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What did Adam Name the Animals?

What did Adam Name the Animals?



In Genesis it says that Adam named all the animals. My question is: If you translate the Hebrew literally, does it mean that Adam named the species—i.e., dog, cat, lion, etc.—or did he give them each personal names—i.e., Spot, Fluffy, etc.? Or did he give them both species names and personal names?

Is there any way to tell from the original Hebrew exactly what was meant or would it be open to guessing, interpretation and personal opinion?

I have been wondering about this for quite some time now and would deeply appreciate finally knowing the answer.


Thank you for your question.

Adam gave each species its Hebrew name.

But these weren't random names picked out of a hat, mind you. According to the Kabbalah, the name of every creation is its life-source. The Hebrew letters carry a G‑dly power, and, when put together in different formations, they give life wherever they are applied. Thus, all created things are directly affected by their Hebrew names, and the letters of which they are composed.

Here is a quote from the Midrash to Genesis 2:19:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to to create humankind, He consulted with His ministering angels, saying, "Let us make Adam." The angels responded, "What's so wonderful about this Adam?" So He brought each creature before the angels and asked them, "This creature, what is its name?" But they did not know. Then He brought the creatures before Adam and asked him, "This creature, what is its name?" To which Adam responded, "This is shor [Hebrew for ox], this is chamor [donkey]..."

Adam was able to perceive the spiritual components of the creative spirit that brought every animal into being, and named each animal in conjunction with its spiritual configuration.

For more on Adam naming the animals and the Hebrew letters, see Naming with Divine Inspiration, Letters of Lights, and my favorite, The Adam Files.

Rabbi Chaim Vogel is a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
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abovethefray Nashville, tn June 4, 2012

all of you are wrong Placing G-d in any box is to only serve your own pride Reply

Anonymous Rotterdam, Netherlands June 8, 2011

Names Because I 'm wondering about the same thing the questioner is wondering, I would like a more specific answer. My question is: does the Hebrew text itself (not the comments) point out that Adam had to name the species and does the text exclude the thought that he had to give names to the individual animals.
To me it seems that naming species is not different from naming trees, flowers, mountains etc. Still, the Torah only mentions G-d ordening Adam to name the animals. Why?
It would make much more sense to me if Adam was ordered to give each individual animal a name. This would teach Adam that animals are diferent from plants and things and have individual feelings and personality. (as the Torah points out in many other parts) Having a name makes you an individual.
Thats why factory farm animals have no name and dogs and cats do have one for example. Thats also why the nazi's gave their victims numbers, to take away their individuality. Isn't it? Reply

Yehoshua Solomon Baltimore, MD June 24, 2010

Complexity of Languages Every language is complex in its own right. All the more so after fifty-five hundred years of human history.
Hebrew was spoken by all before the Flood and for a few hundred years afterwards. When Avraham became 52, people were divided by language, region, etc. This has always been our tradition. Again, if you wish to understand it, take a look at Rabbi Hirsch's long comments to Ch.'s 2 and 11.
If our tradition is one-sided - well, all of Judaism is, really.

Certainly, every language is descriptive with its words of what they describe. Some languages are easier to decipher than others. Why Hebrew is unique - this is another question. But Adam named the animals both with Hebrew and all seventy languages. The use of all languages and the comprehension we gain with them stems from Adam, just as he saw all of his descendants with spiritual comprehension. Reply

Anonymous Nairobi, Kenya June 18, 2010

Original language If Adam named animals based on the their spiritual components, then the original language that Adam spoke is discernible by how true the descriptive names of animals are. If you are looking for one consider the Turkana language.
Bird-Ikieny (ever alert)
Snake - Emun (secretive)
wild animal - etiengit (untamable)
domestic animal - ibarasit (to be kept for wealth)
Fish - Ekolia (one which likes turning)
monkey - ekadokot (one whose preoccupation is climbing)
Wild boar - Epir (that speeds)
Leopard - Eris (that which fall onto prey from above)
Rhino - Amosing (ever pot-bellied) Reply

Elizabeth March 18, 2010

Joshua, go back to where Abraham came from... You have definitely forgotten the history of how G-d took Abraham out of Ur (the present day Iraq) and brought him to the land of Canaan. There Abram began his journey to Hebron in the land of Canaan and that is why all the Jews today are called "Hebrew."

Again, when Abraham wanted Isaac to marry, he sent his servant to Aram Nahraim which is in northwest Mesopotamia. Did they too speak in Hebrew? Give me a break!

Again, go back to the sons of Shem and where did they live in the past? If you read 11th chapter of Bereshith or Genesis, "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech...." You can read the entire chapter and determine if they spoke in Hebrew then. I do believe Hebrew came after the scatter of languages and the people. Yes, Greek was one of the languages from Japheth's lineage. Since they were scholarly, a lot of manuscripts were translated from that language too. Again, Abraham moved to so many places, for example, Egypt. Be realistic and stop being one sided. Reply

Joshua Baltimore, MD March 18, 2010

Assyrian culture from the time of Babel?? & more.. And why should you or anyone else believe the Tanach was translated from other languages? That is, more than the common academic hypothesis. It certainly wasn't translated from Greek (rather vice versa, with the Septuagint): the Greeks appeared so late on the international scene and in the Middle East. I find it frustrating how some think that civilization began with the Greeks.

We Jews have always maintained that Hebrew was the original language. The fact that other cultures (Indians with the Sanskrit) do with their own languages is irrelevant. Besides, the heavy use of Aramaic in the Talmud, Rabbinic writings, and the mystical traditions is what is so interesting: despite our beliefs about Hebrew, we use so much Aramaic.

Since it was first given, the Torah was transmitted down to the precise letter. Jews (and 'Israelites') have risked all to preserve it properly. Why give up the knowledge we have always risked our lives for in favor of the complete historical guesswork of others. Reply

Elizabeth March 17, 2010

Come on Joshua.... The Torah was translated from so many different languages. Aramaic and Greek perhaps? When it was translated in to Hebrew, of course the authors changed it to meet their understanding.

I believe the authors have credited to both Hebrew and Aramaic language. I read a book called "Satan" by Dr. Yehuda Berg and he mentions that when you call on 72 names of G-d in Aramaic (exhibits with a chart in the book) that the evil one is so confused that the entity has hard time understanding it. I hope you now have the gist of why Aramaic was emphasized in my discussion.

If you visit the present day Iraq, they have so many different cultures from the time of Babel; ashuri, assyrians, chaldeans, and the arabs. I believe that ashuri; assyrians or syrians; and chaldeans have similar dialects root words Aramaic. Sumerians were named after the ruling party or the leader; just like the four brothers who were Abraham's relatives and that does not mean the language was changed. Reply

Joshua Baltimore, MD March 16, 2010

Re: I don't think so! Why does G-d's creating of the universe mean that He has allowed the angels to understand Aramaic?
See Genesis 2:23, where Adam names his wife Ishah because of its relationship to Ish, man. In Aramaic, the words for man and woman - gevar and iteta - are not related in such a way. This indicates that Adam spoke Hebrew; it is logical that the original one language of Chapter 11 was the same language.
Why do you way that the language spoken in Babylon was Aramaic? Presumably, it was Sumerian, or Old Babylonian.
The Book of Daniel begins in Hebrew. In 2:4, it turns to Aramaic; in Chapter Eight, it returns to Hebrew, and the prayer you refer to is in Chapter Nine, in Hebrew. Perhaps Daniel was actually praying in Aramaic. But there is no proof for this; it is more logical that he spoke Aramaic with his captors, but prayed in the language of the Tanach.
Of course G-d understands your thoughts. But you were the one who originally suggested that prayer in Aramaic was superior. Enlighten me! Reply

Elizabeth March 12, 2010

I don't think so! If G-d created the universe, then He has allowed the angels to understand Aramaic. In fact, Aramaic was the language spoken in Babylon during the time of Nimrod and Abraham was speaking in Chaldean and not Hebrew. During the time of Babel, G-d distorted the one language Aramaic and branched it to thousands of them and one was of course, Hebrew.

When Daneil was in Babylon, he spoke in Aramaic as in exile and of course, the angels did bid him rightaway to do his service. Remember, when he prayed, the angel Gabriel came and said to him that he has brought the revelation, but Micheal is fighting the prince of Persia in the air.

One more thing, the Indians boast the Sanskrit was the first ancient language. I am not sure if Sanskrit is the derivative of Aramaic. However, G-d hears me even if I do not speak. G-d can read my mind. Ha!
I did learn sanskrit in school for few years and it was difficult to pronounce and they had to change the text into a colloquial language. Reply

Joshua Solomon Baltimore, MD March 11, 2010

Re: Hebrew Language Came Later On... It would be hard to prove that Aramaic preceded Hebrew for the Jews. However, Aramaic differently was around for a very long time. In fact, it is termed the 'international language' of the ancient middle east.

Aramaic is looked at as a jumbled form of Hebrew, and is therefore very close to it; it is also, therefore, the supreme language for the translation of the Torah (Onkelos and Yonatan be Uziel).

Thank you for writing not to be so surprised about these matters. Adams's animal soul was in complete harmony with his G-dly soul, acting only in holiness, and therefore he truly could communicate with the animals.

A downside of praying in Aramaic is that the angels cannot understand and cannot therefore beseech G-d on your behalf, in addition to the prayers themselves that go straight to Hashem. But inspiration in prayer, as you have expressed it, can be just as important. Reply

Elizabeth March 11, 2010

Hebrew language came later on... I believe Aramaic was the first language which has the same 22 letters, but both languages are different.

Chaim Vogel, don't get so carried away with Adam naming these animals in Hebrew. One rabbi said, that those animals did not speak, and I asked him, then how did the serpent speak to Eve? Of course, Adam communicated with those animals and until they were cursed they were walking with their hind feet.

An author's perspective is that when we pray in Aramaic, all heaven opens up. So, I am trying since recently to call on G-d in Aramaic so He might shed more light onto me. Reply

Anonymous March 9, 2010

Hebrew letters I wonder about the answer above, regarding Hebrew Letters. Are you talking about old Hebrew alfabet or the modern one, the one we use today. I know it is not about the original post/question, but how does it work? What is the conection between old and new? Reply

Joshua Solomon Baltimore, MD March 9, 2010

Subjective and Objective Knowledge. Angels. See the commentary of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to the verse in Ch. 2 of Genesis describing Adam's naming of the animals. He writes that one teaching of these verses is that even a person's subjective understanding is valid, insofar as it is useful in fulfilling his mission on earth in the service of G-d. This is a very important philosophical point, the balance between the philosophy of scientific over-confidence, on the one hand, and total skepticism of the modern school of thought, on the other hand.

See also his discussion of Hebrew and language in general in a later chapter, in Parshat Noach (perhaps ch. 8?), which discusses the generation of the tower and dispersal.

It is interesting that the angels could not provide names: we know that every blade of grass has the angel that guides it, and gives praise to G-d daily. Reply

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