Learning the Names

Do you know the names of the living things that greet you when you step out your front door? The birds that flit by, the trees on your street, the many plants that live in the hedge?

In his book Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane writes:

“It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing; rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen. Language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we further deplete our ability to name, describe and  figure particular aspects of our places, our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted…. [As] Tim Dee neatly puts it, ‘Without a name made in our mouths, an animal or a place struggles to find purchase in our minds or our hearts.'”

Relationship of any kind, between two human beings, only really begins when we learn each other’s name. It doesn’t matter if it’s their true or full name: it’s a symbol for the other in our minds, without which this other is just one anonymous face in the crowd. The same phenomenon applies to non-human beings, and as stated in the quote above, there is a close connection between losing the relationships and losing the names. The simple fact of putting a name to the many species on our doorstep makes a powerful change, creates a feeling of belonging, as when living in a community where you know everyone. Only then is it possible to recognize the individuality of every member within a species. Our whole outlook shifts as we become able to recognize personhood in all living things.

Some identification guides to get you started:

  • The RSPB’s Bird Guide (UK)
  • PlantNet is a clever app to identify a plant wherever you are. Snap a photo and the app will match it with user-submitted photos, making it a breeze to work out what you’re looking at.
  • [more to come]