Nicknames: Two Conversations


Conversation one:

I was talking recently with a high school student, a girl I’ll call Keisha, who lives in a single parent home with siblings and a wonderful, caring mother who has done a praiseworthy job of loving her children and raising them “in the way they should go” — a task, she would tell you, that takes strength and wisdom which she does not possess on her own. Keisha and I were sharing thoughts about the Christmas holiday when our conversation turned to her dad, a man whom she rarely sees and whom she only talks to a time or two a year, despite the fact that he lives less than a couple of hours away.

I asked her if she misses not having a father in her life.

She does. Enough to tear up at the question. She said that she misses having someone to help her make decisions. She misses having someone come to her special events at school and celebrate holidays and birthdays with her and her siblings. She misses knowing that someone is helping her mom with all that goes into keeping a household, providing for and raising children. She misses a lot.

And then she added, almost as an afterthought, that she wished she had a dad to give her a “special nickname.”

I’ve never thought of nicknaming as a parental duty or a child’s expectation but, in Keisha’s mind, a daddy-born term of endearment is obviously some sort of treasure lost. It is symbolic perhaps of the countless small things – the shared experiences, the unique language, the inside jokes, the quirks and habits — that make each family different from all the others, and every child seem one-of-a-kind in the eyes of their parents. I couldn’t help but wonder as I listened to Keisha how a dad could ever walk away from a daughter and essentially disown three children. And I wondered what their nicknames might be if their father had chosen to be part of their lives.

Conversation Two:

Last night, I had dinner with an old friend and his wife. We’ve not visited, at any length, in a couple of decades and had lots of questions about where the years have taken us. He’s a well-known and respected surgeon who is the proud, and very involved, father of three children, two sons and a daughter. She’s a full-time mother and does the work necessary to run a busy household. I asked them about their children.

When the dad started talking about his daughter, an eighth grader who is the youngest of the three, he simply could not find words to describe her. “It’s as if she belongs to another world.” I think he might have used the word “angel” a time or two, might have said that her feet don’t touch the ground. His praise of the girl made me want to write her a letter just to remind her how blessed she is to be the object of such a deep affection. Maybe I will. I would imagine he has a nickname for her. And while I am sure that my old friend would be quick to recognize her imperfections, they obviously do not dominate his perception of her or overshadow the good things that he believes to be true about her.

The contrast between the two girls, their dads, the realities in which they live and move, could not be more stark. I wish Keisha had a dad who believed in nicknames and who was committed to the hard work of parenthood. For now, I pray and trust that God can and will be the father she needs. And he calls her, and us, by names that only a doting father would choose for his children: beloved, little one, saint, bride, friend.

A few nights ago I was tossing and turning about something, something not worthy of sleeplessness but bothersome just the same, when I began to think of how God loves me. I brought to mind some passages that remind me of how, as a loving father, he wants good for me, always good. And as I thought of those nicknames and titles he gives to his children, so help me, the knot in my stomach eased up and sleep returned. I belong to a father who might well tell inquirers that, despite the spots and blemishes, his children “belong to another world.”

I pray that you can hear the God of all creation, the one who showed himself to us fully in Jesus, “rejoicing over you with singing” and calling you by name.


  1. Brian

    As someone who didn’t have much of a father growing up, and who daily recognizes the massive responsibility that is fatherhood, thank you for this article.

  2. Kyle Carlson

    Thanks Allen, this is beautiful. As the father of a 6-year-old girl and soon-to-be three boys, this is a poignant reminder of the importance of the role God has entrusted to me in the lives of these little ones. Thanks for the reminder. (And cool to see you here in the Rabbit Room!)


  3. Dean

    My daughter was recently married. At the rehearsal dinner I read a poem I had written. I devoted an entire section to nicknames I had for her. Every one had meaning and memories. I totally understand both the tragedy and beauty of these stories. God calls us by name. We belong to another world as His children.

  4. Paula Shaw

    Wow. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after having this album for a while, I finally just listened to the new Third Day album “Move”. I believe my favorite song on it is “Children of God”. You guys have to listen to it. It just draws stuff out of you that makes you very grateful, indeed. Go listen to it now. Shoo! You won’t regret it.

  5. CyndaP

    I don’t envy you men as fathers. We mothers have a very difficult job, but as fathers you are so important to children as a model to them of their heavenly Father. Bless you all as you strive to bring that spiritual truth into reality.

  6. Stephen

    This reminds me of a passage in Revelation in which we are promised “a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 God even has nicknames for each of His children. I love thinking about what nicknames my dad has for me and my siblings, and I love hearing him call us by our own special names, but I really can’t wait to hear God call my ‘new name’ and to recognize His love for me.

  7. Jeff Cruz

    I have a young son and daughter, and I love being their dad. I have given my son many fun and silly nicknames over the years. None really seemed to stick. Curly, Buddy, even Stinky… but most of the time he is just Eli. It works. My daughter though was different. I do not even know why, but I started saying “chicka chicka boom boom” to her sometimes. It was a funny phrase we read in a children’s book and it was fun to say. She seemed bugged and embarrassed by it and so I did not say it much unless we were home. In time it got shortened to just “boom boom”. Then she joined a softball team. 6 and 7 year olds playing softball, and she was good. Fastest runner. Most accurate arm. Threw and hit with great power. She was a natural. I kept calling her boom boom more and more, as it seemed to fit at the ball park, but she kept acting embarrassed .

    Hey, I am a dad… I did not stop just because she blushed a little! But I did think a time or two I should back off and leave her be, then it hit me that she may act like she does not like it, but really, deep down she loved it. I began to realize she was writing it down. She wrote in as her name on her ball bag. Her glove. Her notebook for school and more. This name, silly and embarrassing as it started off being to her, became something she loved that we shared.

    Not long after that I was talking about her with someone and used her name, Naomi. She overheard me, corrected me and said ” you mean boom boom, don’t you Dad?”


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