Sunday, May 3, 2009


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 (AV)

In addition to dressing and keeping the garden, Adam was also given the privileged task of naming the other creatures which inhabit the earth. Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that naming and names are very significant things in Scripture. Juliet’s dictum notwithstanding, (What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.) it takes but little consideration to realize that names have tremendous power to influence our perception of a thing. Just start by considering your own name. Have you ever considered how your life might have been influenced differently if your parents had given you a name other than the one they had given you? For better or for worse, people would perceive you differently – and you would perceive yourself differently – if you wore a different name. What the net effect of this would be is impossible to say, but it would undoubtedly make some sort of difference. (And to date this post by referencing current events: does it matter whether we call it Swine Flu, or the H1N1 Virus – or Mexico Flu, as Israel’s Health Department has decided to do? Is the chosen name going to affect how people react to it? Which name do you think is going to stick?)

As an initial consideration, we should be reminded that God Himself has a Name and that Scripture attaches great importance to this fact. (Ex 3:13-15) God’s Name is to be carefully guarded. (Ex 20:7) Next, it should be noted that the act of naming in Scripture represents authority, which is an obvious aspect of dominion. The fact that Adam (Man) is charged with naming the creatures is a symbolic aspect of his authority over them. Adam also names his own wife – twice! (2:23; 3:20) Eve names her own children (4:25), a maternal privilege which is generally (with exceptions) observed throughout Scripture. (Gen 29 & 30; Judges 13:24; 1 Sam 1:20; Luke 1 provides an interesting variation on this custom.)

Naming also involves creative application of the faculties of observation. Some commentators have referred to the short stanza surrounding Adam’s first instance of naming Woman in Genesis 2 as the first poem. Sometimes the scrutiny exercised on the part of the one naming involves taking stock of the qualities of the person (or thing) being named or their surrounding circumstances. (Esau, Gen 25:25) Sometimes it involves a look backwards in time. (Manasseh, Gen. 41:51) Sometimes it involves a look forward, often in the prophetic sense. (Abel, Gen 4:2. Interestingly, the name means vanity or emptiness, but is also very similar to the Hebrew word for pastureland.) Sometimes it is various combinations of the above. (Ichabod, 1 Sam 4:21)

So naming is an important aspect of man’s general calling to exercise dominion and, to offer a glimpse at where this might lead in some future posts, I would submit that it has particular relevance to those involved in artistic pursuits. In brief, others have observed1 that it is possible to view creative works of art in every media as instances of naming, which I think is a very interesting line of thought to pursue.

1 Veith, State of the Arts, p147; Wilson, Credenda Agenda v9 n1

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