Judge Orders Baby's Name Changed From "Messiah"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 12 2013 12:04 PM

Judge Orders Baby's Name to Be Changed From "Messiah" to "Martin"

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SEVILLE, SPAIN: A boy reaches to touch a float depicting the crucifiction of Jesus Christ during the 'La Exaltacion' brotherhood procession in Seville 08 April 2004. AFP Photo Cristina Quicler (Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

A legal fight over a Tennessee baby's last name took an unexpected turn late last week when a judge ruled that the parents of the seven-month-old boy must change his first name. The issue, at least as Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew saw it, was that the child's name was "Messiah," a moniker Ballew believes should be reserved only for Jesus Christ. Here's local NBC affiliate station WBIR-TV with more of the judge's logic:

"The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ," Judge Ballew said. … According to Judge Ballew, it is the first time she has ordered a first name change. She said the decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a county with a large Christian population. "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," Judge Ballew said.
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The judge's solution: Changing "Messiah DeShawn Martin" to "Martin DeShawn McCullough." But, as you would expect, that doesn't mean mother Jaleesa Martin is happy with the name change. Martin said she originally decided on Messiah for her son because it was a unique-sounding name that seemed to fit in nicely with her two older children's names, Micah and Mason. "I was shocked. 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," Martin told WBIR-TV. "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." She is now appealing Judge Ballew's decision.

While the judge's ruling is surprising — after all, more than 700 babies were named Messiah in 2012 without any issue — it's worth noting that a few other countries have even more aggressive baby-naming policies. In Germany, for example, first names must reflect the gender of the child, and not endanger the "well-being" in any way. And in Sweden, a 1982 law that banned non-noble families from giving their kids any type of noble name still stands. And as CNN notes, that's not all to the law: "First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name." The names Metallica, Superman, Veranda, Ikea and Elvis were all rejected by the Swedish government, while Lego and Google (used as a middle name) were accepted.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

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