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Coming up on four years now, our family has been host to a wild and wooly creature, whom we call Honey based on her yellow-amber color and the early indications of her sweet, gentle and spunkily affectionate nature. We sure love her. And, as happens with those that we love, Honey’s spectacularly accurate name has morphed into all sorts of iterations of beloved-ness.
Please, pause with me to think about the evolutions of Honey’s name and the ways they have dripped from our tongues and popped into existence as she pranced around us in adoration, and snuggled into us for hugs, and wrapped fully around our legs until her tail and her body striped us like peppermint sticks.
She is Honey, but she is also, naturally, Honey Bun. Honey Bun led to both Hunny Bunny, and Bun-Bun. Early on, a neighbor pronounced her “Poof Ball,” because she is just SO delightfully fluffy. After this, we began calling her Honey Fluffer, and Honey Fluffer-Nutter, like the sandwich. This of course gave us the excellent, very often used Fluffer, or just Nut, which further prompted Goof Nut.
With no real offense intended to the Dutch friends out there who like to make fun of my difficult last name, we decided to give Honey a middle name that was as complicated as her last name and dubbed her Honey Vredevoogd Sundararajan. And, speaking of long names, I like to throw in one that I heard in my childhood, Honey-Chickie-Baby-Lover-Doll, but prefer to end it with Honey-Chickie-Baby-Lover-Dog. Of course, this leaves out whole categories of easy nicknames that roll off the tongue like Baby Dog, Sweet Girl, and a host of Tamil names and phrases that my husband and children like to pull out to flex their linguistic dexterity.
Honey is well-loved. She is a main receptacle of our attention and affection every single day. Her name, and even more so, her bevy of names reveals her special, beloved place in our lives.
Names are like this, aren’t they? The more you know and love a person (or animal) the more likely you are to have a few extra terms of endearment for them. To be honest, things have gotten a little awkward after we named our dog Honey because every once in a while I call one of my children Honey, and this causes first confusion, and then laughter. I’ve since learned that Sweetie or Sweetheart works better with the kids.
On a personal front, I am Katy, not Katie. I know they sound the same, but please, call me Katy. I suppose you could call me KT, which has happened before, and I’m mostly ok with it. (Ha! I know I’ve got you thinking now!)
Going on, I am officially Kathryn, but never called so. I am Katy, always. Unless you are in my family of origin, or my spouse, and then I have become Kate. Kate is my shortened, familiar, easy-relationship, fully-known-and-loved name given by my family. My Mom has been the only one ever to affectionately and tenderly call me Katy Ann. My husband is the only one who calls me Babe, which is a good thing.
Do you see how we do this? The longer, the better we know someone, the more nicknames we are likely to collect for them. This happens with all sorts of groups of people that we live with, travel with, and bond with for particular seasons and times of life. For example, my maiden name was Wing, which elicited many a nickname in college: Wing, Winger, Wing-Ding, Wing-a-ling… it can go on and on, trust me!
I had a close work colleague who often called me KK. Once, on a summer camp work project, a friend dubbed me WEED! and it was required to draw the name out surfer-style, and with reverence. It isn’t what you’re thinking, though. You see, I was really, truly excellent at weeding that really overgrown front yard. Nicknames of the best kind make us feel completely known and loved, fully cherished, and ultimately blessed by those who have dubbed us worthy of the nickname.
The same is true of those that we name. These names, given in close relationship speak history, bonds, and beloved-ness over our people. I know and love Hootie, and Hawkeye, and Simba. I’ve known and loved Big Anna and Little Anna — neither of which were actually big — and this gives me greater affection for my daughter’s two friends, Tall Abby and Small Abby — neither of which are actually small.
Our names define us ever more deeply the older we become, especially as many of us have more and more titles and nicknames assigned to us. The perfect example would be the wide-ranging wonder of grandparent names. Some are very intentionally given, but derive specialness all the same, from the very simple Nanas and Poppas, to the Grammies and Grampies, to my own children’s co-opting of the Tamil names, Ava and Tata. But, I have also known grandparent monikers that came about with intention — and wholly by mistake — that are equally endearing, like: JuJu, Gam, Glam-ma, Ma’am, Bop-Bop and Tots. These are names given and received in love.
Names give us identity, significance, and make us a part of things. In our aging, let us remember that God knows our name too. From the very first, God has known our name. God knows the whole accumulation of all of our names. God knows how each name was given, and by whom, and how much we are truly loved. And, God doesn’t love us any more if we have more nicknames, or cooler nicknames, or no nicknames at all. God just knows our name and thinks us Beloved, each and every time, day, and place.