1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
When I was a little girl my grandpa called me ‘Sunshine’. It may have been because I was a cheerful young maiden and the name seemed fitting. But, a silly little part of me likes to believe, that in some small way, I was a light in his life. Either way, it was an alias I adored – just as I love the nicknames that follow me around today. You might even say I am a little obsessed (in a carefree way) with the cutesy pet names that we carry around like sub-titles to the ones we’re given at birth. I feel like they scream to the world that we are known.
Our given names are functional, differentiating us and identifying us as we enter this big crazy world. But, a nickname seems to declare we are more than just a title and the face that goes along with it.
I really like my given name, Tristen, but I really love all the other names I get to be called. Tristen Erin Hohn identifies me. It’s on my license next to a pretty horrid picture of myself, where I look like one of those mystical creatures that are part man and part horse (not sure what went wrong on that day, but I’m stuck with it.). It’s on my bank statement and the bills that empty it. My car registration, my passport, my social security card and strangers all use it, but it’s merely a locating device. If you need to find me – you are welcome to it. But to everyone I know and love, I’d rather be called something else. Something that says I am theirs.
Most people don’t summon me with that cherished childhood nickname, Sunshine, and I sure hope it has less to do with my lack of lustre and more to do with other fitting options. Today I am Tris to most of the people I am fortunate enough to be familiar with and Trissy to a few others. Sometimes and I am Auntie and more often than not, I am mama or mommy. And to one handsome fella I am ‘Babe’ when he’s asking where something is, ‘Baby-cakes’ when he’s asking a favor, ‘Dove’ when he’s asking a big one and ‘Wife’ or ‘Trixie’ when all he really needs is me.
I can almost earmark the start of a priceless relationship by the first time someone calls me by something other than my given name. It is in that sweet moment that I know I am known. Maybe this is why I have such an infatuation with nicknames. I love the way they make me feel and each time someone comes into my life that I fall in love with I want them to know they are dear to me too.
I’ve called my husband Mikey since we were teenagers. If either of us addresses the other as Tristen or Michael, we automatically assume something is wrong. He would never consider nicknames to be his affinity but even so, he lovingly dishes them out just as liberally as I do. More often than not he calls our kids or nieces and nephews names that resemble their own but sound like he really can’t remember who they are and they love it. Ashlyn is Ashly. Mattilyn is Madison. Chase is Chaz. But, I don’t think he does this with Hadley.
My little red-head, Hadley May, has been Hoodie to her daddy and I for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall which of us made it up or why, but it’s hers. Sometimes she is Doodie because Hoodie rhymes with Doodie. And once in a while she is Hoodily-Doodily-Doo or Doodle. But, she is Haddie to most of her other fans, of which she has many. She is so very known.
We call Chase, our one and only boy, by many names. He was Chase-a-dilla for quite some time and Mike calls him Chase Michael Motorcycle when he’s not calling him Chaz. His sisters often call him Dude-Michael, but somewhere along the road I started calling him Chooch. When he’s not Chooch, then he is simply Brother. I can call him that because he’s the only one we’ve got in our little family and I think I secretly hope my girls will grow up calling him Brother too. It’s an affectionate name I have used for my little brother all our lives. My siblings were never Jessica and Samuel to me. They were and are, Jess and Sammy or simply Sister and Brother. They are known.
My middle daughter’s full name is Mattilyn Joy. I chose it because it was pretty in its longevity and sweet when cut short – a presursor of what was to come. Matti soon melted into Matti-Moosh and then to Moosh (it seems I have a double ‘O’ tendancy as well). Adolescence is knocking at her door, but she hasn’t let it in yet, so I am still allowed to send Moosh or Mooshie echoing off the walls of the world she runs around in. While I sing-song Matti-Moosh as a soloist, the rest of her world goes with Matti, just as I hoped they would. She requests the shortened version of her name when she enters a classroom or joins a team. She likes it. Very few people ever call her Mattilyn, which really is a lovely name. She prefers Matti just as I prefer Moosh. They feel good and both just promulgate that she is known.
I suppose the double ‘O’ theme started when our oldest, Ashlyn, first christened us into parenthood. One of the reasons Mike loved her name was because he was certain it would never be altered. Ash is the soot that remains after a fire, not a little girls nickname. So, he bestowed upon her his own ooey, gooey, I-can’t-believe-how-in-love-with-this-girl-I-am name of Baby-Boo. Perhaps to avoid public humiliation, Baby-Boo, was quickly shortened to Boo. And forever after, Ashlyn has been our Boo and quite possibly influenced the names her siblings would be known by.
Adolescence has already busted down Ashlyn’s door so it is likely that ’Boo’ may not be acceptable in public places for much longer. I cannot promise that it will not slip out long into her twenties but to appease her, from time to time, I will do my best to call out to her as most everyone else does. Most of the time, to most of the people who are blessed to know her, Ashlyn is not Ashlyn - she is Ash or Ashy, exactly what her daddy never thought she’d be (and sooty has nothing to do with it). If she’s not Ash then she is most likely Zippy or Monkey, names she has coined herself with while enjoying the camaraderie of different sports teams. It seems a little bit of my nickname fixation has rubbed off on her, so much so that she can’t help but dish some out to herself as well. I adore this about her because it merely proves she knows who she is. I pray to God she will take such knowledge with her as she ventures into her teens. But, if she ever gets lost in the mess of it all – I’ll scream out ‘Boo’ and I am certain she’ll find her way home. She is known.
I’ve even branded our family with a nickname. And to go a step further, I plastered it on the license plate of my car for all the world to see. We identify my blue Durango in a sea of other blue SUVs by the tag, HOHNIES. I even get to have it all in caps when it sits there on my rig - as if it’s literally shouting to the cosmos that we are known.
Our friends, the Gleasons, have wonderful little nicknames for their kids. Each one is a shortened version of a longer more extraordinary combination of rhyming words that resemble a song of sorts. If I tried to convey its moon struck loveliness, I’d fail miserably. But, whenever I see them I like asking them to say it for me because it rolls off their tongues like sweet honey, lighting up their faces with smiles and pride. They are proud to be known.
I fancy nicknames so much that I even find myself stealing them from people. I have a girlfriend who I call Binah. I’ve called her it for so long I had forgotten its story. In fact, I thought it was mine. It turns out it’s just what her husband calls her, but I heard it often enough and liked it enough to make it my own without even knowing it. I have a whole arsenal of nicknames stolen from another place and another time, and another person to whom someone is known. It’s one of the rare times in life I think it’s ok to verbally plagiarise.
When I am not thieving, I continue to just make up my own nicknames and spread them around the world I adore. My nephews are Cartsy, Pookey, Joosh-a-Loosh (or just plain Loosh), Dyliss, Sabe, Blakey, Li, Trev, D and Brycer. My nieces are Kel, Re, Jules, Soph, Cay and Lou-Lou. Some resemble their birth names and others come nowhere near. The list of them sounds like an off-version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and you should have seen the red squiggles that ‘Word’ cursed them with as I typed them in. But, they all bear the markings of being known – at least by their crazy, nickname loving Auntie. I may be quirky, but I love them and I think their silly names alone speak of that love.
If you come near, beware. I may fall in love with you and change your name – or steal one that someone else ‘knows’ you with. Almost all of my girlfriends and my siblings-in-law have proudly been earmarked with my affection by some sort of nickname. I’m not ashamed of this obsession of sorts. Not in the least. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing because God seems to do it too. So, as crazy as it may seem at times, I may be on to something here.
God ‘knew-knew’ a lot of pretty fine people back in the day and you can find evidence of His habit of re-naming them all over the bible. He changed His buddies’ names all the time. Once you were known by God your name just seemed to be refined with the rest of you. Abram was childless, then he was blessed with one of many sons to come and God changed his name. Abram became Abraham. Sarai was barren before she became Sarah. Jacob became Israel and Simon became Peter. Saul went blind and when he could see again he was Paul. God touched their lives and changed their names. And you know what? I think they liked it. They may have not be weird nicknames like the ones I bestow upon my loved ones, but they scream to the world that they are known, and not by just anyone. These lucky souls were known by God, so much so, that He gave them new names.
There is something so incredible about being known. A life can be completely and utterly transformed just by another human being comprehending their worth or recognizing them as a gift to be cherished. Essentially, that’s what I am running around doing. I am calling these people in my life, my own beloved gifts. I did not create them or change them or redeem them. But, I see them and I know they are precious and good. I want to take my branding iron and burn their worth into their souls and shout it to the world.
I can’t help but think that God must feel the same way, but magnified by like a cajabillion. We are His, His very own. He created us after all. Even if no one has ever called us anything other than our birth name, we are known. Heck, if people can’t even remember our given names, we are still known. If you listen close, you can hear Him as He reaches down from the heavens and whispers your worth to Him in your ear. If you listen long enough, I am certain He will call to you by a name that He has created just for you. It will resonate in your heart and you will know that you have purpose. That you belong.
When the world gets too heavy and my deficiencies are too many, just knowing I am His, allows me to breathe again. I find so much peace in this perception of being known, of belonging to someone somewhere, no matter what. There is a piece of it that is unnerving. He knows my inmost being. He knows my thoughts, my fears, my hopes and my dreams – all my secrets. And it’s not all good. But, this is where the serenity comes in; in realizing He holds all my good and all my bad in His hands and He still loves me; in actually comprehending that nothing can separate me from that kind of love. Even in my darkness He sees my light and He helps me see it too.
Now, don’t laugh but a silly little part of me hopes that God calls me Sunshine just like my grampy did. I so desperately want to be a light in someone’s world, in this world. I want to exemplify the kind of love He feeds my soul. My little nickname preoccupation is merely a verbal proclamation of the love I have stored up in my heart and hope to douse those I am blessed enough to call my own with. It’s funny, that a silly little name can mean so much. But, it does.