Name Me This
He is a confrontational young man, who enjoys a chat and an argument. And he is creative. As well as cutting hair his pictures hang on the walls and he told me about a graphic novel he is writing about an imagined utopia, the basis of which is that it is a civilisation where nothing is named – a kind of hippy commune writ large where everything is held in common and all is sweetness and light. This idyll is broken when a traveller from our world visits and starts to name things, thereby creating immediate covetousness and discord.
There are some obvious and immediate flaws in this plotline, such as the impossibility of building a latrine, let alone a civilisation, without being able to say, “Pass me the shovel.” However, a more fundamental problem is that to dispense with names and naming things would not be to experience liberation but to fatally diminish what it means to be human, because we are the naming animal.
As with everything we touch, our naming of things can be used in a corrupt and corrupting manner; this is the inevitable corollary of our sin. Our naming can be deliberately derogatory and cruel, a means of belittling or manipulating others. And we are quite capable of using respectful names in a disrespectful manner, a mere change in tone of voice changing fundamentally what is implied by ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ or ‘doctor’. (Or, for that matter, ‘church minister’ or ‘hairdresser’.)
Naming also implies possessiveness, as in, ‘That is my necklace’. Possessiveness can be destructive too. It can be born of pride and fed by selfishness and find fruition in anger and envy. Possessiveness can begin wars.
Neither naming nor possessiveness need carry these negative connotations though. “Are names a big deal in the Bible then?” asked my hairdresser. And, of course, they are. The story begins with an act of creation, and naming. The man is named, and the place where he lives, and part of the man’s commissioning as God’s representative and possessor of all that God has made is his act of naming the animals.
The Bible is full of names – all those tedious Old Testament lists of the Jehoiaribs and Ebiasaphs and Chenaanahs. These name lists might be boring to us, but imagine their significance to those listed. This is rather more significant than finding yourself tagged on Facebook. This is evidence for Jehoiarib, Ebiasaph and Chenaanah that they are part of the story of YHWH’s people, and that YHWH himself recognises them.
Without a name there is not that kind of recognition. So we find that God himself reveals himself through his names. Our God is not only ‘God’. He is not nebulous and ill-defined, but made real and concrete in the experience of his people by the names by which he is known. It is by his name that ‘I am who I am’ is distinguished from the gods of the nations. It is in the name of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ that the covenant people of God are now found and identified. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy writes, “The name is the state of speech in which we do not speak of people or things or values, but in which we speak to people, things and values…The name is the right address of a person under which he or she will respond. The original meaning of language was this very fact that it could be used to make people respond.” When I speak to my heavenly Father as Father, I have confidence he will respond, because the Spirit enables me to call him Father, because of the saving work of the Son.
Before I finished having my haircut I asked the hairdressers name. “Daniel.” If I see him again, that is what I will call him.