Humans have a curious need to classify the elements of the natural world around us, and to assign names to these wonders. I wrote last week about my experiences with learning to identify birds, and how important this also seems to be to passersby who often ask, “Excuse me, but do you know which bird that is?”
For example, this beautiful Hawk above …..It seems we should be certain that he is a Red-shouldered Hawk, and not a Cooper’s Hawk, or some other hawk. And . . . is he a juvenile?! Is it even a “he”, or could it be a female?! Photographers and birders gather on the boardwalk, gazing in appreciation, discussing the differences and similarities among various species, in an effort to be accurate in our naming.
Just the other day, I was watching the blue bird above, and some visitors asked, “Now is that a Blue Heron?” I explained that, though it is blue, it’s a a Tri-colored Heron. But then I realized they were actually pointing to another bird, snoozing beneath a tree, and I said, “Well, that one is actually a Great Blue Heron. I told them, there is ALSO a bird called a Little Blue Heron, like this poor fellow standing out in the rain, who is distinct from both of the other blue-colored Herons. Then, of course, there is also the Green Heron, sometimes referred to as the Little Green Heron (probably because they are so little compared to most other familiar Herons!), who looks entirely different.
“What’s in a name?” is a very popular topic of discussion for those following the stories in the Torah during the fall – there are many tales of name changes and meanings in Bereishit / Genesis. Just recently, we read that G-d changed the names of the great patriarch and matriarch from Avram and Sarai, to Avraham and Sarah. By inserting the letter ה (a name for G-d) into each name, their lives were turned around and they became parents to Isaac in their old age. In fact, Isaac’s name (Itzchak in Hebrew) comes from the word “laugh” because it seemed absurd and laughable to Sarah that she would give birth at age 90!
Judaism teaches that a person’s name has great significance, and can even influence one’s character and destiny. Much has been written about the importance of choosing a name for one’s child. “There is a spiritual connection between the name of an individual and his soul. The word “Neshama” (soul) stems from the word “Neshima” (breath), for it is the ‘breath’ of G-d that gives life to man (see Genesis 2:7). A soul’s essence is Divine, and a person’s name defines this essence.” (Source: http://www.torah.org)