Jim Croce was one of my favorite singers back in the 70s. He has a song that he sings named “I’ve got a name.” It opens like this, “Like the pine trees linin’ the windin’ road I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. Like the singin’ bird and the croakin’ toad I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name And I carry it with me like my daddy did…” Well, Jim, I hope you know where that singing bird and croaking toad, got it’s name. Adam named them. Genesis 2:19 tells us, “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

Mark Twain used to tell this story about Adam and Eve. Adam comes home one night, and Eve says, ‘What did you call that big animal out there?” “Oh”, he said, “I called it an elephant”. “Why did you call it an elephant?” Adam answered, “Because it looked like an elephant.” Cornelius Van Til used to tell his students the story about Adam being asked why did you call a “lion” a “lion.” Adam responded, “because it runs through the forests.” Well, why did you call a tiger and tiger? Adam answered, “You can’t call them all lions.” Boice concludes his comments on the naming of the animals by saying, “When we have a definition for anything, when we really have studied its nature to the point where we can say that it is this and not that, we have achieved knowledge.”[1]

Many of the commentators argue that “naming” something means to exercise dominion over them. Fruchtenbaum is right when he writes, “Adam is given authority over the animal kingdom and told to have dominion over three things: first, the fish of the sea; secondly, the birds of the heavens; and thirdly, every living thing that moves upon the earth. The first exercise of Adam’s special authority over the animal kingdom is when he names the animals in chapter 2.”[2] But I’m thinking the naming feature is more than that. It’s to have some kind of affinity towards. When my wife grew up in a small country town of Norco, California, they purchased a calf to raise as food. And sure enough the kids in the family named it! They’ll all tell you how hard it was to send Sparky to the butcher a year or so later. I think Westermann has it right. He writes, “The exercise of dominion does not begin with the use or exploitation of the animals for human ends. The meaning is not, as most interpreters think, that the man acquires power over the animals by naming them. (This is quite a different notion; the one who knows the name of a being can by this knowledge dispose of it.) But rather that the man gives the animals their names and thereby puts them into a place in his world.”[3] Thus, after the fall when God sacrificed the lamb to make coverings “atonement” for the sin of Adam and Eve it was a very traumatic experience. Imagine how the Father who gave his only Son, who had been given the name above every name, as the “atonement” for my sins and your sins as well as the sins of the world. No wonder the sky turned black and Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

[1] Boice, James Montgomery. 1998. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. 1983. The Messianic Bible Study Collection. Vol. 186. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.

[3] Westermann, Claus. 1994. A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.