I’ve noticed something recently about my parenting. With my seventeen-month old daughter, I have a tendency to label everything that I see. Mostly it is because I’m trying to encourage her verbal skills in two different languages, but I’ve been wondering if I am also doing this because it helps her understand the world around her.

I am not alone with this tendency. Adam takes on the task of naming all of the birds and animals prior to the creation of Eve (see Genesis 2:20) perhaps as a way of understanding the new world that he was in. The knowledge of something’s name suddenly give us power (think Harry Potter and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). Perhaps this is why Judaism is so reluctant to give God a definitive name, rather than relying on a slew of fill-in’s (Lord, Master of the Universe, etc.)

This power, though, does not give you the ability to control someone else. Rather, knowing and using someone’s name gives you the power to create a relationship. As a middle school principal, relationships are the most important currency that we have when working with young adolescents. I recall hearing in graduate school that simply hearing their name and a greeting when they enter school could have a cascading positive impact on the rest of that student’s day.

Now, I don’t know if this is truly a research based finding or just one of those anecdotes that you hear about education, but I have seen how powerful this can be each day as I watch my students wander into school or notice them in the hallway during or between classes. By naming them, we give them a sense of importance and inflate their identity because someone knows who they are and this means that they are cared for. Maybe this is the factor that makes smaller schools more successful than so many of our larger schools.

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