The Power of Names

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I learned in college chemistry the word nomenclature, a naming system for many chemicals and substances. It is responsible for the weird-sounding names we read on the ingredients at the back label of packaged foods and shampoo bottles. Biology has a similar system: taxonomy, a method being used to give organisms their scientific names, which are used as standard names for creatures that have numerous local names in many places with different speakers and languages. Virtually in all human endeavors use names to label, identify and use as a definition of relationship to anything that has no ability of naming itself.

Giving names, I presume, is a unique human privilege. In the book of Genesis, one of the roles of freshly created human beings is to name every creature on the planet. At first, God was characterized as the one who named every creation after creating them. (Genesis  2:20) And he bestowed that power to his ultimate creation, and came into being with his image and likeness – that likeness to create names.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition,  the act of naming can be both sacred and blasphemous. Yahweh, the name attributed to God, was once forbidden to be uttered. Perhaps, with its powerful essence enfolded in its translated phrase “I am that I am”, anyone who utters the name would completely declare an unimaginable divine oneness – that the name, the one who names and the one who is named are but one being. Similarly, while Moslems revere 99 divine names, Allah responds to all of them. There is no difference among the three, or even among the 99, but those who attempt to differentiate these names and analyze their indefinable connection desecrates the ultimate name.

What could be more blasphemous than uttering an omniscient and omnipotent name in personal vain or inflated ego. A number of names across history have made their names notoriously as if they were the sole rulers of the world. Our modern world have pushed us to create our names as a badge of honor, a social identity, a glamorous reputation, a bankable brand. Only a few shed their attachment on names, most of them transcended the truth. The likes of the ancient sages inadvertently made their names eternally unforgettable. Their names are continued to be aspired and idolized by many, even the name-bearer would want otherwise. Today, those names are sacred, a reminder of the beingness that has no name at all.

Through a name, anyone who bears it becomes real – and we, who knows and calls the name, become whole.

If naming the sacred is difficult, so is the profane. There is much dread in knowing the name of our inner shadows, as portrayed in many mythical themes. Only by uttering his name, Rumpelstiltskin would lose his power. Harry Potter finally dared to name Voldemort, whose name brings unspeakable terror to many wizards and witches. It is still the name that breaks the curse of the unnameable darkness. It illuminates the light of knowing, because a name empowers us to know the fear of the lurking shadow of the unknown.

The importance of a name is held in our human consciousness. We can recognize, acknowledge and pronounce in special designated words called names this immense experience of life blossoming in different forms, making our witnessing more magical despite the unbearable mystery of the unnameable. By knowing names of a new friend or giving  names to a new baby or pup, we put them in the field of our awareness. Resonant with Dale Carnegie’s dictum, it is one’s name the sweetest word in any language. Through a name, anyone who bears it becomes real – and we, who knows and calls the name, become whole.

My shifu Regina had once enlightened me about the power of names. She said that when most Christians declare the name of God or the Trinity or Jesus himself to invoke divine intervention, they are not just declaring the name. They are actually summoning the nature of the Divine. In many sacred traditions, it is the matter of declaring the name of truth to completely embody it. The act of naming is the consecration of the isness. Like in Lao Tzu’s profound first verse of Tao te ching,  it is to remember the name that cannot be named. By naming it, we are remembering its unnameable nature, we are allowing it to be. ‘And so Be it’ – Amen – an anagram of the word name. By incarnating our lives through a divine name, we return to that divine nature;  that nature humanity has long named as Love.

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