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Judge Rules Tennessee Family Can’t Name Their Son ‘Messiah’

A state court judge in Tennessee has said that parents cannot name their child ‘Messiah’:

A judge in Tennessee changed a 7-month-old boy’s name to Martin from Messiah, saying the religious name was earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ.”

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the name change last week,according to WBIR-TV. The boy’s parents were in court because they could not agree on the child’s last name, but when the judge heard the boy’s first name, she ordered it changed, 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.

(…)

Ballew said the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population.

“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,” the judge said.

One wonders what Judge Ballew would say to an Hispanic family who wanted to name their son Jesus. Or, what about children named Emmanuel?

As for this name, it’s not nearly as uncommon as you might think:

Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration’s annual list of popular baby names.

I don’t profess to be familiar with Tennessee law, but that fact alone would seem to be sufficient to answer whatever objections could possibly be raised to a parental name choice. I expect this ruling will be overturned on appeal.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    Will this judge be disciplined, removed from the bench, and disbarred? Oh wait, I forgot, that never happens, even when judges do blatantly illegal shit like this.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

  2. Surreal American says:

    “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  3. legion says:

    “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,” the judge said.

    I know a few Jews who would argue that point…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 0

  4. legion says:

    @Ben: If she was a Federal judge there might be a chance in hell, but this is purely state-level. There’ll be a non-apology & nothing more. Heck, I bet her name is being kicked around now for the next Congressional opening…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  5. Mu says:

    Moon Unit Zappa is probably asking where that judge was 45 years ago.
    In all honesty, as mandatory “sanity check” for names seems in order. But probably that just means people are going to start naming their kids Haissem to go with Neveah

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  6. danimal says:

    @Surreal American: I’m very upset the judge didn’t rename the child Brian.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 0

  7. rodney dill says:

    @danimal: Welease Bawabbas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  8. DC Loser says:

    Biggus Dickus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. al-Ameda says:

    The judge should have renamed the parents, “Pennzoil 30W.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. rudderpedals says:

    @DC Loser: What’s funny about that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. DC Loser says:

    @rubberpedals,

    I guess you didn’t see the movie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. DC Loser says:

    Dang, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat through the whole movie. Yes, what’s so funny about that name?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Franklin says:

    Although the unnecessary impingement on freedom is concerning, I’m more offended by her “legal reasoning” than anything else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. J-Dub says:

    He was going to be the second coming until this judge intervened. Now he’s just Martin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. J-Dub says:

    If you read the article, the judge was presiding in Cocke County. How long before she tries to change the name of the entire county?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  16. Franklin says:

    Let’s not all go flying off the Handel here. This is a Complex issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  17. C. Clavin says:

    $20 says she is one of them small Government Republicans you hear about all the time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    In Portuguese, “Messias”(Or Messiah in English) is an extremely common surname. People with this surname will have to avoid Tennessee.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. the Q says:

    What would she do if someone wanted to name their ranch Niggerhead?

    Oh, I forgot, nothing since its a republican who owns the ranch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  20. rudderpedals says:

    Lu Ann, you don’t have to strip off the name rights

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. ernieyeball says:

    When the Truth is Found to be Lies…

    There is no god (Slick)…

    http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/godslick.asp

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. JKB says:

    Did you see the judges first name? Wasn’t that a clue? I tell you what, ya’ll go on over to Cocke county and file your complaint with the court. Now, be sure to let us know if you ever make it back out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  23. Neil Hudelson says:

    @JKB:

    Ok, I’ll bite—wtf are you talking about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB:

    Now, be sure to let us know if you ever make it back out.

    My .357 says I’ll make it back out with no problem. What? You thought you were the only ones able to enact 2nd Amendment solutions?

    And if that sounded idiotic coming from my keyboard, guess what? It sounds no better coming from any other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    wtf are you talking about?

    Rednecks are stupid?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. elizajane says:

    At least as of 20 years ago, in Germany there was a (very long) list of acceptable names and you had to name your child from that list. If you think this sounds like an evil and oppressive idea, you should check out the American imagination as represented at “Baby’s Named a Bad, Bad Thing”
    http://bigbadbabynames.net/forum/
    NSFW because you must be prepared to laugh out loud.

    Messiah wasn’t nearly as humiliating or absurd as a lot of the ones on that website. The problem was that this judge was an idiot, and made a decision purely on her own, religious grounds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Kari Q says:

    @JKB:

    I even watched the video thinking maybe I’d find a clue to your thought processes there. Nope, nothing. What are you talking about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Tillman says:

    I mean, just from an aesthetic standpoint (and maybe I’m being really subjective), “Messiah” isn’t a good name.

    For example, what the hell do you shorten that to? John goes to Jack (for some dumb reason), Matthew to Matt, Shaniqua to Shani…what does Messiah go to? Messy? That’s just itchin’ for trouble.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Ben says:

    @Tillman:

    If I had a buddy named Messiah, we’d probably call him Cy, as in Cy Young (obviously not how you would spell it, but that’s how I’d say it)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Peacewood says:

    Mark Messier went by “Mess” for a while, and he turned out all right.

    (Plus, he’d deck you if you tried to make a pun off it.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. al-Ameda says:

    Messi is the best soccer player in the world.

    Look, it’s Tennessee, nobody cares.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tillman:

    I mean, just from an aesthetic standpoint (and maybe I’m being really subjective), “Messiah” isn’t a good name.

    For example, what the hell do you shorten that to?

    Messi, sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Nightrider says:

    Is this perhaps some family-court type environment where the judge has broader authority to act in the interests of the child because the parents are evidently not up to it? If so, it may be different than saying that TN prohibits competent parents from naming their child whatever they want.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Tillman says:

    @Ben: That’s because you’re probably a nice person. I’m just saying there are loads of not-nice people out there who wouldn’t be so forgiving on the first name.

    @Peacewood: Yeah, but then again, his given name was “Mark,” not “Messier.”

    @Andre Kenji: Spelling it with an “I” doesn’t help all that much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. dmhlt says:

    @rodney dill:
    Only it was “Welease Woger!” And then with no “Woger” in prison – “Welease Wodewick!” (who was a wobber and a wapist)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Grewgills says:

    @Tillman:
    A friend of mine taught a boy in rural Georgia named Messiah. He goes by Si.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Rob in CT says:

    The boy’s parents were in court because they could not agree on the child’s last name, but when the judge heard the boy’s first name, she ordered it changed, too.

    What is this I don’t even…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. rudderpedals says:

    Messiah! Messiah! They call the kid Messiah

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. William Wilgus says:

    Okay, Judge. He’s now “Jesus Christ”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. Tyrell says:

    I think that the judge does have a point that a lot of people seem to be missing. Many parents are giving children names without considering the consequences: hard to pronounce by others, ridicule in school and other social gathering places, names that are long and take a long time to write out, names that are hard for people to spell, names that could bring up painful memories for others, names that police and other officials think that you are making up as a a joke (if there is one thing the police do not like, it is some one joking around), names that could create real problems and threats if they ever went overseas, names that could cause mix ups and confusion, names that could cause foul ups in dealing with banks, social security, and other legal – financial matters.
    Parents need to really think this through and not use self serving motives and think about the child: they have to carry that name from then on.
    Now I do think that this judge should have just suggested and educated the parents about this instead of ordering it, just give the parents some time to really think it over. This judge has probably seen first hand the problems that unusual names can cause and just wants to save this child and the parents some grief.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

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