The License to Name
“ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air 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.” -Genesis 2:19, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition
Now, the U.S. will rename hundreds of mountains, rivers, and other natural features to remove racist name’s they were given by colonizers.
The Power and Trauma of Naming
“Things die a little when we name them.” -Ben Okri in Astonishing the Gods
From naming flows claiming and taming.
The bald eagle is not bald. Devil’s Lake is not demonic. To name Ukraine Russia does not make it so.
When colonizers gave their own name to Indigenous peoples and their sacred sites, they lost their capacity to know who those people and places truly were, while revealing who they, the colonizers were. By naming, they were making claims of dominance and ownership.
When Donald Trump gives someone a disparaging nickname, he loses all capacity to see them for who they are, while revealing who he is. One who relishes asserting power over others.
And so, it has been learned, ask of every living thing and every place you encounter, “Do you have a name? How do you prefer I refer to you?” Listen carefully. Respect what you hear and when there is nothing to hear.
Naming obscures all but the namer, whose heart it reveals.