What's in a Nickname?
by Alan Allegra
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“Mr. Crabbe won’t be with us this morning because Mr. Allegra is very sick.” This is what the Sunday school kids heard from the teacher last week. I wonder what you thought as you read that? If you don’t know that Mr. Crabbe is a puppet, you might think it’s my nickname! And, you might be right!
The word nickname means “another name.” It’s used to indicate familiarity or to point out some characteristic of the person so named. For example, friends may call Margaret “Peg” or James “Jim” or Judy “Jud.” On the other hand, not-so-friendly people might call someone “Four Eyes” or “Pinocchio” or “Porky” because of certain physical characteristics. And yet, among very close people, even a name like “Nutcase” can be a term of endearment. It all depends upon the relationship.
I remember how my mother would react when someone called me “Al” or my brother “Lou” or (mercy!) “Louie.” “That’s not what I named him!” She was very particular about what we were called.
I am very particular about what I am called, as most people are. I’m an “American,” not an “Italian-Hungarian-American.” I’m a “Christian,” not a “Baptist” or “Evangelical” or “Fundamentalist.” I’m a “Voter,” not a “Republican” or “Democrat.” Yes, I share certain characteristics with different groups, but I don’t want to be lumped together with, or identified with, some others who share those titles. And, unfortunately, that’s what often happens when we have to label ourselves or others. People who don’t always understand the issues lump us together with the latest politician-, celebrity-, headliner- or megapastor-du jour, often in a negative way.
Did you know that the nickname “Christian” began as a derogatory term? It was first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26) to identify the disciples of Christ. However, that was not meant to be a compliment at that time. One could imagine a sneer on a detractor’s face as he says, “Oh, you’re one of those Chhhrisssstchanzzz!” Perhaps this is why we hesitate to use the Name when religion comes up in a conversation. It seems so much less threatening or embarrassing to say, “I’m an Evangelical” or “I’m a Lutheran.”
The early disciples wore the name Christian as a badge of honor, and were willing to suffer for the privilege of being his. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41, NKJV). The word Christian means “having the characteristics of Christ.” For someone who loves and serves Christ, this is a compliment. It means we are living, at least in some degree, like Jesus lived (1 John 2:6).
Some nicknames are universal, whereas others live and die with their owner. Jackie Gleason is ever “The Great One.” Only Batman is “The Caped Crusader.” John Reid is forever “The Lone Ranger.” George Gipp is the legendary “Gipper,” and Ronald Reagan lives on as “The Great Communicator,” in contrast to “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Just as sports teams retire numbers when famous players retire, so do our nicknames often remain exclusive to their original bearers. Just as there will never be another “Tricky Dickey” or “Mr. Television,” there will never be another “Nutcase” or “Nine Toes” or whatever fond nickname you choose.
There is a tremendous promise in the book of Revelation that ensures our identification with Christ forever: “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3, 4, NKJV). We will proudly wear His Name as a mark of ownership.
Interestingly, it appears that God Himself will give us each a nickname. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). This is a very touching and intimate gesture from the God of all creation. Since He knows us thoroughly, this nickname will no doubt be an accurate appellation, unique to each individual, never to be retired.
What’s in a name? According to Juliet Capulet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Her point was that Romeo’s name and familial association was not what she loved; it was him, and no matter what his name was, he would still be that wonderful person. There is truth to that—the name doesn’t change the person. But a nickname can be a good indication of a person’s character or traits, real or perceived.
Do you have at least one nickname? Hopefully, it’s something nicer than Mr. Crabbe! Do you have nicknames for other people, and are they affectionate or pejorative?
If you are a Christian, do you wear the title proudly, or hide behind a denominational or other, less threatening, label? Remember, Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
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