When I was very little I was a massive fan of the Magic Roundabout. I was particularly interested in Dougal, the dog. When the Magic Roundabout was on TV (in the slot just before the evening news I think) apparently I used to crawl around and around like Dougal – always on the move. I don’t remember it, I was too young, but I have a reminder of it – I acquired the nickname from my parents of ‘Dougal’, which became shortened to ‘Doogz’. Before you get excited (and start crawling around) let me say that it only works from my parents and is not available for general use.
(My sister also acquired a Magic Roundabout-related nickname but I am going to keep that quiet as I don’t have her permission to share it. However, if you know her… ask her!)
Nicknames are interesting, aren’t they? They can be affectionate and ‘in house’ – a reminder of friendship or family love such as ‘Doogz’. They can be special, intimate, fun.
Nicknames can be rooted in affection, but they can also be rooted in malice. It is always worth checking when someone uses a nickname for another person that that person is happy with it. If we use a nickname that someone dislikes we may be inadvertently and thoughtlessly reinforcing all sorts of messages of rejection, cruelty and ridicule: for example someone may have the nickname ‘bunny’ which we think is cute when we hear it, but what if it was an unkind reference to that person’s teeth?
So how did Simon react when Jesus renamed him in the Bible? Simon was a perfectly good Jewish name. It means ‘He who hears God’s word’ – a good name for a follower of Jesus you would have thought. But Jesus decided to start calling him ‘Peter’, which means ‘stone’ or ‘rock’. If you read any of the gospels you will see that Peter (Rocky?) was decidedly un-rock-like. He was the one who suffered from foot and mouth disease – almost every time he opened his mouth he put his foot in it.
So was Jesus being cruel? Or was he giving him the name so he could grow into it? Matthew tells us about when Jesus changed Simon’s name. It was one of those rare occasions when Simon had got something right. He had recognised Jesus’ true identity…
17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16:17f, NIVUK)
So what nickname has Jesus given to you: Encourager? Worshipper? Leader? Preacher? Servant? Blessing? Kind? Joyful? Rocky?
You can be sure that whatever it is (or they are) he is not joking. He may be smiling, but that’s because he’s looking forward to you growing into it – and he gives us his Spirit to help us.
Be blessed, be a blessing