By Jennifer Hinder
Nicknames are typically affectionate, silly pet names given to us by our friends or family—but what if your nickname possessed an unexpected significance?
When our children were young, we lived in an old rambling house with a garage apartment out back. My husband was a minister of a growing congregation. We rented the apartment out to young singles in our church for a bit of extra income. Sometimes our renters ate meals with us and babysat our kids, basically becoming part of the family.
One young guy, Chuck, hung out with our family quite a lot. One day out of the blue, for no apparent reason, he called our youngest son Micah Moo or Moo for short. The silly nickname soon stuck so that before we knew it, our entire family was calling him Moo.
Not too long after the christening of Micah’s nickname, my parents came for a visit. Over the course of their stay, my mom heard us calling him Moo. At one point, she pulled me aside to ask me how Micah got that name. Assuming she was offended by the silly name, I quickly explained how Chuck had come up with the idea. To my surprise, she told me a story I’d never heard before.
As a young child, my mom couldn’t pronounce her older brother’s name, so she made up with her own version of Melvin, which turned out to be Moo-Moo or just Moo for short. The entire family called him by his nickname until he was an adult.
When my mom heard us calling Micah by Moo, she couldn’t believe that one of my boys had the exact same nickname as her brother. It was pretty strange for sure that this silly nickname had gotten passed down from one generation to another with no apparent connection. It’s still a mystery we’ll probably never solve, but maybe God knew all the time that this would happen. Does God, in fact, know our nickname?
Some friends of mine affectionately called their young son Pumpkinhead. When his new Sunday school teacher asked him his name and he happily replied, “Pumpkinhead Smith,” my friends knew it was time to drop the nickname.
The Bible tells us that names are important to God. He often gave an individual a new name to demonstrate his special call on that person’s life. God changed Abram’s name, which meant “high father,” to Abraham, “the father of many nations.” He changed Jacob’s name to Israel which took him from meaning “supplanter” to becoming “God prevails.”
A new name in the Bible not only indicated God’s unique call upon an individual, but also how he would change that person’s life—so much so that the old name wouldn’t fit anymore.
In Isaiah 43:1 God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (English Standard Version). When God calls us by name, something amazing happens—we become new people from the inside out. We may not get a name change like people in the Bible, but we do get a heart change.
My dad grew up being called Shorty his entire life because he was the shortest kid in his family. When he died at 89, his nickname was engraved in large letters on his gravestone. That’s the enduring power of a nickname.
Jesus nicknamed three of his closest disciples. Mark 3:16, 17 says, “He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder).”
These three, Peter, James, and John, were Jesus’ closest followers and friends. Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter, which in Greek meant “rock” or “stone.” Jesus used a play on words emphasizing the significance of Peter’s nickname when he told him, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
James and John were noted for their spirited dispositions, thus their nickname, Sons of Thunder. Can you imagine a more unflattering nickname? Who would want to hang out with the Sons of Thunder? We catch a glimpse of their fiery personalities in a conversation with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem:
“The people did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” (Luke 9:53, 54). No doubt Jesus smiled at their eagerness to defend him, even though their methods were questionable.
Thousands of years later, we still remember these men by their nicknames; when Jesus gives you a nickname, it endures.
Recently I heard about a horrible hot air balloon accident. As the hot air balloon swooped down for a landing, it hit electric wires which sent it plummeting to the earth in flames. Horrifically people on the ground could hear individuals inside the balloon screaming, “I’m going to die. God help me!”
Sadly no one survived this awful crash. What must it have been like for the people? Imagine having just seconds to live, inside the swaying balloon as it careened to the ground. Just hearing about this accident causes us to ponder our own response. Who do you cry to for help? What name would you call out?
God promises to hear us when we cry out his name. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” I don’t know if the individuals who died in the accident that day were Christians, but I find comfort in knowing that God heard their cries when they called out his name.
God Calls Us
Scripture tells us that God desires a relationship with us, not because we’re such great people, but because he loves us. We’re unholy, prone to wander, and in deep need of a Savior who can bring us back to a right relationship with God.
The Bible also teaches us that Jesus walked on earth as a God-man; he was born with human flesh and he was tempted just like us, but he never sinned. He was perfect in obeying God. None of us could make this claim! Jesus took our place on the cross, paying for all our sins with his life. He was the perfect ransom for all our sins.
God calls us by name or nickname because he wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to respond by loving him and loving others in return.
We are changed from the inside out when God touches our lives with his love. He promises us that he hears us when we call upon his name. He’s eager to answer us and to deliver us. We can only wonder if in eternity we’ll find out that we too had a nickname given to us by God.
By the way, our son Micah is now 19 years old, and we still call him by the nickname Moo.
Jennifer Hinder is a freelance writer in Fairfax, Virginia.
What’s In a Name
1. Look up your name to see what it means and what it may suggest about your relationship with God. If you have an oft-used nickname, delve into its story as well.