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What’s in a Name (For Birds or God)

Spotted sandpiper: Photo 116429517 © William Wise | Dreamstime.com
Spotted Sandpiper; Walton County, GA. May, 2018. A quick study of its scientific name reveals it is the “spotted” (macularia) “coast-dweller” (actitus).

[Originally published as This is My Name Forever]

A post on Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures, World Bird Name Changes, updated us on the recent changes published by the IOC. These changes are often a simplification of obscure Latin or Greek-based words, which many birders tend to dismiss anyway. But it got me pondering, what’s in a name?

​And God said moreover unto Moses… this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. Exodus 3:15

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‘It’s all Greek to me!’

In the book Latin for Bird Lovers, Roger Lederer and Carol Burr write, “Bird enthusiasts don’t often pay much attention to scientific names, but… the genus and species name may describe the birds’ color, pattern, size, or parts of the body; the name of an ornithologist; where it is found; its behavior; or some characteristic.” It only takes a few minutes of study to find out why a certain bird was given a “hard” name. And that short study can help fix that bird’s name and character in your mind forever!

For example, in the recent IOC changes, the Greek-based Melidectes became “Honeyeaters.” But isn’t this just an unnecessary dumbing-down? Only a few minutes’ research and one finds that meli means “honey”, and dectes means “beggar”. From this short word study, we find that Melidectes not only eats honey, but that he’s got an addiction for honey that keeps him begging! Now, after the simplification, he just simply “eats honey.”

‘This is My Name’

So what’s my point? While this simplification of bird names may not have huge ramifications in life, what happens when this same laziness is brought to the Bible? Just like the Latin and Greek-based names for birds, the Hebrew names of God are hugely descriptive. They describe an aspect of His character, actions, or personality.

When we simplify Elohim to “God,” we miss the nuance that this personal name for the one true God is actually plural in form! With that simple truth revealed, the trinity in Genesis 1:26 is further elucidated:

And God (Elohim, the plural God) said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

Instead of just knowing that our God is a healer, how about making a short study of Jehovah-Repheka? Take a few minutes to study why He’s called Jehovah-Jireh and forever know that you won’t fall short when your needs are met in God. Let study reveal to you that Jehovah-Nissi will lift your weary arms and raise a victory banner over your enemies! There are so many more character-revealing names for God throughout Scripture if you’ll take the time to study.

So, maybe it is no big deal that the descriptive Melidectes is now a simple Honeyeater. But what do we miss when we dumb things down and Jehovah becomes “Lord,” and Adoni becomes “Lord,” and Elohim becomes “God,” and El Shaddai becomes “God”?

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What message are we sending about thought, research and education when we simplify bird names? And what powerful aspects of our Creator’s character are we missing when we simplify the divine names for the purpose of “clarity”?

William-Wise-portrait

Written by William Wise

Hi, I’m wildlife photographer and nature writer William Wise. I was saved under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. I’m currently an animal shelter director and live in Athens, Georgia with my wife and two teenage daughters, who are all also actively involved in ministry. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. William Wise Nature Notes is my wildlife and birding photo blog documenting the beauty, design and wonder of God’s creation. I am also a guest author at Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures and The Creation Club . -- "What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations." Psalms 104, The Message.

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