The Naming of Things

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Adam naming the animals. See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m always interested in finding out more about the importance of names, and was struck by these verses while reading the account of the creation of man in Genesis recently:

So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.

The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man” (Genesis 2:19–20)

Do you all read that the same as me? That the naming of the animals and birds was instrumental in determining whether or not any of them were a suitable helper for Adam? I’m sure there’s a really interesting and nuanced theological explanation of those verses, which may or may not have to do with my thought about naming, and which is far beyond anything that I could come up with, but I think I can safely say (and I know you all know it already) that naming is meaningful.

Naming can signify connection and intimacy (as in a special nickname you have for your husband or best friend); authority, care, and responsibility (as in the naming of our children); and—what I wanted to write about today—ownership, affection, and perhaps even trust (as in the naming of possessions, especially ones that are important and/or those we depend on) or as a sort of coping mechanism (e.g., finicky cars).

Indeed, a lot of us name things!

CatholicMom’s very own Barb Szyszkiewicz was telling me recently that her car’s name is Maxine as a “nod to ‘Uncle Max’ St. Kolbe” — I loved that! Just a few days later, my 4-year-old declared that his two “blankies” now have names: Leo and Isaac. Not only do I love hearing what my boys name their loveys (usually only stuffed animals — this was my first experience with blankets!), but I particularly loved Leo and Isaac! What a distinguished and saintly pair! My third boy’s stuffed seahorse from when he was tiny was the similarly sophisticated Baby Harold, my oldest’s stuffed pup was appropriately named Biscuit, and my second boy’s pretty notorious for naming his un-alive friends funny things like Bandaids (yes, plural) and Primary (which I thought was sort of brilliant—kind of like a mashup of Primrose and Rosemary, though he insisted Primary was a boy’s name). And I really enjoyed reading about Kendra from Catholic All Year naming her new home Gramblewood.

"The Naming of Things" by Kate Towne for CatholicMom.com

Herbie was named for a character’s Uncle Herb, “a professional boxer whose broken nose greatly resembled the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle.” (source) Photo by Loadmaster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

I took to my own blog to find out more, asking what my readers and/or their kiddos have named their things — from stuffed animals and other loveys to cars to houses to computers. The responses were so great! I heard about cars named Franny the Granny (“because it was a big, old lady barge of a car”), Felix (“mainly because Felix means happy and Felix is anything but a happy car most of the time (he’s a 1999 Honda, that doesn’t like to unlock and makes some strange noises)”), and Chili-Comoochie (you have to read the story behind that name!).

There’s a teddy bear named Pizza, who then changed to Meatball when its little boy got older (because Meatball is a more mature name than Pizza, right?); dolls named the sophisticated Margaret, Agnes, Nora, Catherine (albeit a boy), Violet, Mary, Laura, Teresa, and Igor (!); and stuffed animals named Dragon Sparkles, Koala Sparkles, Seal, Monkey, Bunny, Snowball, and Keturah.

One reader had named her cello Bob; Barb calls her guitar Sylvester; and I even learned that Yo-Yo Ma calls his cello Petunia!

There were several names having a connection to the faith other than Barb’s St. Maximilian Kolbe car—two different readers call their computers Isidore (after St. Isidore of Seville, patron saint of computers); two friends named their teddy bears Joshua and Caleb, only to find out later that that day’s Bible study reading was about Joshua and Caleb being the only two who remained faithful to God; one named her new kitten Clementine in honor of the Year of Mercy; and one car was dubbed Conchita, because it was acquired on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception! (Conchita is a diminutive of the Spanish name Concepción, which refers to the Immaculate Conception.)

I did a quick online search for reasons why we name things, and a couple places—including this one—suggest it’s because naming things makes them seem more human. While we could go down a really serious road about the humanizing power of names, I thought I’d instead leave you with something a bit more lighthearted: thoughts on naming objects from Anne Shirley (of Green Gables fame).

What is the name of that geranium on the window-sill, please?

That’s the apple-scented geranium.”

Oh, I don’t mean that sort of a name. I mean just a name you gave it yourself. Didn’t you give it a name? May I give it one then? May I call it—let me see—Bonny would do—may I call it Bonny while I’m here? Oh, do let me!

Goodness, I don’t care. But where on earth is the sense of naming a geranium?

Oh, I like things to have handles even if they are only geraniums. It makes them seem more like people. How do you know but that it hurts a geranium’s feelings just to be called a geranium and nothing else? You wouldn’t like to be called nothing but a woman all the time. Yes, I shall call it Bonny. I named that cherry tree outside my bedroom window this morning. I called it Snow Queen because it was so white.” (Chapter 4)

What objects do you give names to, if any? (And if so, what names have you used?) Why do you think so many of us like to do so? 

Copyright 2016 Katherine Morna Towne

 

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About Author

Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 2 to 11. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.

3 Comments

    • I’m sorry I’m just getting back to you now Margaret — I can’t tell you how much your comment opened up a whole new world for me! I loved googling semiotics and following different threads off of it — such cool stuff! Thank you!

  1. Our home is St. Brigid Manor.
    My wife’s trumpet is Anthony.
    And every car I owned before I married was named something witty. Certainly, I haven’t yet named a geranium, but I do name things that have particular significance in my family’s life.

    You can see this trend in scripture far beyond Adam’s naming the animals. Some examples are:

    Genesis 22:14 Abraham named that place Yahweh-yireh; hence people today say, “On the mountain the Lord will provide.”

    Genesis 26:20-22 the shepherds of Gerar argued with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water belongs to us!” So he named the well Esek, because they had quarreled there. Then they dug another well, and they argued over that one too; so he named it Sitnah. So he moved on from there and dug still another well, but over this one they did not argue. He named it Rehoboth, and said, “Because the Lord has now given us ample room, we shall flourish in the land.”

    Genesis 28:19 He named that place Bethel, whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.

    Genesis 32:3 When Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s encampment.” So he named that place Mahanaim.

    Genesis 32:31 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”

    Exodus 17:15 Moses built an altar there, which he named Yahweh-nissi;

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