NEWPORT, Tenn. – A judge in eastern Tennessee has ruled that two parents cannot legally name their son “Messiah.”
Last Thursday, Child Support Magistrate LuAnn Ballew of Tennessee’s 4th Judicial District heard arguments between Jawaan McCullough and Jaleesa Martin of Cocke County regarding a dispute over their baby’s name. The baby, who was born on January 9th, was initially named “Messiah Deshawn Martin” by his mother, but McCullough wanted the child’s last name to be “McCullough” instead. McCullough and Martin are not married.
In her verdict, Judge Ballew ruled that the seven-month-old baby should have the father’s last name—not the mother’s. However, she also decided that “Messiah” was inappropriate for a baby name, and determined that the child’s first name should instead be “Martin.”
Official court documents obtained by local affiliate WBIR include Ballew’s reasons for ordering the name change. Not only does she support the ruling as a fair compromise between the disputing parents, but she argues that “it is not in this child’s best interest to keep the first name, ‘Messiah.’”
“‘Messiah’ means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom,” the judge continued. “‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”
In closing, Ballew referenced eastern Tennessee’s large Christian population, saying “it is highly likely that [the boy] will offend many Cocke County citizens by calling himself ‘Messiah.’”
Following the judge’s decision, the baby’s mother expressed indignation, saying she was “shocked” be the unexpected verdict.
“I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God,” she told reporters, “and I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs. … 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.”
According to KnoxNews.com, Hedy Weinberg of the Tennessee ACLU criticized Judge Ballew’s decision as an illegal promotion of the Christian faith.
“Parents, not government, have the right to give a child a name,” Weinberg stated. “While the judge certainly has a right to her religious faith, she cannot impose that faith on people who come to her courtroom. The promotion of religious beliefs from the bench challenges our belief in due process in the legal system.”
Although “Messiah” as a name is unusual, it is certainly not unheard of. Data from the U.S. Social Security Administration shows that “Messiah” is the 387th most popular male name in the country—up from the 904th spot in 2005. Reuters reported in May that, in terms of popularity, “Messiah” is the fourth fastest-growing name for boys in the country.
Nevertheless, Judge Ballew still believes giving a child such a name is an unwise decision.
“The word ‘Messiah’ is a title,” she told WBIR, “and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person—and that one person is Jesus Christ. … It could put [the baby] at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”
Photo: Heidi Wigdahl