Martin McCullough

the adorable Martin DeShawn McCullough

Talk about your judicial overreach—a judge in Tennessee actually changed a 7-month-old baby’s name from Messiah to Martin, claiming that the religious-inspired name was earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ.”

Never mind that Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration—no doubt aided by the fact that rapper T.I.’s 13-year-old son Messiah is parading across our television screens every week on the family show, “T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle.”

On so many different levels, this is craziness.

The name change was ordered last week by Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, according to WBIR-TV. The boy’s parents were actually in court because they could not agree on the child’s last name. But Ballew got a flash of judicial inspiration when she heard the boy’s first name. She ordered the parents to change that, too.

“It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” Ballew said.

This eastern Tennessee judge declared that the baby was to be named Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parents’ last name.

The boy’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, said she will appeal the judge’s decision because she believes Messiah is unique and she liked how it sounded alongside the boy’s two siblings — Micah and Mason.

“Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else,” Martin said.


For most black folks, there isn’t a subject touchier than unfortunate first names. We got kids named after liquor, after clothing lines—hell, a girl in my son’s high school was even named after punctuation. Yes, you read that correctly. Her name was La—ah. Pronunciation? La Dash ah. In other words, you sounded out that dash in the middle of her name.

No, I’m not making this up.

In my daughter’s elementary school, there was memorably an “Abcde,” pronounced Ab-sid-dee. Yes, the first five letters of the alphabet.

Where was Magistrate Ballew when these naming travesties were being perpetrated on some innocent child?

But there’s a long history of religious-based names, here and abroad. How many Latino males named Jesus are running around the U.S. and Latin America? And then there’s Jihad—kids named after religious holy war.

The point here is that it is a basic parental right to give your child his name, even if your choice might be one of the most unfortunate names ever bestowed upon a child, a choice that will ensure your kid will never get called in for the follow-up interview. That should be your right, as unpleasant as the result might be.

Many of us might shake our heads at Messiah, but that’s a matter more appropriately adjudicated in the family living room—not with the heavy hand of the judiciary.


1. Popular Baby Names 2012: Blue and Django Made the List. Insert Deep Sigh Here.
2. What’s In a Baby Name? For Some of Them, No Interview
3. Baby Names In the 1940 Census: Turns Out My Grandparents Were Trendy

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Nick Chiles

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.


  1. That is such a blatant abuse of power. Ridiculous.

  2. In the UK “Mohammed” is the most popular boys’ name for Muslim children.

    Added to that, biblical names like Isaac and Malachai are becoming more popular. And there are boys named Joseph and Abraham etc, and girls/women called Mary…
    I know there are lots of Latino children called Jesus in the USA and South America etc (though less so in the UK). Bu really, where do you draw the line?!

    Messiah is not that bad, and I actually quite like that as a name.

    The judge should not have been able to insist on changing that.

  3. This takes me back to slavery times where master had the ultimate say in what slaves named their children.

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