Theological English (14): The Names of God

In this fifteenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the importance of names. “Name” is “man” in reverse with a final “e”, and we read in Genesis chapter 2 that God brought the creatures to Adam so that he could “name” them – in effect, so that he could translate them and choose the right word. God didn’t ask Adam to make the creatures because he is not an author – he cannot create out of nothing. He, and the rest of humankind, are translators. So “name” is central to man’s role in this world. What can the names of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary tell us about their roles? And what meaning can we find in the names of people like Strauss and Grant Gustin, and countries like Ukraine?

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I don’t think we’re particularly interested in the other person’s viewpoint. We like to listen to our own voice, to something that is familiar. If we had a real interest in the other person’s viewpoint, we would be avid readers of foreign literature in translation, but we’re not. Translated titles are supposed to make up only 3% of new publications in the U.S., according to the blog Three Percent. Attention paid to foreign titles in mainstream media is scarce. And translators put themselves at great risk in order to devote themselves to crossing that line between one culture and another.

It is an irony because the translator, who believes in intercultural understanding, is more or less forced to live on the land that separates cultures, in no man’s land. The translator is no man. They don’t exist. They don’t receive a salary, paid holidays, a pension. If they are paid (and there is often an expectation that they won’t be), they are often paid after the project is complete, begging the question, “How do they live while they are working?”

We prefer to hear our own voice and to believe that we are right. After all, what’s the alternative? The idea of believing that we are not right would so undermine us that we reject it out of hand. It cannot be. It is impossible. For us to hold on to our sanity, we have to be right.

There is now a crisis between Ukraine and Russia, a crisis that has been a long time in the making. Conflicts arise when people (because I don’t think anybody else does this) draw lines. When you draw a line, implying that you are an author, that something starts or ends with you (a false premise, we are translators, things pass through us), then you rely on two words to maintain the status quo (as you have established it): LAW and WAR. It is curious that these two words are obviously connected by the phonetic pair (pair of consonants pronounced in the same part of the mouth) l-r. The trouble is people don’t know their phonetic pairs, so they don’t see this.

I could give more examples. The reverse of LIVE is EVIL, one path open to us in this life – to do evil. But if we take the ego, “I” in English, and remove it from LIVE (that is, if we count down from “I” to “O”, from 1 to 0), we get LOVE, the other path open to us in this life. Live: evil-love. I study these connections in my book Seven Brief Lessons on Language.

The line that is the ego in English (I) is the same line that separates countries, properties, rich and poor, whatever social divide you care to think about. And where there is a line, there is conflict. Which is why the translator works so hard to engage with the other (OTHER, by the way, is connected to LOVE and THEOS), to cross that line, even though they know they cannot make a living.

I wrote an article at the time of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic about the connection between where the pandemic is said to have started, WUHAN, and the word HUMAN (turn the w upside down and rearrange the letters). Also, between COVID and VOICE (rearrange the letters and take a step in the alphabet, d-e). Human voice. Was Covid, a terrible disease causing pain and suffering in the world, meant somehow to bring us to our senses, to make us pay more attention to the vulnerable, to make us work together in the face of a common enemy? I don’t know, but the connections are there.

Now, this morning, looking at the word UKRAINE on my phone, I suddenly realized there was a very clear connection. It involves the similarity between a capital I and a lower case l. It can then be seen that UKRAINE with the letters rearranged spells NUCLEAR (c and k have the same pronunciation).

There is meaning in words, even though we don’t usually (choose to) see it. There is meaning in words, but, like all things spiritual, it is slightly hidden: a step in the alphabet (d-e), a phonetic pair (l-r), pairs of letters that are similar (i-l, m-w)… You just have to turn a corner.

Why is it that the word NUCLEAR can be found in UKRAINE? Is this a reference to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that affected not just Ukraine, but other countries as well? I certainly wouldn’t want to think that the current crisis between Ukraine and Russia could lead to nuclear war. Such an outcome would be unthinkable.

Another clear connection with UKRAINE relates to another phonetic pair: g-k. If we apply the phonetic pair g-k to the word UKRAINE, we will see that in the middle of the country is GRAIN. Two dangers have been highlighted during the conflict in Ukraine: the danger of damage to nuclear plants, and the danger to world food supplies if grain is not exported. It is interesting that both these words are found in the name of the country. And if we take away GRAIN, we are left with two letters: U-E, which could be a reference to the European Union (EU).

We need to consider the other. We need to hear the human voice, the voice of the other. And that involves not judging people on the basis of our own criteria and actually trying to get to know them, to understand their motives. That hasn’t happened very much between Ukraine, Russia and the West. Perhaps now would be a good time to start. To see what we have in common instead of spitting at each other over the fence. And to hire a translator who will enable us to hear what the other is saying.

Jonathan Dunne,