between the lines logo (anthony asadullah samad)*Much ado has been made about religion in America in the 21st Century.

I think we can agree that the church ain’t always religion and some religion damn sure ain’t spirituality. A person’s relationship with God is personal and reflective of their own spiritual perspective.

Perspective can be a relative proposition and “designer spirituality” is this century’s popular engagement. Tradition and doctrine is being challenged on every front, within the church and from without (that’s another article). One perspective is how parents transfer their belief system onto their children. Children are a blessing and many parents attribute their blessing to their belief in God. Some parents give their children to God, while others still give tribute to God by giving their children names attributed to God and his prophets. It has been a popular tradition through the annuls of time. Calling a child a supplement of God is viewed as the highest honor you can give to God and confer on the child. So when a Tennessee child custody judge recently ordered a mother to change her child’s name from Messiah, it created a national discussion around the conferring of titles as names and the role (limits) of government in the intervening of the affairs of family and parental discretion.

I’m sure Prince paid attention to this issue with great interest.

The fundamental issue here is does a judge have a right to issue such an order. By most accounts, this order will be overturned on appeal as the mother has resisted the judge’s order. Good for her. Obviously, the judge’s ideological and religious views influenced her judgment and compromised her judicial discretion in this case. Judge Lu Ann Ballew determined that Jaleesa Martin’s child was not worthy of the name, Messiah, stating that it was a title—not a name—earned by only once person and that person was Jesus Christ. America’s God complex just went left. When combined with the mentality of the judicial system—which has its own God complex—you have the makings of a draconian society absent of fundamental freedoms.

Where does it stop? Does it stop at Messiah? Next they’ll tell you that you can’t name your child something? We all know Shenana, Shawnque or Shermanica aren’t traditional names either but their mothers conferred those titles on those children. Naming is often for the esteem of the child, as well as a supplement to a special person for a special occasion, be it a person, thing or God himself. There is no rationale or reason sometimes, and there certainly isn’t any law.

People have been named after God and the prophets for centuries. I have a Jesus in one of my classes every semester. And I clarify on the first day. “Is that HEY-zus, JEEZ-sus?” Half of them say JEEZ-sus. It’s the second most popular male name in the Latino community (behind Jose).

In the Muslim community, God (Allah) has 99 supplements (other titles God is known by) and most Muslim families confer a supplement of Allah on their children.

Europeans named their children King and Duke and Princess as well as named their children after Kings and Queens. That’s where James, Edward, William and Elizabeth became popularized. They are named after monarchs. People now name their children after cars.

You meet a Mercedes, a Porsche, an Escalade nearly every day now. If it’s outrageous, trust me, somebody’s named after it. A naming right is a personal privilege—and a legal right.

People have the freedom to name themselves and their children. Once children become of age, they have the right to rename themselves. No matter how untraditional and lofty, a person’s name is their entitlement to identity and their First Amendment right—based on what they believe. Not what the court, or the government believes.

We’ve all met somebody or know somebody with a jacked up name and asked ourselves, “Why they name that poor baby that? In fact, black people took it to a whole other level in 1990s. Messiah is currently a popularly registered name with the U.S. Social Security Department, so Martin naming her baby wasn’t that exclusive—nor that outrageous—in the context of American culture and societal naming traditions. God’s supplements are everywhere.

The only thing outrageous about the naming was the judge’s own twisted God complex empowered by a societal position that places her in authority over other’s lives and caused her to abuse her authority and discretion. This is an example of running ideology getting beside itself.

Messiah is the child’s name. The judge may not agree with it, but it is what it is.

What’s in a name is not up for the courts to interpret.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.

anthony asadullah samad