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Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 in Law, Religion, Society | 13 comments

And She Called Her Son Messiah – Until The Judge Forced A Name Change

This story came out over the weekend and is beginning to gain wider attention. It’s another example of people using their positions of power to project their religious views on others and why things like the First Amendment, including free expression and separation of church and state, matter.

The place is Cocke County Tennessee. That’s in the Appalachian foothills. Jaleesa Martin, a young mother, went to court to determine the legal paternity of her child. As part of the paternity proceeding, the mother wanted the child’s last name changed from Martin to the name of the father. But, the judge went a step beyond the mother’s request.

Acting contrary to the mother’s wishes, Judge Lu Ann Ballew ordered that the child’s first name must be changed as well. By the time the hearing had concluded, the child had been renamed Martin DeShawn McCullough. The judge offered her explanation in a local interview which AP describes:

“The word messiah is a title, and it’s a title has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,” she told WBIR-TV in an interview from her office, which had a ceramic figurine of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus on her desk. A copy of the Ten Commandments hung on the wall.

The Social Security Administration tracks the popularity of names given to babies. Messiah has been gaining popularity.

While Messiah may not be a traditional English name, it is becoming more popular. Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, just ahead of King but behind Major at No. 1, according to the Social Security Administration’s annual list of popular baby names.

The mother is appealing the judge’s decision. The report in Politico is here .

Author’s Note: To the literalists out there, yes, I know that “separation of church and state” is shorthand and does not actually appear in the First Amendment which frames the issue in terms of establishment and free exercise.

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  • yoopermoose

    Now THAT is what I call an activist judge! We can all stand in line with our babies so the judge can bestow on them their rightful names with a waive of her gavel. Smell the freedoms. 🙂

  • JSpencer

    Bad call by the judge. Wrong!

  • sheknows

    The judge knows this stupid decision will be overturned. Sounds like she just saw her chance to be a religious fanatic/maybe part racist?…who knows.
    The birth certificate still shows Messiah as it should.

  • This is admittedly not my area of expertise, but don’t many states “revise” birth certificates based on court orders like paternity findings and/or adoption orders?

    Yes, this will probably get overturned by a higher court on appeal. But, there’s a finer point. This case got enough publicity to draw free legal representation for an appeal. Most folks in such circumstances could not afford the cost of appeal on their own and might, because of financial circumstances and lack of knowledge about accessing legal resources, be forced to let such an order stand unchallenged.

  • sheknows

    Yes, good deal for her and her son. Re: the certificate I do not know how the court would have the authority to change the hospital records, and most certainly the mother has a physical copy of the original birth certificate as does the county clerk have it’s copy. None the less, as you say, the ramifications extend far beyond a piece of paper.

  • The_Ohioan

    What nickname will they give the kid; Messie? While parents are able to name their children anything they please, I suppose a court might step in when the child would suffer from a particular name. Whore Holderman or Jackass Jones are not names that conjure up tender loving feelings. Then there were the Nazi admiring parents who lost their children, but not because of their names.

  • yoopermoose

    In this case, the reasoning of the judge was not to protect the child, it was becuase there is only one Messiah, and that is Jesus Christ. The reasoning makes this a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

  • rudi

    Jesus is a common Latino name. What’s next for this judge, to dispense her justice on Latino’s that use the name Jesus. Or force a name change for a better judgement.

  • slamfu

    Wow, a young mother, who without much knowledge other than what she wants to call her kid and that she seems to have issues determining her baby’s daddy, whom I’m going to make a few assumptions about, and a judge who clearly thinks that her sky god belongs in the courtroom helping to make actual real life serious decisions upon which other peoples lives turn. I really don’t know who to care about here.

    Oh yea, the child. Good luck kid.

  • Willwright

    Well its OK to get worked up but there are a number of countries around the world some with impeccable democratic credentials that dictate what you can call your kid and even how the name must be spelled. If you don’t believe me just google it. You would think governments around the world would have better things to do.

  • KP

    I do find it worrisome that a judge would try to change a baby’s name.

    Having said that, I would not purposely give my child a name that may cause self esteem issues, teasing or bullying at school. Life is hard enough as it is. I assume reactions to names change with geographic locations as well.

    Article reporting recent study on names:

  • cjjack

    “The word messiah is a title, and it’s a title has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,”

    I’m fairly certain the Jewish community in Cocke County (if there were one) might have something to say about this…

  • ordinarysparrow

    Messiah means the ‘anointed one’…..but the judge anointed the name Martin by legal decree?

    I am confused by this one…. 🙁

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