Studies in Genesis 2
Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every kind of bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. (Genesis 2:19-20 ESV)
To name something is to have control over that thing. God has given man dominion over all the living things on the earth. Giving names to them establishes his authority, setting him apart from them.
There are three things we can say about this. First, God knows everything, and probably has names for all things, from the stars and galaxies in the universe to the smallest particles of matter. He names the animals He creates for He has ultimate control and authority. He knows His creation intimately. Still, God tells us He wanted to see what the man would name each animal. Since man is created in the image of God, for intimacy and relationship with Him, it is not a stretch to believe the names God gave and those of the man were similar, if not the same. God wanted to “see what he would call them.”
Secondly, the first man named the animals. This shows intelligence and reasoning ability which far exceeds the creatures named. Man was not simply the authority over the animals. He was different from them. He had the image of God implanted in him. Animals and birds and fish do not have this image. Man is designed as a benevolent authority just as God is a benevolent God. Man’s dominion is to care for and grow that which is under his control. To accomplish this task man must understand the environment in which he lives and over which he has control. God is ultimately in control, but man is His regent.
Finally, the animals did not name themselves nor name man. Animals do not name. This does not mean they do not learn or recognize other animals, man and God. They were not created as equals with man just as man was not created equal to God. God has a hierarchy of creation. First were plants, trees and herbs. Then fish and birds. Next, animals, creeping things, wild and domesticated. Finally, Man. God is not created so is not part of this order but above all.
Man is still discovering God’s creatures and still names that about which he discovers. These creatures do not need to be living but are often long dead, the evidence of their living embedded in stone. Not only does man name creatures but names things, such as stars and galaxies, land masses, oceans, rivers, streams, hills and mountains, valleys, rises and depressions in the earth. Man names rocks and other elements. Man watches and studies and learns. This is one of the characteristics of the image of God in man.
Ultimately, God’s image in man is so all men can watch and study and learn about Him. Yet, we do not name God, for in the name is the essence of the characteristics and personality of the thing itself. For the man to name the animal means he knew and understood the animal. Those who are known by God will spend eternity learning about God yet will never completely know Him. Naming the animals was part of the training of the man to know God. Learning about God and our world is also part of our training for eternity.