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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT