Back in the 1970s Cookie lived over my back fence in the inner northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. David Cook was his real name, but everyone called him Cookie. He had white-blond hair, wore really thick black-rimmed glasses and was a little on the skinny side. Cookie was not tall or athletic, but he could really ride a motorbike. And so with motorbikes and a fence in common, we soon became friends—the perfect primary school friendship. If we weren’t riding together, then we were talking about riding.
Cookie always had a better bike, however. Whenever my mum and dad relented and got me an upgrade, Cookie was somehow already there with a bigger and better bike.
I often wonder what happened to Cookie. His dad worked for an airline, and they moved away when I was in my early teens. I haven’t seen or heard of him since. I even tried finding him on Facebook but to no avail.
In my high school years I took up surfing, which meant a lot more time at the beach and a new bunch of friends. I hung out with guys I called Crazy Harry, Matto, Roycey, Barknarkle and Mr Fell. Crazy Harry didn’t get his name by being a wallflower: he was a ball of muscle and energy with a limited attention span. I haven’t seen Barknarkle since those days, but I’m still in contact with the others and see them from time to time.
When I went to university, I was introduced to a great surfing crew: Biro, Joker, Stickman, Weekesy, Rossco, Philthy and Nikko. Nowadays, my main surfing partner is my eldest son, whom I call Big Fella or JB, and I hope his younger siblings, Booter, Eddeepie and Moy, will join us in the years to come.
Even the people I work with have less than formal names, but I won’t go into details, to protect them (and more importantly, me).
I’m not sure why nicknames resonate so much with me, but they always have. I’ve always used them and have always been called by them. Perhaps it’s because nicknames sound less like work and more like fun; less formal and more laid back.
Recently I got to thinking about nicknames while playing cricket with my kids in the park behind our house. We take our cricket seriously at the Rubessa Cricket Ground (RCG). We mow a pitch in and have our own backyard rules.
One day while we were playing, some people walked by whom I hadn’t seen in the neighbourhood before. Because the path they were walking cut through the middle of the RCG, they had to negotiate their way through the middle of our game.
Politely, we paused, and I introduced myself and found out that they had just moved into the new house nearby. We finished chatting, they moved on and the game resumed.
“Who were those people?” one of my children asked.
“The Mansions,” I told him.
“Why are they called Mansions? That’s not a name.”
I walked him to the edge of the park from where we discreetly observed the front of their residence. “Take a look at their house,” I said. “It’s like a mansion.”
And that began a conversation about the nicknames we have for the families in our neighbourhood:
- The Red Roofs (their house has a very high and very red corrugated iron roof)
- The Roses (they take great care of their garden and have magnificent rose plants)
- Cute Dog (a very cute black-and-white dog that they walk every morning and evening along the path behind our home)
- Hot Cars (he keeps two meticulously cared for V8 Holdens—a sedan and a ute—in his garage)
- The Weightlifters (they removed all the furniture from their front lounge room and replaced it with all manner of gym equipment)
- The Railways (there’s always a white dual cab ute parked in front of their home that has the name of the local rail company emblazoned on its side)
- The Spuds (parents of our good friend Spuddie)
There are some 34 homes in my neighbourhood, all with names, but you get the picture. The names aren’t meant to insult or demean. Rather, we have genuine respect and, where we know them better, a dose of affection for the residents; each of the names tells a short story or reflects something unique about them, be it their home, interests, talents or lifestyle choices. By the mere living of their lives, they’re a testament to the things that are important to them—what they value, what they enjoy.
And I’m sure they’re looking at me, making the same judgements. So I’m forced to ask myself, What type of testament am I in my neighbourhood? They probably know I like surfing and motorbikes, since they’d have to see the surfboards and bikes come out of my shed. They can probably tell I don’t care much for gardening since my wife is always the one who’s pruning and watering, and they would know that I love cricket.
But I wonder whether they know I’m a Christian and if so, what aspects of Christianity do I project? The Bible says, “By their fruit you will recognise them” (Matthew 7:16). The text then goes on to talk about good trees bearing good fruit and bad trees bearing bad fruit, ending with the phrase again, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them” (verse 20).
Our “fruit” is a key identifier of who we are. While the passage is a warning about identifying fake teachers and prophets, it also applies to our lives. As followers of Jesus, we should be recognisable by our fruit, the kinds that come from the tree referred to in Galatians 5, which identifies the fruit of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (verses 22, 23). This list is a handbook on how to live our lives as Christians. Just imagine the statement it would make about us if these fruits were more apparent in our lives, if people identified us by these characteristics, if our neighbourhood were filled with citizens named for those attributes.
If my neighbours were into nicknames, I wonder whether they’d give me one that corresponded to my Christian faith.