What's In a Name? Maybe Everything.

My parents named me after my Dad’s younger brother. I didn’t have a vote in the matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Uncle very much. He has been a second father to me. It’s just that the name has always been difficult to navigate. It’s a Biblical name, but it’s one that you probably skip over when you’re reading the Bible because it’s too hard to pronounce. What’s in a name?

Adam and Eve


The Naming Scenes

Naming scenes are scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. They are important moments and the names usually tell you a lot about the character who will inhabit them.


Jacob means “supplanter,” and that’s exactly what he ended up doing. His brother was named Esau, which means “hairy,” and we assume he was.


Moses means “to draw out,” and he was drawn out of the Nile River.


Jesus (Joshua, in Hebrew) means, “God is salvation.” See what I mean?


My name means, “God has helped,” and that’s definitely true. My parents took one look at me and thought, “The boy’s gonna’ need all the help he can get.”


The Authority of Naming

One of the strongest arguments hierarchists make for male authority over women has to do with how people are named.


The thinking goes like this — the right to name someone signifies that the person who names them has authority over them.


Although that is certainly true in many instances since it is usually the mother or father naming a child, it is not always the case.


However, in the case of Adam and the creation narrative, there does seem to be an indication of authority as he names the animals and the woman. This is the claim of the hierarchists and deserves careful examination.


#4 – The man named the woman, thus signifying his authority over her.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).


There are three naming scenes in the Genesis 2-3 narrative. These scenes are critical to the story in that they seem to form inclusios that frame a majority of the narrative. Adam did the naming in all three. [65]


In the first Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20); in the second, he named himself and the woman (Gen. 2:23); and in the third, he named the woman again (Gen. 3:20). The first and second naming scenes form an inclusio around the creation of the woman (Gen. 2:21-22). The second and third naming scenes form an inclusio around the Fall narrative (Gen. 3:1-19).


There are two pertinent questions with respect to the naming scenes: (1) What is the significance of each naming scene? (2) Are there any dissimilarities that indicate differences in meaning between the naming scenes?


As to significance, there is a good amount of scholarly agreement that the first naming scene (Adam naming the animals) symbolizes his rule over the animal kingdom in fulfillment of God’s command in the first creation narrative.  Most hierarchists then immediately apply this same symbolic meaning to the other two naming scenes in the creation narrative.


Ortland, for example, approaches the second naming scene assuming that it portrays the man’s authority over the woman. He fantasizes about what God said to the man: “Wake up now, son, I have one last creature for you to name. I’d like to know what you think of this one.” [66]


In so doing, Ortland equates the woman to the animals. Of course, the original narrator reported nothing of what God said to the man. Every part of Ortland’s analysis is pure conjecture from a patriarchal, androcentric perspective.


One could just as easily fantasize that God said the following: “Wake up now, son, I want you to meet the crowning jewel of creation. She has come to save you from your aloneness. What do you think of her?”


Since there has been virtually nothing in the text to this point to indicate male authority or rule, my fantastical rendering is just as possible and arbitrary as Ortland’s.


Naming scenes are common in the Old Testament but do not always signify rule or authority. [67] In fact, on numerous occasions, the Bible portrays persons (both male and female) naming God. [68] Certainly, this does not indicate their authority or rule over God.


In any case, the hierarchists are in danger of error when they automatically assume that every naming scene entails a claim to authority. The significance of each naming scene should be evaluated individually, based on context and rhetorical analysis.


Is it a Naming Scene?

The second naming scene (Adam names himself and the woman) is very different from the other two in tone and form. It is classic Hebrew poetry in form, which is quite unusual for a naming scene. In addition, it is the only naming scene in which the person doing the naming, not only names someone, but also renames themselves.


Some scholars would argue that its striking uniqueness disqualifies it as a true naming scene. [69] The man, they would argue, is not naming the woman (in that he doesn’t give her a proper name, as he does in the third naming scene), but simply recognizing her connection to himself.


Linda Bellville performs an exhaustive study of every naming scene in the Old Testament and identifies the various traditional forms. When she compares them to the naming scenes in Genesis 2-3, she concludes that while the first and third naming scenes fit the traditional formula, the second does not, and is, therefore, not a naming scene. [70]


It is, rather, a love song in which Adam expressed his connection and interdependence to the woman.


Bellville’s work is extremely informative, but her conclusion is tenuous at best. There is a tight literary structure that seems to favor Genesis 2:24 as a type of naming scene. The poetic nature of the second naming scene sets it apart and most likely indicates that if the man has any authority over the woman, it is completely different from the rule he has over the animal kingdom (Gen. 2:18).


More importantly, it sets the pre-fall relationship apart from the post-fall relationship where Adam renames the woman with a traditional naming scene formula (Gen. 3:20).


Ortland views the naming of Eve in Genesis 2:24 as an act of authority or headship over the woman. As Adam named the animals (and rules over or has dominion over them) so he names the woman (and therefore, has rule or dominion over her).


Ortland sees this as an obvious symbol that God “allowed Adam to define the woman, in keeping with Adam’s headship. Adam’s sovereign act not only arose out of his own sense of headship, it also made his headship clear to Eve.” [71]


Amazingly, Ortland claims to know what Adam and Eve were thinking as they met for the first time, even though the narrator revealed nothing about the woman’s thoughts. The woman doesn’t even speak in this scene, so how can Ortland know what is and isn’t “clear” to her?


Ortland and others wisely stop short of claiming the man has the authority or rule over the woman in the same sense in which he has over the animals.


Schreiner for instance, writes, “in both instances naming is a symbol of rule, but it would be unwarranted to deduce that the rule is precisely the same or that women are like animals. The entire narrative illustrates that there was both continuity and discontinuity between Adam’s rule over woman and his dominion over God’s creatures.” [72]


Schreiner fails to note that the first creation narrative had already established that “dominion over God’s creatures,” was given equally to both the male and female. This is yet another example of how most hierarchists read this scene exclusively through the eyes of the man.


In addition, the “continuity and discontinuity” Schreiner speaks of can be explained by an appeal to context. It is only in this scene, set exclusively in the context of the marriage relationship, that the narrator gave a hint of male authority or patriarchy.


I emphasize that the argument for authority by the husband over the wife in this scene is tenuous at best. However, even if this particular naming scene is a symbol of his authority, contextually it speaks only of the marriage relationship and says nothing about male-female relationships in general.


The Male-Female Relationship in Marriage

There are two striking movements in the text that signify a change in Genesis 2:20b, from addressing issues of male-female relationships in general, to that of the marriage relationship in particular.


The first is a change in the way the man is addressed. In Genesis 2:20 the Hebrew vocalization le-‘adam makes the word a proper name for the first time.


Sarna notes that this is “probably because the narrative now speaks of the man as a personality rather than an archetypal human.” [73] The narrator has moved from describing man, in general, to Adam in particular. The scene that is about to unfold is not just about mankind, but about one particular man and his soul mate.


The second movement is the narrator’s interruption at Genesis 2:24.


This is the only place in either creation narratives where the narrator breaks into the story to offer a contemporary application. It is the first and only place where familial terms such as father, mother, and wife, are used to describe relational roles.


It is generally agreed that Genesis 2:24 “is not part of the narration, but … introduces an etiological observation on the part of the Narrator; that is, the origin of an existing custom or institution is assigned to some specific event in the past.” [74]


Obviously, the narrative in this scene is being interrupted to explain the origin of marriage. Interestingly, the narrator doesn’t offer the picture that one would expect.


The narrator was telling the creation story in a patriarchal culture. In that culture, marriages were arranged. The woman rarely had any say in the arrangement, and once the bride-price was paid she would leave her father’s tent to live with her new husband in his tent (and with his extended family or tribe).


If the naming scene in Genesis 2:23 was meant to assert the man’s authority one would expect the narrator to follow by explaining “for this reason a woman will leave her father and mother and cling to her husband, and they will become one flesh.”


That was the process that was the hallmark of patriarchy and the foundation for male headship. The woman did the leaving and the cleaving, not the man.


Gordon John Wenham prefers the word “forsake” rather than “leave,” but admits that he bases his word choice on the idea that this verse makes no sense in the patriarchal world. The man “forsaking” his parents meant that he transferred his ultimate loyalty to his wife. Wenham concludes that the statement is “striking.” [75]


Wenham’s observation is astute. It was the woman’s role to “forsake” or “leave” her parents, not the man’s. In Genesis, those patriarchal rules seem to be inverted. It is the man who leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife.


The word “clings to” describes the process of becoming attached to another person. Again, in the patriarchal world “attaching” was the woman’s role.


This was a revolutionary, counter-cultural description that seems to transcend patriarchy to offer an alternative reality to the marriage relationship. It mitigates strongly against hierarchy.


A third movement that deserves consideration is the fact that in the naming scene Adam (which was identified as his proper name in Genesis 2:20) not only named the woman, but also renamed himself. Sarna describes the naming scene and ramifications:


“Here the man gives her a generic, not a personal name, and that designation is understood to be derived from his own, which means he acknowledges woman to be his equal. Moreover, in naming her ‘ishah, he simultaneously names himself. Hitherto he is consistently called ‘adam; he now calls himself ‘ish for the first time. Thus he discovers his own manhood and fulfillment only when he faces the woman, the human being who is to be his partner in life.” [76]


Certainly, Adam naming himself along with the woman signals a major departure from the other naming scenes. At the very least, it signals a very different type of authority role.


On the other hand, it is most likely yet another allusion to the equality of the male-female relationship (i.e., It was not just the woman who was named, but also the man.)


Hierarchists argue that Adam did not name himself here, but was simply referring to his manhood in contradistinction to the woman’s womanhood. That may very well be the case.


However, if the man is not being named in this scene because ‘ish is not a proper name (as some Hierarchists contend), then the same must be said for the woman, for ‘issah is not a proper name either, but only a reference to her womanhood.


In other words, if it’s not a naming scene for the man, then neither can it be considered a naming scene for the woman.


In addition, the apparent reversal of the patriarchal roles in the marriage process revealed in the narrator’s etiological comment (Genesis 2:24) seems to be a mitigating word to male authority in this naming scene. Especially since it is offered as a commentary on the naming scene.


The poetic nature of this scene, combined with the mitigating factors discussed above, makes this a highly unusual naming scene. As such it is difficult to know for certain whether or not male authority or headship can be inferred from the scene.


The True Naming Scene

On the other hand, there is one place where Adam clearly names Eve in direct response to his rule over her. The third naming scene (Gen. 3:20) follows on the heels of God’s pronouncement that the man would rule over the woman.


There is no poetry in this naming scene. There are no mitigating factors. It is a straightforward naming scene that follows the standard formula. There is little doubt that as a consequence of sin, the man took authority and rule over the woman.


It is possible that the narrator was using a compare-contrast formula in Genesis 2-3. This was quite popular in Hebrew literature.


As mentioned before, the naming scenes formed inclusios around the narrative. The first and second naming scenes served to form a contrasting comparison between the nature of the man’s relationship with the animals and his relationship with the woman. He ruled over the animals with authority, as the first naming scene clearly shows.


In stark contrast, in the second naming scene, he left (forsook) everything for the woman and clung to her. She came from him and was, therefore, his equal in every way.


The second and third naming scenes form a contrast of the man-woman relationship before and after the Fall.


Before the Fall the man and woman were equal in every way, and were interdependent, as the second naming scene implies. After the Fall, the man ruled over the woman with a dominating authority, as the third naming scene clearly indicates.


Patriarchy was alive and well after sin destroyed the male-female relationship. The question of whether or not the man had a similar authority before the fall remains open and unanswered. Thus far the answer seems to be “no.”








65. The naming scenes frame the narratives as follows:

Adam named the animals (Genesis 2:19-20a)

The creation of woman (Genesis 2:20b-22)

Adam named himself and the woman (Genesis 2:23)

The Fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24-3:19)

Adam named Eve (Genesis 3:20)

66. Piper, RBMW, p.101.

67. Ruth 4:17, Naomi’s friends name her grandson, Obed.

68. Genesis 16:13, Hagar gives God a name.

69. See Phyllis Trible, “Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Oxford University Press, March, 1973); and Linda Bellville, Two Views on Women in Ministry. Ed. James R. Beck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005).

70. Linda Bellville, Two Views on Women in Ministry. Ed. James R. Beck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005), 241.

71. Piper, RBMW, p.104.

72. Schreiner, Thomas R. “Women in Ministry: Another Complementarian Perspective.”
Two Views on Women in Ministry. Ed. James R. Beck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2005), p. 286.

73. Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, PA, 1989), p.22.

74. ibid, p.23.

75. Gordon J. Wehnam, Genesis 1-15, volume 1, Word Biblical Commentary, Zondervan Academic, 2014), p.134.

76. Sarna, p.23