My father had one of the greatest nicknames of all time: "King Kong." That lofty name was bestowed upon him in high school when he was an all-state lineman in football. In later years, his nickname was shortened to "Kong." Still impressive. No wonder he was such a good bull rider. When the rodeo announcer would say, "Kong Smith coming out of chute number two on a bull we call 'Tango,'" the bull was already psyched out. When my father died at 42, no one remembered his mother had named him "Horald."
Nicknames were common back then. My father's cousins and friends sported names like "Cooter," "Shorty," "Rabbit," "Top," "Stink," and my all-time personal favorite, "Puke." I think "Puke" moved away from Wauchula just so he could be called by his regular name.
My childhood nicknames were not as glamorous as my father's. I dragged my blanket around everywhere, so I was first tagged "Linus," after the character in the comic strip "Peanuts." When I stopped dragging my blanket around (I stopped by high school), my cousin Donna Mae noticed my head was round like "Charlie Brown," also a character in "Peanuts." To this day, when I see Donna Mae at home, she calls out, "Hey, Charlie Brown!"
My first name is William, which I do not use. Do you have any idea how many "William Smiths" there are in the world? My Uncle Earl, however, used to call me "Willie," sometimes "Willie-boy." His daughter, my cousin Kay, to this day calls me "Willie." She is the only one allowed to do that. If you call me "Willie," I will not answer. My wife sometimes calls me "Sweetie," which I like and will answer to, but only when she uses it. Do not call me "Sweetie."
Southerners default to some nicknames. I have a Barlow cousin named "Bubba." My mother went through life as "Sissie." Her brother was named Otis Odell, but everyone called him "Pete." Sure beats "Otis." Her younger brother was called "Bud." Her sister Billie Jean (this was before Michael Jackson) went by "Bill." People used to look at me funny when I told them I had an "Aunt Bill."
Even my dog has nicknames, which must confuse him. His real name is Mulawi (my son named him after the third Caliphate), but we call him "Moo." It fits because he is as big as a cow. But I also call him "Buddy" and a couple of other names I can not print when he tears into the trash.
Even Jesus had nicknames. His name means "God saves." But he is also called the "Christ," which means "the one who is anointed." It is better understood to mean "The Chosen One." Jesus is also called the "Lamb of God," because lambs were sacrificed for sin in the Temple. Jesus is the one pure lamb of God, offered for the sins of the world.
Jesus is also known as "Emmanuel," which means "God with us." Not only was Jesus offered as a sacrifice of our sins, but he also lived among us to show us he understands our lives. Unlike every other god, Jesus enters his creation to participate in life.
Jesus is called "Lord," which is both a term of respect and a name representing authority. People called him "Master," which meant they recognized he was in charge. Occasionally he was called "Rabbi," which means "teacher."
Jesus referred to himself as "The Son of Man," which sounds confusing. It is the same term used of an Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel. Scholars debate, but I think Jesus called himself "Son of man" as a way to identify as a prophet and a human being all at the same time.
John opens his gospel by calling Jesus "The Word." Jewish people understood God could speak, and things happened (think about when your daddy said, "Get out of bed." No further words were needed). John knew Jesus was God's ultimate word because he made things happen.
Peter gives Jesus the ultimate nickname. One day Jesus asked, "Who do people say I am?" They told him the gossip: People thought Jesus was Elijah, or John the Baptist come back to life, or one of the prophets come back to life. Jesus then asked, "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah!" That is the nickname Jesus wants everyone to use because that name means you get who he really is.
There is one more nickname I have, one I treasure above all others: "Child of God." That nickname means my Heavenly Father knows my worst self, forgives me and adopts me as his own. That nickname means I do not have to adult my way through life. My Heavenly Father is seeing me through, guiding me, taking care of me, assuring me of his love and grace. "Child of God" is more than a nickname; it is the arms of my Heavenly Father surrounding me.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at email@example.com.
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