August 13th, 2013
09:09 PM ET

Name 'Messiah' would offend, judge says

By Marlena Baldacci, CNN

(CNN) –Young Messiah, the "happiest baby in the world," according to his mother, is blissfully unaware that a judge ruled that his birth name promises to offend many in his Tennessee community.

His mother, Jaleesa Martin, and father, Jawaan McCullough, who are not married, couldn't agree on a last name for their baby, now 7 months old. That's why they ended up in the courtroom of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

But the judge shifted the attention to the baby's first name, and said it should be changed.

"She just plainly came out and said, 'I'm going to change his first name,' because she didn't like it," Martin told CNN's Chris Cuomo on New Day on Wednesday.

In her ruling, Ballew wrote: "'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ" and that naming him this "places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill." Her ruling also noted the large Christian population in the Tennessee county where the child was born.

Speaking to CNN affiliate WBIR, Ballew, wearing earrings in the shape of a cross, said this was the first time she had ordered a name change.

Martin, whose family is Baptist, said there was no religious motivation behind her pick; rather she'd heard the name on one of her favorite TV shows and thought it'd be a good name for her son. She also wanted another "M" name to go with her other two sons, Mason and Micah.

CNN could not reach McCullough for comment.

The parents were given one hour to pick a new name, and Ballew told them that if they couldn't reach a decision then she would "give him the name that she wanted him to have," Martin said.

The judge's pick: Martin DeShawn McCullough.

Martin said that she'll keep calling her son Messiah and that she has heard from supporters all over the country. She's also upset about reports she is being attacked online as a bad mother.

The Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union is following the case, saying it supports Martin and calling the judge's ruling unacceptable.

"The bench is not a pulpit, and using it as one, as this judge did, violates the parents' rights and our sense that people of all faiths will be treated fairly in the courtroom," Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said.

According to U.S. Social Security Administration statistics, Messiah was the fourth-fastest growing name for boys in the United States from 2011 to 2012. It ranks at Number 387, between the decidedly traditional names Scott and Jay.

"I'm sorry that you have your own beliefs, but you have no right to change my child's name," Martin said of Ballew.

Ballew declined CNN's request for comment. Martin has appealed the court's decision; it will go before the Cocke County chancellor next month.

CNN's Matt Dellinger contributed to this story.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Courts • Jesus

soundoff (1,280 Responses)
  1. Glenn

    The unwed parents go to court because they couldn't agree on the last name for the child – and the judge, on her own, decides that the first name should be changed as well. Seems pretty outrageous, and something that would be easily overturned on appeal. Not that it matters, but with all the crazy names people give to their kids (and it's not just black parents anymore) Messiah shouldn't even raise an eyebrow.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • lerianis

      Actually, most of the names that African Americans give their children aren't really 'crazy'. LaShawna, Lebron, Nuzzang (seriously, there is a boy named that in our school system!)..... not really 'out there' in the slightest.

      I've seen white people with much worse names.

      August 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
      • miele

        Again, maybe if people learned to read and write in school, there would not be this great influx of phonetic names.

        August 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Nathan

      True, though it should never have to go to appeal to begin with. The judge is very much in the wrong here.

      August 13, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • Angel

      Wrong. Cnn only told half the story. They went to court over child support. Dad pointed out the kid still had no last name because mom would no agree as to what it should be. That is what started this.

      August 14, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • Russ

        The story should be that this is her third child. From the sound of the story it is not with the same father. I would be more concerned how that is going to affect the child than his name. Let's hope that there is not a 4th.

        August 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • heywood

        You didnt expect the whole story and facts on cnn, did you? they need to sensationalize this. They couldent get a race riot over the acquittal of the guy who shot the 13 yr old in the football uniform eating skittles in his hoodie so they need a race riot somewhere. here you go.

        August 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  2. R

    This is just wrong from every side. If she were famous then it would be okay. There is an "Apple" in the world a "Bronx" yet no one complained that those children would be over burdened by their names. The judge had no right to order a name change. She should fight this/

    August 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Billy

      Who is to say that the judge wouldn't do the same for someone famous? It's not as if the same judge is over every county or anything. Now granted, a famous person probably would have much deeper pockets to fight this if that ever happened.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • Sara

        The first thing a famous person does is more the hell out of Tennessee. I was offered a job there last year and I laughed pretty hard.

        August 14, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  3. Homer

    Just another example of a southern judge trying to force their ideologies down others throat. You have the right to name your child anything you want.
    I can't wait until a higher court overrules this judges flawed decision. Especially citing Christianity implying favor of one religion over another.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • tbay

      Actually you don't have that right. Courts can order name changes if they deem that names are cruel and will have a negative impact on the kid.
      Metallica, Superman, and Ikea were rejected.

      So was Brfxxccxxmnpccccllllmmnprxvclmnckssqlb111163, which that parents said was pronouced Albin.

      Remove the religious aspect from this and I would say that the judge was being nice. No way that any kid named Messiah grows up normal.

      August 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • Amy

        What about Noah, John, Luke, Paul, Judas, Jezebel ? Most biblical people have negative story along with positive because they were human going to ban those names as well for the good of the child really?

        August 14, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  4. scarshapedstar1

    Even the Muslims let you name your kid Mohammed.

    Christian Fundies are truly a special breed.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Thinker...

      I doubt they would allow 'Prophet' though.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  5. Roberto

    Oh yes. Let's not forget Frank Zappa's kiddos "Moon Unit", "Dweezil" and "Diva Muffin". "Ahmet", well, that's not too uncommon. But, Jeez! Oooh! Wait! There's a great name! "Jeez".

    August 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  6. tallulah13

    I am offended by this "judge".

    August 13, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  7. Rachel

    Who cares that someone named their child Messiah? And how can the government tell them not to do it? How ridiculous is this? THISSS is what my tax money is funding? The naming police? COME ON! I can see if it was the exact name of a horrible multiple murderer or something AND done in honor of that person. But Messiah? Is this judge crazy?

    August 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  8. Roberto

    So, if we, the United States, takes over Mexico and other Latin nations, should that judge deny the name 'Jesus' (Hay-soos) to anyone given that name? I think that people should be able to name their kids anything they want. 'Banana, 'Computer', 'Albujudazeesus', 'Ann-uh-tee-wan', 'Mojeewandanoodle' (someone with that name could go by 'Mojee' or 'Noodle'). Here's some more...'Plajeeboondapop', 'Kraduhmujadoo', 'Bwahdudoodlediddle'. Whatever! I figure that at some point in time, later in life, some of these kiddos, all grown up, will go to court to get their names legally changed, just like actors did years and years ago in Hollywood, to make them better known on stage. "Your Honor, my client, Joe Hogbristle, would like to change his name. "Well, that's understandable. What would he like to change his name to?" "FRED Hogbristle. He's gettin' tired of people sayin', "Hello Joe! Whaddya know?"

    August 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  9. McGee

    This "judge" has absolutely no business being a judge. She isn't even remotely objective.

    Do I think "Messiah" is an idiotic name for a kid? Yes. But no more so than "Legend," "Hero," and other crap names that exist.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  10. really

    Seriously? Not the kids fault, but I would not associate with, coach, teach, hire or otherwise deal with anyone named "Messiah" – it is too religously offensive. What is the point?

    August 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Roger that

      Here's a point; you would get fired.

      August 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
      • Manuel

        I bet there are horses named Messiah. This pompous judge is being abusive and needs to be disciplined by a higher authority. She is not God and has no right to tell anyone who god is.

        August 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
      • OTOH

        Roger that,

        Shhhhh! Let him/her get canned...

        August 13, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Rachel

      The name is not offensive in any way. Is your hold on your religious beliefs that weak that you would discriminate against a person for a NAME like this?

      August 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        A name that is above any other name? One we dare not speak?

        August 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
        • Johnny


          August 14, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Principaldad

      It is not legal to deny employment or education to someone simply because you think their name is "religiously offensive". That is religious discrimination. Aside from that, the claim that it is "religiously offensive" doesn't really hold water anyway. There are people named Emmanuel and Jesus. It is really no different. In the US, Messiah is nearly as common as those other names.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • G to the T

      Can you explain why you find it religiously offensive?

      August 14, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • HONEyWoMAN

      You recognize that the child was named by his parents so his name is "not his fault", but you would still punish him by refusing to acknowledge his existence on your team or in your school or in your church? I bet you have a common name, like Mike or Sue, which obviously didn't make you turn out to be a caring or nice person. I'd also bet money that you consider yourself a christian, and are clueless how ignorant and hypocritical your comment makes you sound. What's the point of you at all?

      August 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  11. ObaWenden

    It would be nice if parents would realize the pitfalls for their children when they pick a name that is controversial. No one has the right to tell you what you can name your child, but people should think about how they would feel with that name throughout their life.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  12. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    Since when do people have the right to not be offended?

    August 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • HONEyWoMAN

      People have the right to be offended, just not the right to take away another person's rights to accommodate that offense.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  13. Subnx

    That s going to be one busy judge changing all the names of babies with names like Jesus Ramirez and Jesus Moreno.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • TLORop

      Theres a big difference.

      August 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Not really. They are words associated with, but not owned by christianity. They have both been used as first names, though Jesus is obviously more popular. There is no legal restriction upon using either name. The judge was completely out of line with her ruling, and I hope it costs her position. Anyone who puts their religious opinion over the law of the land has no place in our judicial system.

        August 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Mommy of 3!!! :)

    I think that judge is very wrong for what she did. She has no right to tell then parents what the childs first name should be. I can understand making a decision on the childs last name seeing as how the mother and father could not decide. If it was me I would leave the child's first name alone and make his middle name Martin and last name McCullough. Messiah Martin McCullough!! 🙂 I think that judge is on a power trip!

    August 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Mom

      "Messiah Martin McCullough"

      Yeah, then he could go on to be Emineminem - golden!

      August 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
      • HONEyWoMAN

        Let me guess...you named your boy Tyler and your girl Ashley. I think it's abusive to name one's child the same name that 10 oher kids in their class have. Messiah is a lovely name. Speaking of golden, maybe you should remember the Golden Rule and quit judging people so harshly.

        August 14, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  15. BK Moore

    Since his parents are named "Jaleesa" and "Jawaan", they should just name their brat "Dave" for a nice exotic touch.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • VictoryGin

      Serriously...you call a 7 month old child a brat. You're a gem on a human being. SMDH

      August 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Karen

    Total over reach of Gov't employee - here come da judge...it will get over ruled. We cannot allow this.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  17. Religon and Government

    So "Moon Unit Zappa" is ok.

    August 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • HONEyWoMAN

      Yes, it is.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  18. Heretic

    Religitard judge needs to go.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  19. tony

    I've worked for someone called "king". If that was OK, then being named messiah seems less of a problem.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      Most Christians have no problem using Jesus' real name Joshua how much more Messiah.
      I think her explanation for picking the name got her the trouble!

      August 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
      • Sienna

        Lots of Hispanics name there child Jesus. I've had students named Sir, Finesse, Unique, Britannica, Noble, Female as in Female _____. Parent pronounced it Fe-ma-lay. Parent (from another country) thought the hospital named her child that and kept it, Little Venus (a boy- white and blonde. Maybe she didn't know about Adonis. Yes, I had one named Adonis too), Asia, Paris, Dallas, Austin, Angel Gabriel, Boy (middle name), Silk, Noble, Dymond, Jazzy (nickname for Jazzmine) & Baby (2 students because mom (2 different ones) didn't name them when they left the hospital or filled their social Security card. I even had a pregnant parent considering naming her son Apostle. I don't know if she did because the family moved before her son was born.

        August 13, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
        • Sienna

          Oh, I forgot. One of my teammates had a student named Blackie Dye. He was white and blonde too.

          August 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
        • Hey Teach

          "...name there child..." ?

          August 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
        • Sienna Scorpio

          To Hey Teach.. I'm not in teacher mode 24/7. I'm human, not God.

          August 14, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  20. **frank**

    Christianity is garbage.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      Thank you Frank for your obligatory frankness... Next time Frank can you be a little more frank..?

      August 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      Seems like you have no sense of fairness. What a judgemental att.itude

      August 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Seems like frank lost its furter... I'll have my frankfurter on a bun with the works including sauerkraut...

        August 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.