I’m going to tell you something I haven’t made public before. Mmmm that’s got your attention! When I started teacher training college, in my first English Literature lecture, the tutor was going through the list of students, working out who was who. Seeing my dark red hair, he said, “Hello Rusty!” And for ever after in that class my name was Rusty! Even now, 40 years later, one or two of my old college friends still use that moniker. If only my hair colour still warranted it!
Nicknames are a funny business. In our culture, they often say a lot more about who you are than your given name – it’s what people have observed and commented on. In biblical culture, there was a much greater link between a person’s given name and their personality or role in life.
In Exodus 2:10-11, Moses’ birth mother handed her son over to Pharaoh’s daughter for adoption, when he ‘grew older’. It was the princess who gave him the name ‘Moses’, meaning “I drew him out of the water”. But in that very act, she was reminding him and everyone else that he had been born from the Hebrews. Only a Hebrew baby would have been found floating about in a basket on the Nile. At the very least, it spoke of his adoption, not genetic sonship, for he had been discovered, not birthed by the Egyptian princess. What would that do to a young man, struggling to find his way in a foreign culture? Alienate him. No wonder, in spite of the assets of growing up in Pharaoh’s court, he associated himself with ‘his own people’ and empathised with their struggles. No wonder he sided with the oppressed Hebrew rather than with those who fed, clothed and educated him.
Teachers have finally caught on that if you call a child ‘stupid’ or ‘naughty’, then that is exactly how they think of themselves, so they become stupid or naughty. Maybe we need to think twice about how we refer to others if we use a nickname – is it showing respect? Is it bringing the best out of them?
Think about the names you have been called. Any particularly uncomfortable or unhelpful ones? You don’t have to own them! God calls you “My Beloved Child”. Because that’s who you are!