Naming Nature

Naming the world around us can have some very unhelpful effects on humans. It can reinforce a feeling that we’re superior and in control and that nature is something we own. It can be a manifestation of power-over, and affirms the idea that we know what’s going on and what everything is and does. In practice, much of nature remains a mystery to us, and while we can subjugate and destroy great swathes of it, this is a form of power that can only destroy us as well in time.

The other side of this is that we don’t tend to pay as much attention to things we can’t name. There’s a lot of experiential difference between seeing trees, and seeing individual trees of named species. When we use names as a way of sorting and storing information, it can be the basis of forming a more complex relationship with the world around us.

It can be easy to lose sight of the way that human naming systems are just that, and not some kind of ultimate truth. Even when we decide to give creatures complex Latin names that claim to say something about the family tree of their species, we can be very wrong. Nature does not exist to be put in tidy categories by humans, and over time we’ve become more aware that superficial similarities don’t always mean things are closely related. Having divided the world into plant and animal kingdoms (now, there’s a word whose implications stand considering!) we’re still at a bit of a loss to know what to make of fungi.

The names we give things are not a truth in their own right, they’re just part of a story we’re trying to tell ourselves in order to make sense of what we encounter.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Naming Nature

  • smithandskarry1

    This is so, so true and so important to remember thankyou so much for bringing this to the table – it’s also true of groups of ‘other’ people isn’t it, whether we group them by race or ethnicity or religion or appearance or intellect or perceived gender… and then those names as you say shape our perception and interaction, like calling a plant stink horn or baby’s breath for example… there the description is based on our interaction with them, as if their existence / worth is defined by that. What is so dreadfully wrong with humans that we can’t shake this colonial mindset over everything? Great post, thankyou. 🙂

  • jwdevries

    Beautifully said. Think of how connotations affect our view of things. Orca Whales are fun and majestic, but Killer Whales are cruel and mindless hunters. There’s power in names, but a great many people no longer subscribe to the belief that names have power, so you see a lot of misuse (or ignorance) about how we relate to names.

  • lornasmithers

    How do you feel about revealed names? Names as gifts? Poetic names? Names that express the personhood of nature? I think of the character in Mythago Wood who had to find her own personal names for places rather than the ones on the map… Sometimes I feel names are a true expression of the identity of a place or person (human or non-human) and others artificially imposed. How do you feel about microorganisms being named after the humans who discover them?

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