“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field” – GEN. 2:20
Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
Implex; thou, awagabu.
Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.
Thou, verdie; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
Thou; thou; thou — three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.
Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.
Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
Naming’s over. Day is done.
— John Hollander
There are five types of names at play here and we can divide the animals into each category. There is the onomatopoetic: paw-paw-paw, glurd, flisket, grawl; the eponymic: McFleery’s pomma; the ones that sound borrowed from other languages: implex, awagabu, mashawok, kabasch—though one has to wonder what languages came before Adam’s; the descriptive: lily-eater, whitestap, greater and lesser wherret; and the completely arbitrary: sproal, pambler, verdie. Curiously, the McFleery’s pomma suggests that there is another man besides Adam walking around Eden.
Ferdinand de Saussure might delight in witnessing how the animal’s names came about; some sound more arbitrary than others, and they all spawn from Adam’s whim, but I’d like to think there are reasons behind each name. A paw-paw-paw seems like it must be a mammal, a rivarn would perhaps be a stripy antelope-like thing, a whitestap a nervous bird, and the glurd either an oafish ungulate or a big stupid fish.