I was recently listening to a sermon series from a prominent LA area mega-church where one of these arguments was used to maintain that husbands have a superior position in marriage and are designed to “lead” their wives. Specifically, the pastor was using the “naming” argument to claim male authority. The argument goes like this:
- Naming is an act of authority over the thing named.
- Adam named the animals, establishing his authority over them.
- Adam then named Eve in the same way, establishing his authority over her.
I am going to repeat and enhance the rebuttal from that 2008 post and then add 2 more reasons why the “naming” argument is incorrect and even dangerous.
“Your Delta Tau Chi name is…”
In the movie Animal House, there are several ways in which the fraternity members exercise authority over their new pledges. One of them is by giving each pledge a new name. This concept of “naming = possession of/authority over” is certainly not new. Like birthright, it has been a staple of societies throughout history. Even our common practice of having the new wife “take the name” of her husband is a faint reflection of the patriarchal notion that a woman is the property of her husband. So goes the naming argument when applied to the first marriage. Because Adam named Eve (twice, no less), he automatically assumes a position of superiority, authority, and ownership over her, and she becomes subservient to him. So what is wrong with this reasoning?
First of all, it is man-made. God has never said that naming something gives you dominion over that something. Apologists for this line of reasoning admit no less. They say things like “in the culture of the day, naming….” or “it was a common practice to name….” or “in the ancient world, to name….” In other words, it was a practice of fallen man, not a teaching of God. There is a further problem with this. In the garden, there was no ancient world, no common practice, no culture of the day to appeal to. Even if naming did become an established exercise of authority over time, Adam certainly could not have looked at it that way. Where was his frame of reference? Only if God had decreed that it was so could Adam have viewed his naming of the animals as an authoritarian practice. If God had meant it as such, certainly he would have said so. Of course, God had a very different purpose and outcome in mind for Adam when he brought the animals to him to be named. More on that shortly.
While naming may have cultural significance, in reality it holds no power at all. Humans don’t have dominion over the animals because Adam named them; they have dominion because God delegated it to them. The dominion would exist whether Adam named the animals or not. The naming of the animals was simply a function that Adam performed with no authoritarian weight to it. Moreover, the dominion role was given to all humans, male and female. Presumably, if there were animals left to name, Eve would have been just as qualified and empowered to name some of them.
In fact, nowhere in the bible does it say that it is the male’s unilateral job to name anything, nor does it teach that naming something gives you authority over or possession of that thing. As we have learned, that is a cultural standard, not a godly standard. In fact, there are many significant cases of women naming things (mostly children). Are we to assume that Eve had sole dominion and authority over Able and Seth (Genesis 4:1, 25) because she named them instead of Adam? What about the command of the angel that Mary was to name Jesus (Luke 1:31)? Did that cut Joseph out of the picture in terms of having authority over his son? In reality, the naming of something does not grant any authority that does not already exist. Parents have authority over their children not because they name them but because they simply are their parents. Humans have dominion over creation not because we name the animals but because God has designated us to rule over the earth. (As a side note, I’m sure the animals, in whatever way it is expressed, have names for us too). Naming is simply a necessary task with no inherent godly grant of superiority associated with it at all. The fact that we attach human significance to the act of naming does not impress God.
A Rose by any other Name
Even if naming did ascribe some form of authority to the namer, did Adam actually “name” the animals in line with the cultural practice? In fact, Adam didn't “name” the animals at all, he categorized them. For example, he didn’t call the male and female lions Simba and Nala, he called them “lion”. Claiming authority in Adam’s actions would be like saying you have authority (as does anybody else) over your child because you call it a “child”. Adam’s “naming” of Eve was actually a categorization of her in line with what he had been doing with the animals. Adam doesn't “name” Eve until Genesis 3 after the fall; his first act of ungodly authoritarian rule over her.
Furthermore, Adam’s act of categorizing the animals wasn't an act of authority; it was an act of discovery. Note the purpose for God sending the animals to him: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). No other reason or circumstance is given to explain God’s purpose. Do not miss this. There was only one thing in all of creation that was “not good”. Adam’s authority over the animals was perfectly intact. There was no need to establish that. Only his alone state needed to be addressed. God’s exercise for him has no other purpose than to solve that one “not good” thing. Therefore, God sent the animals to Adam to be investigated, observed, and cataloged. What did this accomplish? First, it allowed Adam to see that there were no other animals morphologically like him. Second, it allowed Adam to see that every other animal had a mate except him. God’s entire purpose was to show Adam that it was not good that he was alone. This revelation leads to Adam’s exclamation when Eve is finally presented to him. His subsequent categorization of her is to point out that she is what the animals were not – someone just like him – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Genesis 2:23). It isn't an expression of authority; it is an expression of joy.
Woman! Know Thy Place
Perhaps the most disturbing and even dangerous result of the “naming” argument is the position in which it leaves women. If Adam’s naming of the animals is an expression of his authority over them and if his naming of Eve is a parallel act, then it leaves Eve at the same level in the hierarchy as the animals. This would be in direct contrast to the declaration in Genesis 1:28 that men and women equally rule over the animals.
The naming argument also infantilizes Eve. Even if you are not bold enough to lower Eve to the level of the animals (the correct conclusion to the naming argument), at best you reduce her to the level of a child. Even in ancient culture, peers did not name each other. The practice, in human circles, was limited almost exclusively to parents naming children. If Adam’s “naming” of Eve is a legitimate practice of authority, it is the authority of a parent over a child. Are our women, and especially our wives, equal only to our children? We say “of course not” but the naming argument says definitively “yes!”
The sad reality is that this paradigm is exactly what we see since the fall. Patriarchy through the ages has treated women as no more than chattel (talk about your cultural “norms”). The “naming” argument supports this patriarchal position. God told us, because of sin, men would “rule” over women in a domineering, ungodly way. Patriarchy is the ultimate expression of that rule. The “naming” of Eve is one of the fundamental debating points in support of patriarchy. Yet this sinful rule of women is clearly in contrast to the pre-fall gender relationship and the naming of Eve (if authoritarian) is clearly in contrast to the gender-equal dominion granted to humans in Genesis 1. Pay attention to this point. If the naming argument is correct, then Genesis 2 is a complete repudiation of Genesis 1 and puts the garden relationship on par with the Genesis 3 post-fall relationship.
Put simply, the “naming” argument contradicts everything we know about God’s purpose for Eve and God’s designed gender equality before the fall. Only after the fall do we see gender inequality. The naming argument is an appeal to gender inequality, is completely man-made, and has no place being applied to the wonderful, symbiotic, loving, equal relationship God designed in the Garden.