Noble Nicknames

When I was in high school, many of us had nicknames. Several players on the football team rode home together in one car after practice (and sometimes hitchhiked). Because we lived way off on the other side of the Saline River, they called us the “River Rats”—a noble name for a noble crew.

Most of the players in that car also had nicknames. Worm was the driver, then there was Bear, Pooh, Dink, Cotton, Tuck, Root, Buck, etc. (the car was ultra-full). Obviously, none of those names came from the victim’s mother.

Some of you are probably wondering, “Which one was David?” You’ll still be wondering when you finish reading this if you don’t know already.

You can get stuck with a nickname because of a character trait (red hair, big ears, etc.), something that happens, or you can even inherit it from a big brother. My uncle was called Runt, though he wasn’t small, because that was his older brother’s nickname. That also happened to “Tuck” who inherited the moniker from his big brother.

Actually the name started out as Tucker Boy but you get lazy and shorten it. The Worm nickname cited above was shortened from Squirt-worm. Another friend’s nickname was shortened from Rabug to Bug. I have absolutely no recollection of where those names came from.

Actually those aren’t too much weirder than some of the real names people give their kids today, but that’s another Coffee Stain rant from a 50-something.

Bible nicknames

Did you know that people even gave nicknames in the Bible? The apostles were kinder in their name giving than my friends were, though. Joseph, a man first noted for his generosity, was nicknamed, “Barnabas” — The Son of Encouragement. (4:36)

His actions and his words encouraged. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Prov. 18:21, Message) Barnabas used his words to build others up, to encourage; he took personal risks to promote others.

When Paul was converted, many other Christians had a terrible time believing it was true. I imagine it was difficult for others to forget what he had done to them and to their families.

Barnabas risked his own reputation by taking the young convert under his arm and presenting him to the apostles. God showed him something in Paul that others couldn’t see.

Evidently Encouragement’s Son had talked at length with Paul and got to know his heart and his call to the non-Jewish world. Paul had to run for his life and seemed to be living quietly at his home in Tarsus (if it was possible for Paul to live quietly). When revival broke out at Antioch Barnabas must have said to himself, “This is exactly where Paul needs to be!”

He went to Tarsus, found the young man, and brought him back to Antioch where he became instrumental in the growth of that church and a short time later, a missionary par excellence.


When John Mark quit the Barnabas/Paul missionary team and ran home to mama, that seemed to finish him as far as Paul was concerned. When the young man wanted to try again on the next trip Paul would have none of it, and it was Barnabas who stood up for him–as had done for Paul years before.

Encouragement’s Son took John Mark and built him into usefulness. It seems to have hurt his reputation with the church because Paul’s group was prayed for and commended to the Lord, not the Barnabas/John Mark team. We don’t hear much more from Barnabas in the Bible, but his protégé made a splash—you might have read the book that the talented writer John Mark wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—the Gospel of Mark.

Later even Paul accepted the young “failure” again.

“Get here as fast as you can. Demas, chasing fads, went off to Thessalonica and left me here. Crescens is in Galatia province, Titus in Dalmatia. Luke is the only one here with me. Bring Mark with you; he’ll be my right-hand man since I’m sending Tychicus to Ephesus…” (2 Tim.4:9-13, The Message)

Barnabas—giver, man-builder, encourager. The spotlight never shone directly on him for long but his life enabled Paul and John Mark to be all that they could be for the Lord.

What would the apostles nickname you?

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