What our father Adam experienced puts even the excellent Planet Earth to shame. God brought every kind of bird and beast in all creation before Adam, and whatever Adam called it, that was its name. Adam’s first task was to exercise godly dominion by naming creation. Of course, he wasn’t the first to do such a thing. As God created the world, He gave names to the things He made: light and dark, night and day, sun, moon, stars. And to these identifiers, He added an evaluation, a kind of name: what God created was good. So when Adam gave names to the animals, he was expressing the image of God, a God who names things.
Adam, along with the woman he named Eve, didn’t always name things rightly, however. The fall into sin was in part a failure to name correctly, that is, identifying things as God sees them. Eve renamed the Tree of Don’t Eat It Yet into the Tree of Eat It Now, gave the serpent the name of Lord, and Adam quickly joined her to rename the human race as sinners.
A good name, an accurate name, reveals a great deal about whatever bears such a name, and can even help to shape the identity of the thing being named. Names can open and shut doors. The sound or spelling of a name can determine what people think of you, and sometimes, what people think of you affects you to such a degree that you become what you’ve been called. Many kids have been labelled as smart, and are pushed and driven and given special opportunities. Under those circumstances, even an average child becomes smarter. Conversely, many kids labelled slow or stupid are only given tasks and opportunities that are seen to fit with this assessment, and never get a chance to prove otherwise. Of course, such labels can be accurate, but there are many stories of initially incorrect labels being refuted by diligence and determination. In your own life, you probably have a list of names that you react to either positively or negatively, based on early experiences. Maybe it was a piece of pop culture that endeared a name to you, or ruined it for you. Names can sound snobby, silly, arcane, smart, trendy, etc. We’ve all probably encountered that sticky situation where the name itself doesn’t help us determine whether someone is a man or a woman, and as one of our own poets has shown us, life can be difficult for a boy named Sue.
Having been given a new name through baptism, followers of the New Adam are called “Christians”. As Christians, we have already entered into the new creation, and we share in the new creation version of Adam’s task: we need to rename the world according to Christ. We need to identify good and evil, and not confuse the two. We need to know who shares our family name, and who doesn’t. We need to know who and what we ourselves are, in light of Christ. Naming is a fundamental task, an essential part of experiencing the world, and our goal should be to name the world in such a way that Jesus would agree with the names that we’ve chosen.