Naming Your Demons: Drowning Swine, Ch. 8

Mark 5:9 And Jesus asked him,“What is your name?” He replied,“My name is Legion, for we are many.” (ESV)

It is incredibly difficult to deal effectively with something that has no name. Anything that is nameless is essentially mysterious, and might also be dangerous. Many people fear UFOs for this reason. The only moniker they are given – unidentified flying objects – points to the fact that they have no real name or identity. Those who think UFOs are real often fear them precisely because of their unknown aspects. What are they made from? Who are the pilots? Where did they come from? Are they hostile or friendly? Do they have missiles and ray guns?

I’ve never seen a UFO, nor do I believe they exist, but I can see why people who do believe they exist might fear them. They lack a name, and what is unnamed is undefined. What is undefined is not understood, and what is not understood cannot be dealt with properly.

Name that Pain

For example, someone might experience a horrible and unexplainable pain, but is unsure of what could be causing it. The pain is real, but the cause is nameless.

This happened to me a few years ago. I experienced a sudden excruciating pain in my side. Hobbling to my bed, I collapsed into a fetal position, praying that, whatever it was, it would go away soon. Rather than disappear, however, the ache grew in intensity, leaving me in a helpless state of mysterious despair. In those dark moments of struggle, I feared the nameless unknown. The pain was real, but the cause was hidden.

For awhile, I attempted to hide my agony from my wife, Page, and our kids. My pride was strong, and I didn’t want to appear weak or scared in their eyes. But it wasn’t long before my pride melted in the flames of the tortuous symptom, and soon I was begging Page to call an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived, she graciously took the children into a back bedroom so they wouldn’t have to witness their dad being carried out of our apartment on a stretcher.

On the journey to the hospital, the nameless pain kept screaming. Upon being admitted into the ER, the first priority of the medical staff was to name the cause of the pain. Naming the cause was even more important than easing the pain – no meds were given until the name of the disease was found. Writhing in excruciating agony, I waited for the name. Page still jokes with me about my words during that waiting period. I pleaded with her to prowl around the ER and find something, anything, that might ease the pain. “Somewhere in this place, I know they have a painkiller. You just have to go find it and bring it to me,” I said, implying, “If you love me, you’ll do whatever it takes!”

At long last, a CT scan brought the cause of the pain to light, providing the name I was desperately seeking: kidney stone. Once I had the name, I immediately began to feel better. The medical staff mercifully provided a powerful painkiller (which also had a name) in order to ease my suffering.

Only because a name was given to the ailment was I able to deal with it. The doctor instructed me to drink lots of water and to manage the pain, assuring me that eventually the stone would pass. Within 24 hours I celebrated the grand exit! The stone left, along with all the pain it caused. But what didn’t leave was the lesson of naming. Without naming the problem, a remedy would not have been found. Critically important to the healing was the identifying.

Introducing Legion

In the story of the demoniacs, Jesus had a fascinating discussion with the evil squad of demons that had taken over the man’s being. It began in Mark 5:7, where the devils clearly identified their foe as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” Legion named his enemy; therefore, he was well aware of who he was dealing with.

After all, the name Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “Yahweh is salvation.” The title Son of the Most High God reveals Jesus’ divine nature and relationship to the Father. He is God’s Son in a unique way, for he alone is “the Word” who was with God from all eternity and who was God from all eternity (John 1:1). He is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In showing his knowledge of Jesus’ name and high title, Legion was also showing that he knew who he was about to tangle with – the only divine, omniscient power in existence, who had come to save his people. Just by knowing his name, Legion knew he could not win in a fight with Jesus. The name made it clear that he was beaten even before the battle started.

Then, somewhat surprisingly, Jesus asked the possessed man (really the demon), “What is your name?” He, too, wanted to identify his enemy. The name provided was Legion, a name that signified the presence of more than one unclean spirit inhabiting the man. An entire company of devils had overrun his heart, although we are not told exactly how many. The name Legion gives the impression that there were at least a thousand.

The name also identifies this being as both one and many, both singular and plural. For example, in his response to Jesus, he says, “My name is Legion.” My is singular, referring to one being. But then he says, “For we are many,” using we to indicate more than one. It seems Legion had qualities of both singularity and plurality. In this book, I mostly refer to him in the singular for the sake of consistency, but with the understanding that this him is really a them, this he really a they.

For some readers, it might be surprising that Jesus had what seems to be a bit of small talk with these evil beings. What difference did his name make? Shouldn’t Jesus have just dealt with the problem and not been concerned with having a chat about names? But the Lord was teaching us an invaluable lesson by demanding the name. He was demonstrating that naming our demons is a major part of fighting them. If we can identify them for what they are and learn something about how they work, we will be able to fight against them more effectively.

What’s in a Name?

It would be helpful here to think about how people go about naming things generally. Usually we name things in accordance to what they are or how they work. This could be how Adam named the animals (Genesis 2:19). Though we don’t know for sure, perhaps he saw an elephant, and the name he gave was something like Longnose. Maybe he saw a giraffe and named him something like Stretchneck. Again, we haven’t been told that he named the animals by this method, but it is certainly reasonable.

When people name new things, this is how they often proceed. For example, in 1897, when naming the new machine with four wheels that could move itself, the word automobile was chosen by the Automobile Club of Great Britain. Why would they choose this word? Because it means to be self-moving. The name is not just a generic moniker – something to call it – but actually describes what it is or its nature. The prefix auto comes from the Greek language and essentially means “self.” The word mobile, from the Latin word mobilis, refers to something that is able to move. So an automobile is an object that is capable of moving itself. Perfect name! Similar words include fireplace, bedroom, bookshelf, and upstairs.

Other examples: The word cup comes from a Sanskrit word that means “hollow.” The word sky comes from older words that mean “region of the clouds that covers and conceals.” A modern example would be the word computer, which comes from compute, a word built by the prefix com, meaning “with,” and putare, meaning “to reckon or count.” Put these together and compute means to count up, find the sum, or reckon together. So a computer is something or someone who is capable of adding things together and finding the sum.

Myriads of further examples could be given, all of them proving that people often name things not just with generic words, but in accordance with the nature of the thing itself.

In the Bible, this is often how people are named. I’ve already mentioned Jesus and Legion, but other examples include Adam, whose name means “of the red earth,” Esau, which means “hairy” or “rough,” and Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.” Each of these names identifies not just the person, but what the person does and something about his nature.

The same is true with the father of the demons, who is named in numerous ways throughout Scripture. He is called the devil, which means “the accuser” or “one who slanders.” Sometimes he is identified as Satan, a name that refers to the way he sets himself in opposition and enmity and is, therefore, always ready to attack. Paul identifies him as one who often hides his true self with the disguise of an angel of light:

2 Corinthians 11:14-15 Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (ESV)

In the book of Revelation, he is also called a serpent and a dragon, word pictures that illustrate his character, methods of fighting, and agenda. All of these names and identifiers provide information about the nature and activity of this great enemy, and help us better understand how to do battle against him.

By way of application, we need to be naming demons. If we are going to successfully fight spiritual warfare, and grow in our sanctification, we must not fight against unidentified demonic beings, but rather against things we have named and understood as best we can. Naming demons may seem strange at first, but it a necessary part of waging the war.

Which Demons Should We Name?

First, and consistent with our passage, we should name actual demons, fallen angels who have personality (mind, will, and emotions), like Satan and Legion.

This is admittedly difficult for us in the modern world. To identify and name actual demons the way Jesus did is an activity that should be done cautiously to say the least. Indeed, I must confess, I find it very difficult to discern whether an actual demon has overtaken a person or if the person is so oppressed by internal and external dark forces that they are merely acting as if they are fully possessed by a demon. I further confess, I have never named an actual demon, at least not to my knowledge.

Most of the time and for a number of reasons, we are unable to come to the same conclusion Jesus did with the man in the story, that a demon is inside a person. But though it is difficult, I would quickly add that if we do discern with certainty that a person is possessed by a demon, then that demon needs to be named.

How do we find out its name? Well, we could ask it, the same way Jesus did. But I would caution readers to remember that Jesus is the boss, and we are not. Meaning, Jesus could have a conversation with Legion, because he was much more powerful than Legion. If we weak humans dabble in conversation with vicious beings of darkness, we may end up in a place we don’t want to be. Remember my story from chapter 6. My brother was able to have a conversation with the bully Russell that I was not able to have with him. This was because my brother was much stronger than Russell, and I was much weaker. Christ can converse with demons in a way that we can’t because he is much mightier than demons, but we are not.

It seems wise, then, if we honestly think a person is possessed by an actual demon, to avoid a conversation with the dark being. Better to simply name the demon based on what it is doing inside the person, or the fruit of its labor coming out of the person, rather than attempt a chat with darkness.

For example, perhaps we come to believe that a captured serial killer has committed his crimes under the influence and possession of an actual demon. We might name that demon Terror. It fits just fine. Or perhaps we know a person who is uncontrollably addicted to heroine, whose activities seem to be demonic, who flies into uncontainable rages, who never listens to reason. This person may not have an actual demon on the inside, but he might. If we come to believe that he does, we may name this demon Blind Rage, or something like that.

We Must Be Cautious

I must stress, it can be very dangerous for us to attempt to name actual demons today. We must be very careful not to insist a person is possessed of a demon unless somehow we come to know it for sure.

I believe strongly that demons are just as active in the present as they were in Jesus’ day, and I believe they can and do possess people. But before we name them, we must be sure there is one there to name.

I am very concerned that some segments of Christianity are far too quick to identify a demon without this certainty, a practice that can cause a great deal of spiritual damage to people. A quick browsing of websites found with an internet search of “demon possession” or “exorcism ministry” will reveal people and practices that are causing much more harm than good.

The fact is, Jesus was privy to spiritual knowledge that we don’t have, and if we go around telling folks they are demon-possessed, when in reality they are not, we are creating confusion and potentially serious problems. To misname something can be a very deceptive and dangerous practice, causing even more damage than not naming it at all.

Imagine if my kidney stone had been misnamed appendicitis, and on the basis of that name I was wheeled immediately into surgery. That would have been a royal waste of time for medical personnel, and no good for me at all. Missing the name can lead to all sorts of problems. Likewise, identifying a demon who isn’t there can lead people down an unnecessary and confusing path.

This leads to a difficult question. How do we come to know with certainty if a person is demon-possessed? The only honest answer I can give is I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t rely upon religious hucksters who claim to have secret discernment abilities or a special anointing from God which allows them knowledge of a demonic presence. Nor would I rely upon a list of symptoms (such as changes of behavior, darkened eyes, catatonic state, etc.) as providing an authoritative declaration of demonic presence.

My own view is that I will withhold judgment of whether a person is demon-possessed until God somehow makes it abundantly clear to me in his own way. There may be some case where I am fairly certain a demon is involved, but if I do not know for sure, I would pray for that person like this, “If there is a demon inside that person, Lord, please bind the evil spirit.” But if I am only fairly certain, I will not authoritatively proclaim to the person or their family that a demon is present. More on this topic will be covered in the next chapter, which deals with how to fight demons.

Personal “Demons”

Though I urge caution in naming actual demons, there is a second way to name demons that may be of much more practical help and use for us today.

When struggling with particular sins of the flesh that war within us, we often refer to these as our “demons.” We do not mean we are possessed by actual beings with mind, will, and emotions, but we are referring to our own fleshly desire to engage in demonic activities.

For example, an alcoholic may say in his drunken stupor, “The ‘demon’ has won again.” He is not saying an actual demon infests his being, but that his flesh has given in to its demonic desires.

James 3:14-16 If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (ESV, italics mine)

To differentiate demonic behaviors from actual demons, people often say they struggle with personal “demons.” I would submit that these “demons” need to be named too. And in fact, they are far easier to name than actual demonic beings. I see this type of naming as a fair application of what we learn from Jesus in his seeking the name of Legion. (In order to maintain this distinction carefully between actual demonic beings and the flesh that acts demonically, I use quotation marks each time I mean the latter; e.g., personal “demons”).

A few more examples may help illuminate the lesson. Cathy is often bitterly angry, leading her to have desires to harm other people. She may, in a moment of self-reflection, realize that she struggles with a personal “demon” named Hate. Chuck might be hiding his illegally obtained pain pills in his dresser drawer when he realizes he is losing a fight with a personal “demon” named Addiction. Corina constantly feels so lonely and sad that she struggles to even get out of her bed. Her heart is constantly hurting, and her soul is downcast. It seems she is under attack from a personal “demon” named Depression. Carl is a man of the flesh. His mind and computer screen are constantly filled with images of gross sexual immorality. He is driven to pornography and other twisted sexual acts. Though he may not be possessed by an actual demon, Carl may be overcome by a personal “demon” named Adultery.

The list, of course, is endless. Everybody has fleshly desires and struggles with worldly temptations. People can easily fall prey to the external influences of the devil and demons, all without being possessed by an actual demon. These personal “demons” must be identified for what they are. They need a name. Little of use can be done to fight them until they get one.

Once demons (both actual beings and personal “demons”) are named, strategies must be developed to fight them. It isn’t enough to simply identify them, but they must be battled. In the next chapter, we will move beyond the names and focus on the fight itself.


This post is Chapter 8 of the book Drowning Swine.


Read Drowning Swine Online

Click the chapter links to read now

  1. Jesus the Missionary
  2. Here Be Demons (and Pigs)
  3. Darkness Is Dark
  4. Among the Tombs Crying Out
  5. Darkness Kills Itself
  6. Who’s the Boss?
  7. Team Affiliation
  8. Naming Your Demons
  9. Fighting Fire with Consuming Fire
  10. Why God Made Pigs
  11. The Idolatry of Economy
  12. Holiness, Sanity, and Missions

Appendix: Synoptic Harmony