Whats the meaning of the phrase; "In the name of"? For example : whatever you ask in my name, Ask in my name.

Oxford actually has an entry for the phrase, but it doesn't seem to match how it's used in prayers, as that's not for emphasis. And even this doesn't explain why it's emphatic.

(in the name of Christ/God/heaven etc.) Used for emphasis:
what in the name of God do you think you’re doing?

  • David I've added some rudimentary research. Please feel free to improve the question further.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 22, 2015 at 20:50
  • It's either an oath/curse -- "In the name of Deity/Devil" -- or it's asserting a right to act on behalf of another party -- "In the name of Joe Smith I say/act/sign the following".
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 22, 2015 at 21:18

4 Answers 4


What does “in the name of…” actually mean?

Putting all religious contentions aside for the sake of our language, the etymology of name offers a good place to start understanding:

Old English nama, noma "name, reputation,"

from Proto-Germanic *namon

(cognates: Old Saxon namo, Old Frisian nama, Old High German namo, German Name, Middle Dutch name, Dutch naam, Old Norse nafn, Gothic namo "name"),

from PIE *nomn- (cognates: Sanskrit nama; Avestan nama; Greek onoma, onyma; Latin nomen; Old Church Slavonic ime, genitive imene; Russian imya; Old Irish ainm; Old Welsh anu "name").

Emphasis mine

We've all experienced the power of namedropping in our lives. People respect us and our opinions if they believe we are connected to someone with greater reputation and authority.

In all cultures, people of authority have always lent their reputation and their authority to their delegates. The founders and leaders of religious movements use the same delegation strategies as the founders and leaders of nations. The English phrase in the name of simply asserts the reputation and authority of another person.

English Reports Annotated - Pages 1505-2672, 1505, page 2048:

...an action on a board given to trustees of an industrial society before the act may, after registration under the act, be brought in the name of the newly -incorporated body.

Victor Hugo's Dramas 1519, page 364:

Richard Varney, in the name of God and Saint George we dub thee knight!

The Newe Testament in Englishe Translated After the Greke, 1553:

And he that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward.

Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the reign of Elizabeth: preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office, Volume 7, 1564:

Smith and Throckmorton in the name of their Mistress demanded the ratification of the Treaty of Cateau Cambresis

An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, by Martin Luther, 1520, Translation by C. M. Jacobs, Page 94:

The complaint was made at Worms (1521) that it was impossible for a German to secure a clear title to a benefice at Rome unless he applied for it in the name of an Italian, to whom he was obliged to pay a percentage of the income...

Emphasis mine

We introduce an interrogative with the emphatic: What in God's name, or its metonym: What in heaven's name. That emphasis poses an implication to the listener: I have a right to ask this question, and you owe me an answer!

  • 1
    +1. Google Books searches also turn up numerous nonreligious expostulations of the type "What in the name of good fortune..." "What in the name of good sense..." What in the name of good taste..." "what in the name of common sense..." "What in the name of good nature..." These examples read like a kind of sideways apostrophiizing, in which the speaker or writer summons the admirable thing to demand satisfaction of its standards or interests from the questioned policy or action.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 24, 2015 at 2:08

I disagree with Blessed Geek. The title of this page is English Language & Usage. What is more basic to speaking and using correct English than knowing what an expression means? There are many nonreligious uses for this phrase: "in the name of the law," "in the name of the king/queen," "in the name of humanity," in the name of common decency," etc.

The question asked what the phrase means, not the historical contexts in which it developed or the religious and/or political influences on it. It most certainly does not ask whether people actually believe that God exists and gives people the authority to act in his name, although both the Old and New Testaments teach this idea extensively.

Very simply, the phrase means that law, the monarch, deity, humanity, or common decency, etc. gives the speaker power and authority to demand attention, respect, and obedience.


It seems to me that after multiple, long and careful reading and longer deliberation on the section it seems that this quotation is coming from a more simplistic, face-value and almost primitive perspective. Our modern industrialized minds are having a hard time with this one. Perhaps the meaning of the phrase is found in the phrases surrounding it and they are to be taken point blank for what exactly they say. This may seem radical, but the many points about one cultural interpretation of another cultural meaning can present significant problems. The reference is from St. John 14 if I read the beginning correctly. Is that correct?

There is an example in that section of one person being/having and acting in the name of another and perhaps this is the example of the meaning of the phrase in question. It even goes on to say that believing the definition provided (the relationship/identity etc) was the key to understanding and having the exemplified result.

Modern interpretation of the phrase is basically to say the same as: "Mommy said you had too."

More relate-able cultures in history indicate a mentality of: "I'm saying this to you as if I were Mommy, so do it."

The phrase deeper into antiquity, and in the context of the surrounding comments of the verse referred too seem to indicate something even more radical in the mind of the user of the phrase: "I am Mommy..." or "I am the King..." etc.

Perhaps this interpretation, even more strange to our modern minds than all the rest, is what is to be interpreted by the phrase "In the name of...". The name being a very real way of identifying one's self, not just similar too, or in relation too but in reality -as the identity itself.

The latter adaption, even though, the most outlandish in appearance, is from all remaining logic, the only one of the three that could produce the results indicated in the segment. So no matter how improbable... it must be "it" or the closest of the three known ways of interpreting it. Especially if we were to consider the context and very direct communication on how it is to be interpreted by the individual proposing the idea in the first place.


This is not a question suited for this forum.

It is a religious question, and should be best asked in the Christianity Forum, or perhaps in a religio-linguistics forum.

Let me tell you why.

The pattern of language "in the name of X" is found in the Greek documents that contributed to the founding of Christianity.

At that time, since the composing of the septuagint, 400 years earlier, certain Jewish religio-philosophers (including Josephus) had the tendency to correlate Jewish religion and documents to Hellenistic sophistry, or to attempt to explain Judaism by constricting themselves to the Hellenistic perspective and its penchant for ambiguity and rhetoric. The very fact is that the Septuagint itself demonstrates the reductive effects of Hellenism on the original Hebrew documents, due to the inability of a synthetic and abstract language (Greek) to transmit the ideas written in an algorithmic/sequentially-tensed and primitives-based language (biblical Hebrew).

Therefore, the phrase in the name of X is a rhetoric that is meant to speak to the believer/disciple according to the arousal by the "holy ghost". You would have to immerse/baptize yourself in Hellenistic thoughts, in order for the "holy ghost" to speak to you in the manner that had so inspired these Hellenized documents, to understand the rhetoric of the phrase in the name of X.

Secondly, one has to understand the Hebrew scriptures, and the Jewish dynamics during the period of the Maccabees to perhaps 200 years after the surfacing of the story of Jesus.

At that period, it became evident that Jews referenced the Almighty in an Envelope of Names, to ensure the actual Person is being addressed, without pejoratively attributing imprecise concepts to a humanly unpronounceable Name.

And Christianity had sought to ensure that their new religion inherited as much legacy from Jewish concepts as their new principles of faith would accommodate. The principle of referencing the Name (השם), provided an effective affinity for the new religion to correlate the deity of their dejure (in name, pun intended) founder to the Deity found in the religious documents of Jews.

The very fact, that my explanation will offend many religious people, demonstrates why this is the wrong forum for this question.

  • 1
    Examples of non-semitic language that is sequentially-tensed, or tensed by precedent context is Indonesian and Malay, which inherited significant elements from Quranic and medieval Arabic. Mar 22, 2015 at 22:08
  • It is also used in secular ways nowadays. Though what you say is doubtless historically accurate, in saying that this is not a question suited for this forum, you are ignoring the fact that the expression is defined in dictionaries (eg Webster's 1913: in behalf of; on the part of; by authority ; as, it was done in the name of the people; – often used in invocation, swearing, praying, and the like. ... by the authority of. In the represented or assumed character of.) and appears in dated films ('Open in the name of the law!') Mar 22, 2015 at 23:09
  • It seems the Hebrew obsession with the name of God, predating Hellenism by a millennium, is a more likely place to start. Religion aside: The Old Testament command: Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain, might have some bearing on the regulation of Deuteronomy 18:20, "But the prophet who dares to speak a message in my name that I have not commanded him to speak...must die. Perhaps David's statement to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:45 was informed by the same notion: "Thou comest to me with a sword...but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of Hosts."
    – Good A.M.
    Mar 23, 2015 at 22:35
  • in the name of Xis a new development beyond.the traditional ancient depiction of the Name, as i.had stated. The closest is Psalm 23 (למען שמו) = due to His Name. Which.is not quite similar in motivation to the new phrase in Christianity. As I explained, the combination of Hellenistic rhetoric with the desire to claim.as much legacy as possible as well as the overwhelming motivation to be a legitimate substitute of Jewish traditions, culminated in the new phrase. That is why this question is in the wrong forum ! ! ! Mar 24, 2015 at 0:41

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