Called by name

Jesus calls the twelve (Mark 3:13-19), and he gives three of them nicknames: Simon, he calls Peter (the Rock), and James and John, the sons of Boanerges (thunder). How playful, I thought, and how descriptive. What did he see in them that prompted those nicknames?

I imagine Jesus saw something in Peter that seemed steadfast and unmovable (like a rock), but Peter faltered on more than one occasion. He had flimsy filters and blurted out things that caused Jesus to say, “Get behind me, Satan” and call him a “stumbling block” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch.

In the end, Peter denied knowing Jesus and fled the scene as Jesus died. Not very steadfast.

James and John must have been wild and high-spirited or just plain loud to be called “sons of thunder.” I wonder if their chests expanded when Jesus nicknamed them—proud to be seen as raucous—or if there was an edge to the nickname, a hint they may need to tone it down. That is the thing about nicknames—they can be taken in different ways.

What nickname would Jesus have given me, I wondered.

Fr. Shawn Tracey, O.S.A., once introduced me for a retreat talk, comparing me to the dark clouds swirling around the October sky. Just as he made this comparison, the sun shone through, and he added this to his description—how I could light up a room.


Fr. Tracey knew me well. He knew my dark moods and my stubbornness. He also knew my passion, my love of laughter and my desire to grow.

Would Jesus also consider those characteristics in coming up with a nickname for me?

As I prayed with this reading, wondering what nickname Jesus would have given me, I remembered the Baptism ceremony and how parents are asked, “What name do you give this child?”

My mother had chosen Marlene for her first-born daughter, but my aunt beat her to it and so I became Madeline (Magdalena in Polish), and I have always felt connected to Mary Magdalene (my confirmation name is Mary). She has inspired me by her love of Jesus and her dedication to him. I wonder if Jesus had a nickname for her.

Growing up, I was sometimes called Magda by family, and in my twenties, I was known by a shortened version of my name—Mad. I used to wonder if that was a nickname or just a descriptor, because I was quite angry in my twenties. At some point, though, people started calling me Madeline, and I remember thinking I must not be so mad anymore.

A few people called me Boss, when I was their boss, but I have never had a nickname the way Simon, James and John did, something they were always called.

I think Jesus could have called me Rocky or Thunder, because I am loyal/steadfast and can be quite loud, but might something else also work?

Do you have a nickname? Have you ever wondered what nickname Jesus would give you?

9 thoughts on “Called by name

  1. Ms. Liz

    I think Magdalena is such a beautiful and romantic-sounding name! The same number of syllables as my full name, Elizabeth. As soon as I went to school it got shortened to ‘Liz’ by the other kids which was fine by me although my parents weren’t thrilled! Have remained ‘Liz’ ever since, it seems a good fit for me 🙂

      1. Ms. Liz

        I’ve been listening to the pronunciation of Elzbieta and I love the sound of it! Is the middle part like beer+ta, or be+it+a, or be+ay+ta. Not all recordings or guides sound alike!

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