.” They end up just helping sentences flow along, becoming the new ordinary way of talking, succeeding the old ordinary way of talking. Then they get eroded down: “in’enameo’jesuchrisamen”.

    I can see why the orphan usage would take hold. Ending a talk, coming up with the sentence after which there isn’t another, letting the listeners know you have finished speaking, is one of the more difficult speaking tasks. Those who are good or think it though ahead finish with a strong final note or a pithy zinger. The rest say “That concludes my message.”

  29. I had the same question as Jonathan Green (26). Do you think some usages may be underreported depending on who was transcribing?

  30. Jonathan Green, that is a good point and one which I have though about. This is the main reason why I don’t look at pre-Utah discourses. When considering this question it is best to look at the latter 7 year data set as I looked at every sermon in the JD for those years. I think that any such effect is minimal precisely because of the transcription process. The process was best outlined by Ron Watt in a recent Utah Historical Quarterly. All the discourses were transcribed by a single indavidual for years and then a second individual. They were meticulous. It seems odd to me that they would included an invocation 25% of the time and then not for the balance. In those cases where the speaker did not invoke Jesus, there would sometimes be an Amen (e.g., “God bless you all. Amen.” JD 10:32). Lastly, the trends are pretty smooth, though to be certain, the 7 year study needs to be expanded over the full 150 years.

    Matt, in the seven year study I looked at all variants, though you are right that the larger study is not as robust (see qualifications in fn 1).

    John Mansfield, I agree. I see the use of a prayer in the discourse as being the opening of the practice. It works well and catches on and now 150 years later we use the orphan. Though it seems to me that BRM’s usage was a bit more calculated than natural development.

  31. Ron Watt’s article is available here. It is a PDF and about ~5 MB. “The Beginnings of The Journal of Discourses: A Confrontation Between George D.Watt and Willard Richards,” pg. 134.

  32. I should add that if I were to do the study again, I would take in account the orator and see if there were trends within certain individuals (which I am certain there is) and see how that contributed.

  33. A civil engineering professor in our college was showing off a sensing and data acquisition system his students put together. They mounted remote accelerometers and transmitters on the headgear of amateur boxers and filmed a round. The presentation had the camera’s view of the match taking up most of the screen, and on the edges were data strips showing about ten seconds of accelerometer data centered on the present; we could see the readings up to five seconds into the future from the present moment in the replay of the boxing match. Occasionally a spike would appear on one of the boxers’ data strips and move inexorable toward the moment when he would take a hit. It was quite something to experience. “He’s going to be hit. There. He lowered his glove. The other guy’s swinging. Here it comes. Ow. Oh no, look what’s coming next; that’s a huge spike!”

    The closing of some current General Conference talks is a bit like that. Some of the speakers don’t want the closing “in the name of” phrase to be a meaningless gesture. But that’s how they are going to close, since that’s how it’s done today. So they lead into one of J. Stapley’s first three usage categories that will place them a few seconds later at those words that every Conference talk ends with.

  34. Interesting stuff, thanks for the effort.

  35. I love the term “orphan” to refer to a use of Jesus’ name with no attached meaning. Closing a talk, testimony, or secular story over the pulpit necessitates terminating in Jesus name. Why? The same reason Tevia wears a yarmulke–Tradition! Though it would be interesting to dig deeper than that answer. Thanks for counting!

  36. It seems to me the easiest way to figure out the usage of the Lord’s name is to simply tag every single occurrence (of “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” and “Christ” in the entire collection) and then code them: full/first/last and refer/invoke/invoke&close. If you wanted to get fancy you could also code for specific formulations (such as Pres. Hinckley’s “in Jesus’ name, amen”) to see if it’s really associated with a particular person or time period (or not.)

    Since every talk will already have both a speaker and a date attached to it, it shouldn’t be hard to write a program that will keep track of all those variables and give coders an easy-to-use interface. You could even do distributed coding, if you wanted: each person could do a few dozen talks, and every talk is coded by two different people, and tada, you had your database. And you wouldn’t have any problems with “I only looked at the last line” and “I only looked for just this phrasing,” since the hard part (finding every Jesus) will be done for you.

    I mean, if you’re really interested in a definitive answer. ^_^

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