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“Names” (Persian/Arabic: Asma’) is the name of the ninth Baha’i month in the 19-month, 19-day Baha’i Calendar. The month of “Names” lasts from late August to early September, each year.
In the Baha’i writings, the term “Names” does not simply mean “names” in the ordinary sense. Rather, the word “Names” often combines with another term, “attributes,” to construct the phrase, “names and attributes,” which occurs quite often in Baha’i texts. Usually, the phrase refers to the perfections of God; the perfections of the prophets of God; and our human perfections. We can begin to understand and appreciate these “Names”—as perfections across all three domains—in the passage below:
Nay, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light. … How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop! To a supreme degree is this true of man, who, among all created things, hath been invested with the robe of such gifts, and hath been singled out for the glory of such distinction. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed. All these names and attributes are applicable to him. Even as He hath said: “Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.” – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 100–101.
Think of the “names and attributes” of God as part of our spiritual DNA. The primary difference between our spiritual DNA and our individual genetic code is that, when we are born, our genes, more or less, are fully expressed, or are in the process of expressing themselves throughout our development over the span of our lifetime. At our physical birth, we begin our journey in this world, and develop our abilities and capacities as best we can.
Each of us has inherent talents and faculties. The role of education is to awaken them. These are powers that are latent within us. It remains for each of us to realize those potential powers.
In the same way, our spiritual being develops in a somewhat parallel way here on Earth. Baha’u’llah often refers to these spiritual names and attributes as “energies:”
Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him—a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation. … Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.
These energies with which the Day Star of Divine bounty and Source of heavenly guidance hath endowed the reality of man lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the lamp. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 65–66.
Just like we need education and training to develop our inherently physical powers and faculties, we need spiritual training to awaken and bring to fruition our spiritual energies.
Education requires teachers. Spiritual education requires spiritual teachers. The best spiritual teachers are the founders of the great world religions. Baha’is refer to these extraordinary individuals as prophets of God.
The purpose of the prophets—counseling, guiding, inspiring and perfecting each and every one of us—is manifested in their mission to educate humanity, both individually as well as collectively. In the aggregate—in the grand scheme of things—they exert a cumulative effect when the teachings of such extraordinary individuals as Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah bring their power and influence to bear on the world at large, through the Word of God:
Should the Word be allowed to release suddenly all the energies latent within it, no man could sustain the weight of so mighty a Revelation. … No sooner had mankind attained the stage of maturity, than the Word revealed to men’s eyes the latent energies with which it had been endowed—energies which manifested themselves in the plenitude of their glory… – Ibid., pp. 76–77.
So here’s a simple set of equivalences: “names” are “attributes,” which are spiritual “energies.” Shoghi Effendi calls these “ennobling energies.” They have the power to transform individual and society alike. Some examples of these spiritual dynamics are given in the extraordinary passage below:
The Faith of Baha’u’llah has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause. It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, ennobled their motives, cöordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. …
This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Baha’i Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God’s creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 197–198.
So there it is, in a nutshell! In a sense, the Baha’i month of “Names” invites each of us to reflect and meditate on the attributes of God, as conveyed through the prophets of God, and as exemplified by God’s creatures. We can meditate on each and every one of these “names and attributes,” which are really “perfections” by studying the Baha’i calendar.
We have the power to incarnate these virtues and to develop these capacities, especially if we benefit from the spiritual education that the Baha’i writings provide. To realize our spiritual potential, to awaken our inherent greatness, we should, all the while, remain humble, as we put our own individual lives into a broader perspective. The Baha’i writings enshrine moral and social principles that have the power to transform society, even to change the face of the earth.