What’s In A Name?

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Welcome back to our book club discussion. I trust everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. I’m still digesting…Not only the holiday feast, but also our latest chapter in Gerald May’s The Wisdom of the Wilderness.

Chapter eight, The Name of the Eagle, presented some uncomfortable revelations from May. Not the least of these is his comments on the inerrancy of scripture. It wasn’t his position on this issue that felt insulting to me, so much as the abrupt nature in which he presented it.

May seems to go a bit further than disdain when discussing those Genesis writers. He seems to take personal offense at the Genesis account of man being charged with the role of namers of all creation. Did anyone else feel a definite hostility? I found his choice of arguing this angle interesting…I mean, we’ve had those who counter the Bible’s statements on women, on homosexuality, on multiple marriages…but, naming things?

I am no Biblical scholar (had you fooled, didn’t I?), and these types of discussions are usually lose-lose situations for everyone (have you ever argued anyone into changing his mind?)--so I’m not going to spend too much time here.

Deuteronomy 29:29 tells me the secret things belong to the Lord. Hermeneutics will always yield differing opinions, as long as we are human. The best I can say is that the Bible has never led me into error. The Words are living and active. They change me. They have never caused me to stumble. That's one type of inerrancy that I can endorse.

There is more to be said on this issue, but I’m not the one to say it. Feel free to offer your thoughts.

Let’s talk more about this issue of naming. Though I understand May’s strong respect for nature, his take on this seems a bit exaggerated to me.

All too often, naming is truly a sign of subjugation. Masters name their slaves; owners name their pets; bigots name their enemies; angry children call each other names. To name in this way is to try to possess, conquer, or control…

May goes on to say:

There are, of course, many ways of naming that convey respect and even reverence, but these are also acts of power; they are always the choice of the namer…

I understand what May is saying here, but I tend to disagree. He seems to imply that domination is always the ulterior motive in the giving of a name. Once again I find myself wondering if this strong reaction isn’t related to his medical condition (he specifically mentions physicians).

Gerald May is dying. Identifying, or naming, his illness has not changed this. I detect a certain amount of anger, perhaps related to the impotence in the naming of his condition.

On the contrary, I have found that naming--even of inanimate objects--often invites intimacy and engenders tender emotion. Our children, for example, have the habit of naming our family cars. Our first minivan was called Big Blue (guess what color it was?) I remember the day we left Big Blue on the lot for trade-in on a new van. Our youngest insisted on circling around the car lot once so he could say a proper farewell to the van that served us so well. We even said a prayer that the next owners of Big Blue would be blessed.

May’s position on this naming issue makes me think of how we treat God’s name.

John Piper has this to say about the importance of God’s name:

...The Jews came to regard this word [Yahweh] with such reverence that they would never take it upon their lips, lest they inadvertently take the name in vain. So whenever they came to this name in their reading, they pronounced the word "adonai" which means "my lord." The English versions have basically followed the same pattern. They translate the proper name Yahweh with the word LORD in all caps.

This is not a very satisfactory thing to do, because the English word LORD does not communicate to our ears a proper name like John or Michael or Noël. But Yahweh is God's proper name in Hebrew. The importance of it can be seen in the sheer frequency of its use. It occurs 6,828 times in the Old Testament. That's more than three times as often as the simple word for "God" (Elohim—2,600; El—238). What this shows is that God aims to be known not as a generic deity, but as a specific Person with a name that carries his unique character and mission.

The use of a name invites relationship.

Okay, I’ve meandered way off track here and haven’t even discussed May’s encounters with the eagles. There is a reason for that, I think. The mere thought of a giant bird using, um, defecation to intimidate is just a little too wild for me.

I guess this is May's very point. His stories of his encounters with the eagles aim to caution against subjugation and strive to preserve the dignity of the wild animal.

Some of the ways of nature we may never understand. Whether we name them or not.

Food for Thought:

**In Biblical times, names held deep meaning and even determined the course of an individual's life at times. Do you believe names, or the naming of something, hold special power in today's world?

**Does May's story about the bald eagles change anything about the way you view the wilderness?

post by Laura Boggess of The Wellspring

photo by Claire Burge