Friday, August 14, 2009

Adam in Paradise and Calling a Spade by its Correct Name

Adam at peace with nature and animals in the garden of Eden

A name is important indeed. For better or worse, we identify with the name we are given by our parents. Few of us actually legally change it; it's something that we have grown accustomed to; it has become a stable core of who we are, despite the fact that we personally and physically keep changing; sometimes we may even become a completely different person, yet our name always remains the same.

That's why when parents name their children, it is a difficult matter. The poor child is going to be stuck with it for the rest of his or her life. It is a great responsibility. People may later make fun of him or her because of their name.

The same responsibility must have weighed heavily on Adam's shoulders when God assigned him the task of naming all those creatures in front of him. By giving them names, he might have also felt a sense of control, a kind of life-giving. As an author, we feel proud to have created an interesting character with an interesting name; as a parent, others may compliment us on the choice of our kid's name. Or when we invent a new dish and name it ourselves, giving it our own touch and flavor, we equally feel pride and ownership.

It is said that a rose would be sweet by any other name. Sure, you can call a rose a tree, which would mean that the “tree” would smell nice, and the “rose” would sprout leaves. The essence of the matter would not change, of course.

It reminds me of a brilliant Swiss story called a “Table is a Table” (Ein Tisch ist ein Tisch) by Peter Bichsel, where a lonely man thought it funny to change the names of things calling each thing by a different name, and he eventually becomes incapable of having even a simple conversation with others. Language may be randomly assigned, yet it is still based on a consensus, so if you speak of a rose you should “mean” a rose, otherwise there is going to be a lot of confusion between the two of you.

Calling a spade by its correct name helps one communicate effectively and honestly with others. This is one of the main merits of language, whether written or spoken. It creates a bridge between two souls; for a moment, they are not islands onto themselves. We can come closer to the best of our abilities to explain ourselves, our feelings or points of view, our thoughts.

It is, therefore, important to learn a language well, to be as precise as possible in one's choice of words, not to mince words but to state things clearly, unequivocally. This is often referred to as communication skills, and it prevents one to have misunderstandings. Wars have started on the misuse of words, on ignoring to choose the right tone of voice and so on. The list is endless and we need to sharpen our words and increase our knowledge to let communication flow easily. As they say, communication is key; yes, it is a key to understanding.


Unknown said...

Interesting... for me, my parents didn't know Mandarin (I'm Chinese) but luckily they chose the right name for my siblings and I... and we're kinda following in our names alright...

Mine is "powerful", my sis is "steady" and my brother is "undefined"... =p

Patricia Rockwell said...

You might enjoy Mark Twain's take on this. Read "Eve's Diary."

Diff.Thinkr said...

Impressive impressions......