"Man Gave Names to All the Animals" as written by and Bob Dylan....
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

He saw an animal that liked to growl,
Big furry paws and he liked to howl,
Great big furry back and furry hair.
"Ah, think I'll call it a bear."

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

He saw an animal up on a hill
Chewing up so much grass until she was filled.
He saw milk comin' out but he didn't know how.
"Ah, think I'll call it a cow."

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

He saw an animal that liked to snort,
Horns on his head and they weren't too short.
It looked like there wasn't nothin' that he couldn't pull.
"Ah, think I'll call it a bull."

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

He saw an animal leavin' a muddy trail,
Real dirty face and a curly tail.
He wasn't too small and he wasn't too big.
"Ah, think I'll call it a pig."

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

Next animal that he did meet
Had wool on his back and hooves on his feet,
Eating grass on a mountainside so steep.
"Ah, think I'll call it a sheep."

Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.

He saw an animal as smooth as glass
Slithering his way through the grass.
Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake . . .


Lyrics submitted by Philadelphia Eagles, edited by Mellow_Harsher

"Man Gave Names to All the Animals" as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO

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Man Gave Names to All the Animals song meanings
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  • +4
    My InterpretationI'm sorry to say I think most of these comments frankly have been insults to Bob Dylan. I personally love this song and believe there is a lot more to it, as is the case with many of Dylan’s songs. In a history class I am taking, we actually had a discussion about this song and came up with two very possible interpretations of it.

    My professor, who is a huge Dylan follower, told us that this song was written during a time when Dylan was going through a religious phase in his life. The idea of the song is that, according to the Bible, Man was given the power to give names to all of the animals in Eden, and this power gives Man an elevated sense of entitlement and arrogance. However, Man’s power is nothing compared to God’s power, and that realization is what hits Dylan at the end of the song, in other words, the insignificance of Man. The symbol of the serpent, if you look past its connection to the emergence of sin in the world, represents the moment of consciousness that Man has in his relationship to God. So Dylan’s use of the snake in the final verse is what leads him to his own epiphany about God, and the reason he stops the song so abruptly and unsatisfactorily is because of his amazement at the power of God and his realization of his own insignificance. The tiring repetition of the chorus and verses is a tribute to how man’s inflated sense of self is so deeply engrained in the human psyche, almost to the point of brainwashing. Another point worthy of note is that man’s power to name things stems from his ability to influence his environment with his words, a concept central to professions such as writing poetry and songs (like Dylan.) Thus, Dylan’s realization is even more groundbreaking for him, because he discovers that his music and lyrics, the thing that he is passionate about, that he has influenced millions of people around the world with, that he has devoted his whole life to, is meaningless compared to what God is capable of.

    Another idea that my fellow classmates came up with is that Dylan was commenting on the concept and abundance of stereotypes in society. All of the animals he names are very simple–the sort you learn about in kindergarten. There is no depth to them. He could have written a verse about a Ornithorhynchus anatinus (a platypus)–they must have had those in Eden too–but instead he chooses very common, very inane animals. Also the lyrics themselves are extremely simple, the observations about each animal based solely of physical characteristics. This shallowness of perception and understanding characterizes the stereotypes that humans place upon one another as well. Again the repetition signifies the level in our minds to which these stereotypes have penetrated, so that we don’t even think about them or hesitate to look deeper. Then the snake, again, represents Dylan’s moment of consciousness, in which he realizes the inaccuracy and ignorance of believing stereotypes, and the final chord embodies both his disgust at the widespread use of stereotypes as well as his refusal to believe them anymore.

    So hopefully, people will find these two interpretations interesting and will think twice about the song and about trashing Dylan is general.
    chillax16on April 15, 2009   Link
  • +3
    Song MeaningSomeone posted a blurb on my Facebook page this morning about a crazy PETA-like stunt in which some equipment at a factory farm had been deliberately exploded in the middle of the night; the lone perpetrator of this stunt later wrote that he didn't expect to change the world, but was simply adding his personal statement to the never ending controversy over the needs of animals versus the needs of humans. (I neither condemn nor support this bit of activist theatre.) I thought of Dylan's ditty about giving names to all the animals and a few clicks later I landed on this forum about song meanings. Nice place, by the way; I think I'll be back. My personal views on the relationship between humankind and the animal kingdom are irrelevant to this conversation, as are my religious convictions.
    When I first heard this song I was delighted with its catchy melody and simple lyrics. It carried a message that was as straightforward or as complicated as the listener cared to make it. I guessed, correctly I have later learned, that this song would take on different meanings at different times in my life and I immediately assigned it to my short list of songs to listen to every year or two throughout my life. As my children and my grandchildren came along, this song became part of their basic repertoire, along with Twinkle Twinkle and Mary Had A Little Lamb. I'm the kind of parent who likes to answer questions with questions, rather than dismissing wondering young minds with "this is what I know and this is what you shall believe as well." All those rites of passage; Dad, I just found this book by Kahlil Gibrahn, what is the meaning of life, how do I know when I'm in love, is it right to eat meat, does everyone deserve to live the good life or only those who work hard and make a lot of money . . . and I try to guide them toward discovering those answers for themselves, reminding them that I will never be absolutely certain about anything when my own times come to their inevitable end. "Man Gave Names" is a remarkable question raiser, a thought provoker on everything from our relationship with the gifts of nature to corporate greed, (or not, I'm being fair here.)
    "I was reading some stuff that said I shouldn't eat meat because the meat industry is cruel to animals. But what if I get my meat from a company that uses humane practices? And what about hunting? That's fair, a one on one fight, isn't it?" What growing young mind hasn't asked these questions? My goto answer is usually, "In the beginning, the Genesis, if you must, humans were instructed, or decided on their own, to give names to all the animals. Did that mean we were also expected to care for them, or that we should eat them? Would you find it difficult to kill and eat a creature that you have named and nurtured through its life?"
    "Aw, Dad, will you stop with the nursery rhyme crap?"
    It gets better as the questions get more difficult, questions of human and civil rights, questions of poverty and wealth, questions of which political party to support. I mean, really, my 40 -some kid is trying to choose between two job offers in a field she is passionate about, but the two companies have very different business models. Heck, my decades of experience and, um, wisdom, haven't got a clue about which choice is best for her. I tell her so, and suggest we get together and listen to some music tomorrow night.
    "Aw, Dad, will you stop with the nursery rhyme crap?"
    "Daughter of mine, we've got to begin somewhere so why not begin at the beginning?"
    I chuckle and shake my head; how did this sweet innocent get stuck with an Olde Hippie for her father.
    OldeHippieon January 10, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSuperb chillax16!!
    Those are very interesting possibilities.
    I see people think there has been too much reading in to this song (jassss) but I fully agree with sparklingclover: "Dylan is surely someone who understands words"
    He adds more than one meaning to so much of his work and the beauty of it is that it sounds so simple but there is a great deal of depth. I'm also certain that the discussion of several puzzling possibilities is part of what he often tried to cause through his songs. Even if the particular interpretations described were not the exact ones which Dylan was planning on, he says plenty while purposely leaves things vague enough for a song to mean two different things to 2 different people.
    He has an incredible way with language.
    LettersFromWaron January 02, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree that this song is pretty trite in comparison to other Dylan classics, but I love the end line:

    "He saw an animal as smooth as glass
    Slithering his way through the grass
    Saw him dissappear by a tree near a lake ....."

    It's just funny.

    TheThornBirdson March 15, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSometimes I think people forget that in the right hands something simple and "fun" can hide some complex ideas. Dylan is surely someone who understands words.
    sparklingcloveron August 11, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Commenta great site thank you. Pondered the meaning of this ditty many times before coming across this site. The music is so profound and at odds, apparently, with the lyric content that I had to try to better understand the song. You don't just put such nonsense with music of this caliber. Didn't get too far with my musings.
    The choice of animal must be the key, the bull and bear are both symbols of wall street, the snake and pig (animal farm?) also relates to commerce, the goat - anyone? all of them are used by man, the sheep and the cow domesticated....this is where I got stuck, for me too many of the comments don't take into account how the music sounds, what it makes you feel, it certainly doesn't make me feel like I'm back in kindy what kind of kindergarten did some of you guys go to?
    bunglebeeon June 28, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMay well be Dylan's nadir, the single worst song he has ever written. I remember once hearing it said that Bob "has tried every drug in existence, including religion"; but the others sure led to better songs.
    MCDon January 16, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOk, two previous comments obviously reflect a lack of familiarity with 'Under the Red Sky', on which every single song (with the exception of 'TV Talking Song') is at least as silly as this song. If you don't believe me please try the song "Wiggle Wiggle."

    I actually kinda like this track - it's sort of silly and innocent, just a sunday school outing during Dylan's evangelical phase. Plus it has a nice undertone about the fall and man's arrogance etc etc (I'm not Christian, by the way, just interested in the themes).

    Musically the lightness of the track and the female backing vocals give a real break from the fire-and-brimstone funk/soul of Slow Train Coming.
    caitsith01on March 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSpanish sonwriter Joaquin Sabina did a parody version of this
    it was in Spanish, of course, but you'll get it anyway:

    God gave name to all the animals, in His bikini

    He stoped playin' after Dylan himself asked him to
    cavernon March 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwho is "man" ?
    hamas41on November 25, 2011   Link

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