I used to wish I had a nickname. I would think of the different things that folks might call me, and hope that folks could be playful without being cruel.
My parents called me different shortened versions of my name, and I go throughout the world by a shortened version of my name, but that is not quite the same as a nickname. I have other terms of endearment used by those who love me, such as pumpkin, sweetheart, and little do. But tender names by your parents are not the same as a nickname bestowed by your friends.
I remember reading novels as a child, wishing I was like the kids in the books, with friends who gave them nicknames. It wouldn’t even have to be a cool name. A nickname that was negative would have been nearly as appreciated, because it would have meant that I belonged to a group that cared enough to name me.
A nickname from your peers is a badge of courage. A new name establishes a connection and an identity through the act of naming. Sometimes kids can be mean and name an attribute that is negative or points out a malicious feeling that they might feel for the outsider. I always thought about trying to give myself a nickname, but I felt that it would be unauthentic, since I believed that a nickname was earned and bestowed, rather than self-appellated.
Puppy: Look. We should play. Look, look. We should play. (A puppy has adopted us. Temporarily. I am distracted by it on our porch.)
With so many rules in place about how I think one earns a nickname, it is surprising that I ever merited one. But I did.
My nickname grew out of an organic process of someone not knowing the spelling of my name at a campout one frigid night, and so she called me “C.R.” Well… that was supposed to be “K.R.,” for Kathy Randall, but the C. R. stuck anyhow. We returned to school and other folks began calling me C. R. The question finally arose as to what the “C.” stood for. Someone made the leap to “Crazy” and that was my name for the next two years.
These two years included the two summers I was a counselor at a camp in north Georgia. The friend who initially called me C.R. stuck to the idea of calling me Crazy, and she ended up being my team leader. So with her as the one who coordinated my partnerships and what have you, and with her and other friends from college calling me the same thing, the name really stuck.
I was introduced to the kids as Crazy, and though I would tell them my other name as well, I responded to Crazy just as often. I have a higher energy with kids than with any other group, and I was sleep deprived during the summers, so I acted a little crazy. I like to use my energy as I share with children, because I have found that some of the best ways that I can connect with kids is to help them laugh and relax.
I liked having a nickname. My family had named me and referred to me in according to my relationship with them, but I had not ever merited a nickname from my peers until my third year of college. I had felt that I was missing some essential part of childhood and life experience because I had only ever been called by my solitary name.
I wanted a deeper connection and inclusion. I wanted to be named again, named as part of a group, named and included. I didn’t want a simple label, rather, I wanted a way to connect and enter a group. A new name establishes a connection and an identity through the act of naming.
I wanted that connection and identity. Funny. It had happened already.
When I was baptized, I was given a name and included in the family of God and the community of the church. When I was brought before the believing community of the church I was ushered into the new life in the Spirit, symbolized by the water of baptism. I was named as a child of God, and the gathered community promised to surround me and hold me us as a member of their own community.
I had waited so long to be given a new name, that I had forgotten that I had already been promised a name as an adopted child of God. I had earnestly yearned for a new name, to be connected and included and cherished as a member of a group knit together with a common goal and connection. I already had it.
Now. The Church is not perfect. I didn’t worship with that specific gathered community again for a few years, and it has been a long while since I’ve seen them. (Though I did get to read Scripture there again for my Grandmother’s funeral last year.) When I talk about the Church, I’m not just talking about the physical building in downtown Columbus. They are not perfect, and neither is any other church on any other street corner.
But the grace about the Church is that it’s not the perfection of the individuals that determine the worth of the gathered people. Our organization and our structure and our power plays can look as messy as any other group of people. But we have a little extra help. We have someone who is dying to help us live into the grace and love offered in this gathered band of misfits and sinners. We are adopted into the family of God, and no matter how hard we fight it, God is still there, loving us.
My adoption into the family of God is part of my name, as well as my Crazy, and my pumpkin and little do. I have been called by name, and I know that I am headed home.