Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

A boy named 'Messiah'?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Parents are entitled to name their children as they choose
  • A magistrate renamed a child whose mother had named "Messiah"
  • Granderson says the ruling will be overturned on appeal and was a waste of tax dollars
  • LZ: Parents should think about consequences of names they choose

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor who writes a weekly column for CNN.com. The former Hechinger Institute Fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is also a senior writer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- I once met a mother who named her newborn daughter Kia Sophia.

Yes, like the car.

Apparently she had one and liked it so much that she wanted to be reminded of it each time she said her baby's name.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

As we stood there, I could tell this was something she was very proud of, and so I tried my best not to look embarrassed for her.

Besides, who was I to judge? I'm named after a useless, deadbeat father. At least the car had resale value.

One day, the new mom may regret her decision. One day, her daughter may stop talking to her, opting to let the therapy bills do the talking for her. Or maybe it's the beginning of a new family tradition that lasts generations. Who knows? It's different, but ultimately what we name our children is no one else's business.

It certainly isn't something the government should ever be involved with, which of course means it recently became something the government got involved with.

In an egregious abuse of power, Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate serving the 4th Judicial District of Tennessee, recently took it upon herself to rename Jaleesa Martin's child because according to Ballew, the name Martin originally chose "has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ."

Now admittedly if you're going to name your child "Messiah," as Martin did, you should expect some raised brows. Maybe even from the father, though reportedly the case was brought to Ballew because of a dispute over the child's last name, not the first.

"I was shocked," Martin said. "I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God, and I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs."

She can -- and did -- but shouldn't have. In all likelihood, Ballew's ruling naming the child "Martin DeShawn McCullough" will be overturned in an appeal, and the fiasco will go down as a waste of taxpayer dollars. All of which serves as an uneasy reminder that separation of church and state is an ongoing process.

And that names matter.

While the judge overstepped her boundaries, she is right when she said the name Messiah "could put him at odds with a lot of people."

A similar impulse might help explain why Heath Campbell, a New Jersey man who named one of his sons Adolf Hitler Campbell, does not have custody of his children.

"Blue Ivy" is going to be alright because her parents -- Jay Z and Beyonce -- are rich and famous. But for us regular folks, when you name your son something peculiar such as "Christ" -- as 29 moms did in 2012 according to the Social Security Administration -- you're opening the kid up for unnecessary ridicule. And maybe even discrimination.

I spoke with a handful of HR professionals who told me off the record they would be hesitant to bring in someone with a controversial name such as "Messiah" if they were hiring for a conservative company. It is very similar to the impact of having an address based in a poor neighborhood on the resume.

And consider this: Researchers combing through U.S. Census Bureau records found that more than 100 years ago, the 20 most popular names were largely the same for blacks and whites, but after the 1970s, that number became much smaller.

And a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research did show that the "whiter" sounding names on a resume were 50% more likely to get a call back from an employer than a more ethnic sounding one. Another analysis by that group suggests the reason for this isn't directly because of the applicant's race but rather over the past 20 years, certain names have been linked to certain socio-economic status.

And we know other minorities such as Asians and Indians have been known to ditch their more ethnic name to blend in and/or avoid having constantly to tell people how to pronounce their name.

"John" may be a boring, but it is burdenless.

Then again, you can't get more ethnic sounding than "Barack Hussein Obama." and he has a pretty good job. Maybe there's room for Messiahs and Kia Sophias at the top as well.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:30 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT