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I wonder what language Adam used when he named the animals: Hebrew, Aramaic, or some Sacred Language. Obviously the names reflect the "true nature" of the animal, so it must be a special language, probably the same one which Hashem uses to name the light "day" and the darkness "night".

Thanks!

  • "one which Hashem uses " it is not clear what is your intent when you say that Hashem uses a language. – kouty Jul 17 '16 at 13:14
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Biblical Hebrew. The verse says that Adam named Eve a "woman" (ishah) because she was created from man (ish). Noting the fact that the two words, in Hebrew, actually are related, Rashi (to that verse) comes to the conclusion that the world must have been created using Hebrew. He's actually quoting the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 18:4), which continues with the fact that in no other ancient language are the words for man and woman linguistically related.

Furthermore, the Midrash records (Ibid. 17:4) that man was tasked with giving a name to the animals that truly described their essence. In that Midrash, also, it's recorded that the names related to other Hebrew words, such as man's name (Adam) being appropriate since he was created from the ground (adama), or Hashem's name (pronounced Ado-nai), reflective of His being Master (adon) over all. This discernment, says the Midrash, of a being's essence, is something only Man has; even the angels were unable to pick a name that related to the creature's true essence.

The Maharal (Sotah 34b) adds that this is true of anyone's name - it particularly relates to his or her task in life, and his or her strengths and weaknesses. Although parents name their child(ren), the choice is Divinely influenced.

  • F Did you overlook man and woman in English? These are linguistically related. – Clifford Durousseau May 21 at 13:08
  • @CliffordDurousseau English isn’t an ancient language. – DonielF May 21 at 13:08
  • @DonielFTrue. But isn't Anglo-Saxon an ancient language? As far as I know, man and woman are derived from Anglo-Saxon. – Clifford Durousseau May 21 at 13:13
  • @CliffordDurousseau If you go back far enough, “man” is thought to come from mannus, while “woman” is thought to be from wif, which later got tacked onto the front of man. – DonielF May 21 at 13:47
  • Wife is from wif – Clint Eastwood May 21 at 14:21
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The Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 19:3) tells us the story of Adam naming the animals:

ויחכם מכל האדם, מאדם הראשון, מה היתה חכמתו את מוצא כשבקש הקב"ה לבראות את האדם נמלך במלאכי השרת, אמר להם נעשה אדם בצלמנו, אמרו לפניו (תהלים ח') מה אנוש כי תזכרנו, אמר להם, אדם שאני רוצה לבראות חכמתו מרובה משלכם, מה עשה כינס כל בהמה חיה ועוף והעבירן לפניהן, אמר להם מה שמותן של אלו, לא ידעו, כיון שברא אדם העבירן לפניו, אמר לו מה שמותן של אלו, אמר לו לזה נאה לקראות שור, ולזה ארי, ולזה סוס, ולזה חמור, ולזה גמל, ולזה נשר, שנאמר (בראשית ב') ויקרא שמות, אמר לו ואתה מה שמך, אמר לו אדם, למה שנבראתי מן האדמה. אמר לו הקב"ה אני מה שמי, אמר לו ה', למה שאתה אדון על כל הבריות, היינו דכתיב (ישעיה מ"ב) אני ה' הוא שמי, הוא שמי שקרא לי אדם הראשון... (במדבר טז ג)

Roughly translated: What was Adam's wisdom? ... God brought all the animals to the angels and asked them "what are the names of these creatures?" And they did not know. Once he created Adam he asked him too, and Adam said "This one is fitting to be called a Shor (Ox), this one an Aryeh (Lion), this one a Sus (horse), this one a Chamor (Donkey)...

The Rabbeinu Bachya, one of the early commentators on the Chumash, explains in his comments to Bamidbar 19:2, that these were intelligent names based on the wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, and that Adam identified each animal's natural qualities and essence:

והנה הם שמות מושכלות שהשכיל בחכמת האותיות לקרוא השמות כפי טבעי הבריות בגבורה וקלות ואכזריות ותמות...

Likewise in his commentary to Bereishit 2:19, he writes that this ability is an expression of Adam's God-like wisdom, utilizing the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet to bring out the essence of the animal:

והנה בזה נתפרסמה חכמתו הגדולה כמו שהיה בצלם אלקים ומעשה ידי הש"י... כי האדם הבין בחכמתו ושכלו טבע כל בהמה וחיה וקרא לכל אחת ואחת שם מעין הטבע ומדה שהכיר בה, והאותיות שצרף בשמותיהן הכל לפי טבעיהן ומדותיהן...

He then goes on to explain in detail a few names of animals and their construct within the Hebrew Language.

  • Thanks! From the verses I gather that Adam did not name the sea creatures, insects or the dinosaurs---perhaps he named foreign animals like kangaroos and platypuses but those names are forgotten now. Is this your understanding, too? – Teusz Jul 18 '16 at 23:37
  • one of the early commentators on the Chumash Not that early. About 1500 years after Book of the Jubilees, 1000 years after B'reshit Rabba, and about 400 years after Rav Saadya Gaon. Just putting things in perspective. – mevaqesh Aug 12 '16 at 6:53
  • Incidentally, B'midbar Rabba was only redacted about 850 years ago. – mevaqesh Aug 12 '16 at 6:54
  • It is very common to refer to Rishonim as early commentators. Yes, obviously people have been commenting on the Torah for many years before that. – Chaim Aug 12 '16 at 11:16
  • @Chaim If you want a user to see your comments, put his username in the comment, prefaced with a @ – mevaqesh Dec 28 '16 at 19:07

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