Why it’s significant.
My bologna has a first name. As does my car. As does just about everything else in the world, but I don’t know what most of those names are.
Naming things is a very human pursuit, all the way back to Adam. Unfortunately, taxonomy as a discipline is diminishing, according to Carol Kaesuk Yoon in an article in last week’s New York Times, “Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World.” She writes that no one outside of taxonomy is too upset about this decline, but we should be:
The past few decades have seen a stream of studies that show that sorting and naming the natural world is a universal, deep-seated and fundamental human activity, one we cannot afford to lose because it is essential to understanding the living world, and our place in it.
Later in the article she writes about people who, due to brain damage, lose the ability to distinguish living objects, and how utterly disorienting this is:
As curious as they are, these patients and their woes would be of little relevance to our own lives, if they had merely lost some dispensable librarianlike ability to classify living things. As it turns out, their situation is much worse. These are people completely at sea. Without the power to order and name life, a person simply does not know how to live in the world, how to understand it. How to tell the carrot from the cat — which to grate and which to pet? They are utterly lost, anchorless in a strange and confusing world. Because to order and name life is to have a sense of the world around, and, as a result, what one’s place is in it.
She encourages us to use this amazing ability, to pay attention to the world around us, to “just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. Give a nod to Professor Franclemont and meditate, luxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it. Learn science’s name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own.”
The whole article is wonderful, so read it and then take time to get acquainted with your bologna, your car, a tree, a bug, a cloud, or really just about anything at all.
Anna Speckhard has an advanced theology degree from Westminster Theological Seminary (California).