What’s in a Name?

I’m really enjoying One Thousand Gifts – a reflection on living out ευχαριστεω every day.

In one section, Ann tells the story of her Farmer Husband trying to figure out why the new litters of pigs are stillborn. He’s sent off samples to various labs, had the vet out numerous times, and generally exhausted every option for diagnosis. Finally, researching on the internet one night, he narrows it down to a particular (nasty) disease.

Expecting him to be frustrated or downtrodden, Ann asks if he’s alright. The Farmer says, “Yes… and no. I don’t like what it is, or that is looks like it’s nearly impossible to eradicate, but you know what? … I’m strangely happy… Just naming it… When you don’t have the name for something, you’re haunted by shadows… But when you can name something…” (pg 52).

Ann goes on to reflect that “Naming is Edenic.”

Man’s first task was to name things.  No wonder so many ancient mythologies associate a power with naming something!  It was our first task as caretakers of the earth to name the things in it.

Adam naming the animals. Wall painting in Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery (Greece), 16th century.

In a sense, medical diagnostics offer this power.  After five years of illness, when I finally heard the words, “You have West Nile,” I was giddy.  I remember skipping to the coffee house as I met my friends that afternoon, nearly shouting my diagnosis.  It didn’t matter that naming my disease offered up no new treatments – there was power in the name itself.  I had a name for the monster that hounded me.  I had a peace – I didn’t have to look anymore for what else the monster could be.

Heck, with a name, it can feel more like a pet than a monster.  It’s like I put a collar around it.

My colleagues’ and my research in diagnostics offers up names for the mysterious.  Some of the diseases we work on have treatments – knowing the name opens the door to healing.  Other diseases have no treatment.  But rather than being a fruitless exercise, identifying the disease provides some peace: no more searching for other diseases, no more fear of a nameless monster, no more treatment for a disease that’s not present.


I love that God tasked us with naming His creatures before the fall.  It is a good profession.


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