God has innumerable names, but does that mean that all names are God's?
This is the ninth in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided when trying to progress spiritually by chanting God's names.
This article deals with what is listed in the Padma Purana (Brahma Khanda 25.16) as the second offense in chanting the holy names:
sivasya sri-visnor ya iha guna-namadi-sakalam
dhiya bhinnam pasyet sa khalu hari-namahita-karah
Devotees in ISKCON are familiar with this translation by Srila Prabhupada: "To consider the names of demigods like Lord Siva or Lord Brahma to be equal to, or independent of, the name of Lord Vishnu." Prabhupada elaborates on the meaning of the verse in various places. To aid our understanding of those explanations, here is a word by word translation of the verse:
sivasya-the name of Lord Siva;
sri-visnor-Lord Vishnu;
yah-who; iha-in this material
world; guna-qualities;
nama-name; adi-sakalam-everything;
dhiya-with the
conception; bhinnam-difference;
pasyet-may see; sahhe;
khalu-indeed; harinama-
the holy name of the
Lord; ahita-karah -inauspicious
I'll discuss four lessons drawn from this verse that can help us avoid this particular offense in chanting the Lord's names. The  first lesson is that all names of God are equally holy. The second is that while all names of God are identical with Him, they reveal a variety of moods of interaction with Him. The third is that names that refer to beings other than God, even demigods (devas), are not equal to names of God. And the fourth is to understand the relationship between Siva and Krsna.

God in his Original Form

1. All names of God are equally holy Srila Prabhupada writes: "The second offense is to see the holy names of the Lord in terms of worldly distinction. The Lord is the proprietor of all the universes, and therefore He may be known in different places by different names, but that does not in any way qualify the fullness of the Lord. Any nomenclature which is meant for the Supreme Lord is as holy as the others because they are all meant for the Lord. Such holy names are as powerful as the Lord, and there is no bar for anyone in any part of the creation to chant and glorify the Lord by the particular name of the Lord as it is locally understood. They are all auspicious, and one should not distinguish such names of the Lord as material commodities."
(Srimad Bhagavatam 2.1.11, Purport)
Much suffering, even up to the point of torture and war, takes place because of wrangling over the nomenclature of the Supreme Lord. If you don't like my name for God, you might call me a heretic. But it's reasonable that God, who creates and owns everything, has innumerable names. Even we ordinary people have many names, such as legal names, pet names, nicknames, and titles. Sometimes what appear to be various names for God are only the same term in different languages, including names that mean things like "the Provider," "the Sustainer/' "the Healer," or "the Creator." Followers of the Vedic scriptures have long sung the thousand names of Vigm in the Sanskrit tongue, and other religious systems teach ninetynine names, fifteen names, and so forth, according to their language and understanding.
If a devotee of God who calls on anyone of his holy names perceives the other names of God in terms of worldly distinctions, the name is offended because God is fully present in His name. He turns away from such narrow minded self righ teousness. 
2. Krsna's name is Krsna Himself, full of spiritual variety "In this material world," Srila Prabhupada writes, "the holy name of Visnu is all auspicious. Visnu's name, form, qualities, and pastimes are all transcendental, absolute knowledge. Therefore, if one tries to separate the Absolute Personality of Godhead from His holy name or His transcendental form, qualities, and pastimes, thinking them to be material, that is offensive …. This is the second offense at the lotus feet of the holy name of the Lord." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adilila 8.24, Purport)
First we learned to respect equally all names of God. Now we learn to respect Krsna's name as  being absolutely the same as Himself. There is no mundane hierarchy in the different names of God. God is one, and His names are also one. There are not many gods. Yet, as the Lord Himself has various incarnations and expansions, His innumerable names also display different moods or flavors of spirituality. For example, some names of Krsna are more intimate than others, just as "sweetheart" is a more intimate form of address than "Your Honor"-even though they may refer to the same person.
Names like "the Creator," "the Susrainer," and so on, relate to God's role in the material creation or in our lives here. Like "judge" and "Your Honor," they tell us something of God "at work." Focusing on Krsna's dealings with our concerns, these names tend to be human centered.

Lord Ship and Krishna

Other names of God concern His pastimes in His spiritual abode. While these names may also indicate Krsna's dealings with others, those "others" are His pure devotees, not rebellious souls. Unfortunately, most of the world's genuine spiritual and religious traditions know only of God's names in relation to the material creation. There is little knowledge of Krsna's personal life in His own kingdom, or of His names there. When this knowledge exists, it is generally not part of the mainstream religious teaching or practice. In contrast, the Vaishnava schools, and particularly Gaudiya Vaisnavism (including the Hare Krsna movement) , provide all members with rich, detailed information about Krsna's divine realm, devotees, activities, and names.
Srila Prabhupada explains that the name Krsna is the Supreme name because it means "all attractive." It includes all aspects of the Lord and encompasses God's qualities of both opulence and sweetness. Because Krsna is the original Personality of Godhead, all others names of God are included within His name.
Krsna 's devotees distribute His name because they wish to envelop others in the divine sweetness that surpasses immersion in the Lord's opulence and majesty. Names that express God's functions in this world give less than the overflowing satisfaction for which the soul yearns. And the self satisfied Lord feels much greater pleasure when addressed in relation to His dear saintly devotees than with names that glorify His role in the world.
Just as one who knows only the actions and names of God in relation to the material world should not reject the other names, so those who have the fortune of accessing Krsna 's intimate names should not think that superior knowledge makes the knower superior. Rather, with humility and equal vision  those who chant and sing mantras such as Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare should give all respect to persons absorbed only in a secondary understanding. Thus we will please the holy name.
Even within the kingdom of God there are varieties in the intensity of intimacy with Krsna. But these varieties are not like "higher"  and "lower" in the material world.One who thinks that a particular name is inferior because it is associated with the Lord's less intimate  activities makes a worldly distinction about the name. And if one denigrates a devotee of God's regal forms and names, one compounds the offense.
Judging whether a particular name of God is seeped in awe or intimate love is not so simple anyway. Distinctions between the reverential,intimate, or most intimate names of God can rest more on the mood and understanding of those who call on the name than on a literal definition. Even Krsna's most intimate devotees, His cowherd girlfriends, sometimes call Him Acutya {Infallible}, Rsabha (Greatest Person), or Natha (Lord).
The distinctions between God's various forms and Their corresponding names are not about potency but about relationship. Therefore, to nourish particular relationships, some forms and names of full expansions of Krsna never display certain qualities of His. Each type of relationship with the Lord is glorious. When Krsna descended as His own devotee, as Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He encouraged everyone to focus on God in His original form of complete  sweetness and all relationships (Krsna). But when He met persons purely devoted to Krsna's forms such as Ramacandra or Narayana, He praised their attachment and love for God.
While God's descriptive names are innumerable, He doesn't "have" a name in the sense of owning an  appellation that is arbitrary, temporary, and different form Him. A conditioned soul is different from the mind, body, and name. Therefore, when I call my friend's name, look at her picture, or think of her qualities, I don't have direct contact with her. But Krsna, being absolute, is identical to His form, name, and qualities. Contact with  any of them is direct contact with Him. While there is a simultaneousoneness and difference between the Lord and His energies, there is only oneness with His personal features, such as His name. To say and hear Krsna's name with pure love is to be fully in His presence. This oneness of God and His name is true for all of His names, whether  in relation to the creation or to the spiritual realm. 
3. Krsna's names and names of beings such as demigods  Srila Prabhupada writes, "To consider the names of demigods like Lord Siva or Lord Brahma to be equal to, or independent of, the name of Lord Vishnu … If someone thinks that he can chant 'Kali, Kali!'  or 'Durga, Durga!' and it is the same as Hare Krsna, that is the greatest offense." (The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 08)
A third lesson in avoiding this offense deals with the distinction between names of God and names of others. When we respect all names of Krsna, we need to remember that not every name refers to Him. For example, many names of the Supreme Lord, such as "the Witness," could easily refer to someone other than God. In a court there are so many ordinary human beings who can be called "the witness." If we think, therefore, that any witness is God, we offend the name.
Similarly, some powerful beings, though God's servants, have names that can also refer to Him. Although  Krsna in His omnipotence and omnipresence can control and maintain everything himself, out of love He engages highly realized or pure souls in His service. The Sanskrit terms for these beings are devas or suras. The English word Prabhupada used to refer to this class of being is "demigods." They are living beings, souls like you and I and, indeed, all forms of life. Having chosen to live in goodness and purity, these souls have received bodies far more subtle, beautiful, and powerful than our earthly forms. Any soul has the potential  to transmigrate into a deva form, or to fall from deva life into the human form or lower.
The chief devas have both titles and personal names. For example, the title of the leading administrative  deva is "Indra," which means"chief." The current Indra is named Purandara. Sometimes a name or title can refer to either a deva or Krsna. In the last mantra of the lsopanisad, one of 108 scriptures  dedicated to transcendental knowledge,the Supreme Lord is called Agni, which is also the title of the deva of fire. When referring to God, Agni means one who is as powerful as fire or is the source of fire. That Krsna can be called Agni does not mean we can regard or worship the fire-god Agni as supreme.
Sometimes, in the name of following the Vedic scriptures, people worship devas, especially Siva, Durga, and Ganesa, as if they were full incarnations of Krsna. As described previously, Krsna does not reveal Himself fully in all His incarnations  and expansions. It may be confusing, therefore, to learnthat Rama is the Personality of Godhead but that Ganesa, for example, is not.
How to know who is God and who is a deva? When does a name such as Agni or Surya refer to a deva  and when to God? When is someone calling on the same God by a different name, and when is someone calling to something other than  God? To answer these questions in specific instances, one has to refer to the scriptures under a bona fide guru's guidance, following the examples of saintly persons.
The devas are Krsna's devotees in various degrees of realization and  aspiration. Like any living being in the material world, their names are temporary designations, different from themselves. We automatically worship and please them when we  chant Krsna's name and worship Him, just as we satisfy our obligations to all government departments when we pay taxes to the central agency. If we approach the devas directly which is not generally  necessary or even recommended  it should be only to respect them as God's agents or to ask their assistance in our service to Him. The best way to worship devas is with food or articles first offered to Krsna. While we should respect scriptures and traditions that encourage deva worship because they gradually elevate their followers, one who wants pure love of God  should worship Krsna in any ritual where deva worship is suggested.  
4. The position of Siva In his commentary on Sanatana  Gosvami's Brhad bhdgavatamrta (1.2.86), Srila Prabhupada's disciple Gopiparanadhana Dasa, drawing on Sanatana Gosvami's own commentary, writes, "The Padma  Purdna includes . .. a list of ten offenses against chanting Lord Visnu's names. Therein it is said, 'One who sees differences between any of Lord Siva's qualities and names and those of Sri Visnu is an antagonist  to hari nama.' Lord Vishnu cannot tolerate offenses against Lord Siva, because Lord Siva is the greatest of Lord Visnu's empowered incarna tions. Lord Siva is especially empowered  to distribute in the material world the elevated tastes of pure devotional service."
Lord Siva is unique among the devas. He is an incarnation of Krsna, but he is somewhat different from Krsna, as yogurt is milk but not milk. He possesses qualities beyond those of any living entity  and has an eternal dominion beyond matter. But to think that the  name and personality of Siva are equal in every way to those of Krsna is offensive. And it is also offensive to see them as different.
The perfect way to reconcile the positions of Siva and Krsna is to  worship Siva as a changed incarnation of Krsna who considers himself Krsna's devotee and servant. In His incarnation as Siva, Krsna acts as all destructive time and as the  father of all living beings. As Krsna, He is aloof from matter; as Siva, He consorts with the personified material energy. When we properly worship Knna, Siva is included  and pleased. But if we worship Siva other than as a Vaisnava, Krsna's devotee, then neither is Siva fully satisfied nor is Krsna properly reverenced.
Conclusion: Chanting without any form of this offense
There are many names of God and many paths to Him, as well as paths and names that lead elsewhere. Various airline companies and routes may take us to Tokyo. If enroute to Tokyo we  think that  we're flying on the only plane going there, or even with the only  airline, we deceive ourselves in pride. Yet not every plane traversing the earth at this moment is headed for Tokyo, or even Japan,  and some airlines don't have flights  to the Far East at all. Of the air lines that do go to Tokyo, some have more direct routes, better service, or lower prices.
One who carefully studies the science of bhakti, devotional service  to Krsna, which involves the practice of chanting Hare Krsna, will quickly understand that this route to love of God is direct. The flight includes ample in flight service, and the price is only sincere eagerness. For our chanting in bhakti to be effective, we must distinguish between worship of the Absolute and the relative, while  honoring all forms and names of the Absolute. Then our chanting of Hare Krsna will quickly bring us  to realization of our self and our sweet relationship with the one, all attractive Lord Sri Krsna.
Urmila Devi Dasi is a frequent contributor to BTG and the major  author and compiler of Vaikuntha Children, a guide to Krsna conscious education for children.