A God By Any Other Name

What is the power that resides in a name? Is it true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Why do I gain power over you if I discover that your name is ‘Rumpelstiltskin,’?

The ancient Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, begins before the beginning of things:

When on high the heaven had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name…
None of the gods had been brought into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies determined…

Even the gods require birth-through-naming.

In the Genesis story of creation, God begins to create by naming, finally making Adam a partner in creation by allowing him to name all of the creatures. According to one rabbinic legend (click here for legend), the proud Creator shows off Adam’s capacity to call a rose, a rose—an ability that the jealous angels do not possess. In an even greater demonstration before the angels, God invites the human to name God. Rabbinic legend joins the Babylonian epic. God is created; creatively named into the world according to past experience, according to future hopes.

In Jewish tradition, to know the Name of God is to have a certain powerful intimacy that must be handled carefully: Know the Name, but do not pronounce it. Notwithstanding the inheritance of a single divine name cherished by a single people, each of us names God into the world through our own personal experiences, needs and hopes. Each of us has a God with many names.

The Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam, spreads out the names of her God (click here for poem in Hebrew and English):

I spread out my God’s names before me
On the cold floor of my room.
The name by which I called him when his spirit breathed in me.
And the name by which I called him when I was a girl.
The name by which I called him when I was given to a man.
And the name by which I called him when again permitted to all.
The name by which I called him when my parents were a roof to me. And the name when I had no ceiling.
The name by which I called him that I might fear him. And the name that I called him so that I would not be afraid.
The name by which I called him so that he would remember me. And the name so that he would not remember.
In the heat of the day I will prostrate myself
On the cold floor of my room.

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