Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas
(which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned
and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
— Acts 4:36-37
HIS NAME WAS JOSEPH, but everyone knew him as The Encourager. It was a name born of a reputation.
It was Barnabas who took a chance on the newly converted Paul, ushering him into the midst of a roomful of disciples. It was a gutsy move. If Paul's conversion had been a ruse Barnabas would have handed over Christianity's core leadership to their greatest enemy, and the name Barnabas would be synonymous with Benedict Arnold. But Barnabas did what Barnabas’s do. He encouraged. If he hadn’t, there might not have been an Apostle Paul.
Eventually Paul overshadowed Barnabas. There is no indication that Barnabas was troubled by this. I think that's what I like best about him. It has been said that the hardest instrument to play is second fiddle. But without second fiddle players, there is no harmony.
What’s in a nickname? Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare:
Stinky, by any other nickname, would smell just as bad.
Other disciples had nicknames. Most notably, James and John, who were dubbed the Sons of Thunder. Maybe the fact that they asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven and destroy a Samaritan village for refusing them passage had something to do with it.
A nickname can be a shortened version of your proper name, an endearment, or a term of derision. While your proper name is given to you by your parents long before you begin exhibiting distinguishing characteristics, a nickname is often bestowed by others based on observation (rightly or wrongly).
Do you have a nickname? Are you happy with it? If not, why not try this — make up a nickname for yourself, a name you would like others to call you. Don't tell anybody. Then, start acting in a way that is true to the nickname you've chosen for yourself. Be patient. It takes a while to earn a reputation, to earn the right to wear your nickname. But with persistence, trust me, that day will come.