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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. Felix Sinclair

    People have often named their offspring after fictional people. What's the big deal?

    August 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      Any parent name their child "Voledemort" yet? The child who must not be named?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • ME II

        I don't think that's the same as saying, "parents have named their children after all fictional characters"

        August 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Name the child " The child who shall not be named" sort of a catch-22-y name.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jim

      Exactly

      August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      How about "Cruella de Vil" for a girls name, or "Charles Manson Reilly"

      or "Balrog Johnson"

      or "Sauron Ring Smith"

      August 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  2. DnT

    Judge sounds more like she is God!!

    August 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  3. Billy

    I don't agree with the reasons that the judge gave here, or for rushing the parents into picking a new name, and thus then naming the child herself, but I don't disagree with ordering the name change. This child will be the one who has to grow up with the name, deal with being picked on in school over the name, for the name showing up on resumes, and being judged by that resume before even getting an interview, etc.... A parent should have the right to name their child, but to a limit. If the name is likely to cause the child emotional harm then someone has to think about the good of the child.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      I can think of dozens of "normal" names that would be far harder on this child:

      Francis,
      Emil,
      Oral,
      ...
      and worst of all "Billy Bob"

      August 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  4. Jcraw

    I think Judge should let the boy be named "Messiah". What difference does it make to anyone else? Who cares what his name is! I am a religious person but it doesn't bother me at all. Yes, it's a stupid name for a child but he is not my child so who cares. Move on...

    August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Billy

      It'll likely matter to the child. Just say his name is changed to Adam or something like that, and at the age of 18 he's told that his name was going to be Messiah, but they were made to change it. Do you think he'd be happy or upset that the name was changed?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  5. Jim

    Hey what if this kid is the true Messiah?

    August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      Then he will be rounded up by the current organized Christian religions and laughed at, made fun of and then sacraficed for Fox News ratings as he tries to shut down the Christmas Day Parade and whipped the employees out of the Toy's R' Us.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  6. Henry

    The real funny thing is that in the original Biblical language, the word Joshua and Jesus are the same word. In Latin countries, the name Jesus (pronounced hayseus) is a comon name. I wonder if this judge would be upset if his name was Jesus or Joshua? Oh by the way, I am a born again Christian.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Demigod Vadik, CA

      They are not the same actually...

      ...one means Messiah, the other means Savior...

      August 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • eeLymmoT

      What does you being a Christian have to do with the accuracy of the names of Jesus?

      Jesus is said to have many names. The Old Testament says the Messiah's name would be Emmanuel, but that didn't last past Christmas.
      By the way, I'm a Buddhist.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "born again Christian" I'm sorry... I hope you start feeling better soon...

      August 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  7. MamaB

    While I don't agree that the judge should have changed the childs first name, how the hell did these parents go through 9 months of pregnancy and then 7 months of life and not be able to agree on a last name for the child? Damn hyphenate it or something!!!!!!

    August 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  8. aaron

    so religion isn't real, and the judge gets to legislate morality based on untruths?

    August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  9. Jim

    So all the hispanics named Jesus must change their names?

    August 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  10. scranton

    Good luck in life with that handle.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  11. leah

    Mary wasn't married when she was pregnant with Jesus.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      She also had a wicked tramp stamp that said "God's Ho"

      August 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • The Easter Bunny's real name is Jeraldo

      And we all know that St. Nicholas' name was Fred.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      She wasn't married to Joseph? Oh, you mean she wasn't married to the unproven god who allegedly impregnated her.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  12. Chris

    While I don't agree with the child's name, the bigger issue to me seems to be the fact the parents couldn't agree on a LAST NAME. I can accept that not all children are born to married couples, it seems to me the idea of a last name should be determined BEFORE the child is born. The mother has 2 other children, whose last name do they have – the mother's or the father's? Maybe the other 2 children have different fathers and have the mother's last name and she wanted all 3 children to have the last name. You never know without all the facts.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  13. jo2

    I think this judge has a "messiah complex". She decides what name is proper based on her religious beliefs.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      As a judge, her job is not to impose her religious beliefs but the law. Separation of church & state! People are allowed to exercise poor judgment aren't they?! It's not obscene. What would she do if it was a Hispanic family and the baby was called 'Jesus'??

      August 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        People can exercise poor judgement about their OWN lives – but when you do something to a child, that child has rights as well – it's not just property. So there is plenty of precedent to preventing harmful names. The question is, if this is a harmful name, or if she used her religious beliefs in making this ruling.

        August 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  14. bookworm50

    In retrospect, I would be more concerned about a judge wearing cross earrings on the bench and ruling based on her own religious bias. Muslim schoolgirls in France can't cover their heads in school, so why should judges here show their own religious bias while representing Justice not Jesus on the bench.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      They shouldn't. 😉

      August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  15. Billy

    While I get that a parent should be allowed to name a child most anything that they want, I do think that more parents should stop and think of what impact a name will have on their child. Try remembering growing up, going to school, making friends, introducing yourself, etc... and would you want your name to be Messiah?

    Also for those saying that it's not the business of anyone what a parent names their child. What if a racist white named their child Nword(as the first name) and hater(as the middle name) would you feel that is the parents right? I don't really agree with the reasons given by the judge here, but I wouldn't want to grow up with my name being Messiah.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  16. ProudCDN

    This article made me chuckle... My friend who is Muslim is named Messiah and we live in Canada. No one cares! There's plenty of people named Jesus and other biblical names.... Not a big deal.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Billy

      True, but in the case of Jesus at least it isn't pronounced the same, and it's from a different language.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
      • Sunflower2

        Never liked people I know using the name Jesus.... Just seems disrespectful to me.....At least Messiah is a little more general????

        August 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
      • Jim

        who cares how it is pronounced ..the spelling is the same

        August 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
        • Billy

          The way the word is said makes a ton of difference, especially being that it's a Spanish name. Quite a few words are spelled the same but have different meanings.

          August 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  17. bookworm50

    Hey, Messiah is a Big Improvement over Jaleesa or Jawaan. The latter two automatically signal race and, in our biased society, socioeconomic background, which can impact a child's education or employment opportunities later on. Messiah is a 'trending' name somewhat like Jesus or Mohammend, which are more closely identified with specific ethnic/religious backgrounds. the single parents couldn't agree on a last name, which is good in that at least the unmarried dad WANTS to be involved, at least in the child's name. Naming is a parental right, even if the parent's choice says more about the parent than the child–who, fortunately, can change his/her name legally later on, like John Wayne (Marion Morrison) or Judy Garland (Frances Gumm). My kids would gladly change Margaret, Eleanor and Louis, even though we had good reasons (family and icons) for choosing those. If I had been named Maud or Gertrude 62 yrs ago I might have changed mine as well. As I am sure several celebrity offspring can't wait to do. The judge in this case was simply wrong (come on ACLU) and showing her own cultural/religious bias in overstepping her bounds to change the child's first name. Considering her personal reasoning, I'd take my chances living next door to Maurice or Chanteuse, or Assisi or Abdul over her and her narrow-minded pals.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  18. StrongPapa

    Last comment, just another black child basically fatherless almost guaranteed to join the prison population of other black fatherless children..Mom doesn't appear to be much help with guidance...Poor kid.

    August 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Racist is all that is! It's a horrible assumption to make about a child who has barely started out in this world.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Lauradet

      You need to quit GZimmying (profiling black people). The child has a father his name is Jawaan McCullough can't you read?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • cathy

      ok what do you know about this fathers involvement?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • RNBSNLSU

      There are more white men in jail than black men Strong Papa.....and yes read it on DOJ please....and BC white men want to make crystal meth so much, folks now have to go to the doctor here in Misssissippi to get psuedoedrine and CVS now wants to see our license for nail polish remover bc it is used in crystal meth....so please sit down and shut up

      August 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Danielle

      My son's name is Messiah. I am white so don't think it's a racial issue. I thought of every insult someone could say in school or in sports. Worst they can say in gym class "I'm choosing the chosen one" or walking down the hall "Here comes the Messiah" not too harsh. Doesn't matter your child's name they'll be picked on regardless we have all been picked on atleast once in our school years. If he decides to join the military they know you by last name. If you're a teacher you're students refer to you as Mr. (insert last name). CEO or Judge referred to by last name. If it's a huge deal call him by his nickname Siah or Si or by his middle name which is Antonio. I don't see it as an issue. He was christened in my Roman Catholic church with his first name. I do not see him as THE MESSIAH or as THE CHOSEN ONE I see him as my Messiah Antonio MY SON

      August 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Ignore these people. Your little boy will be fine.

        August 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Michelle Simms

      Totally uncalled for. How about you try be someone who adds value to this world with your words, not someone who detracts from it?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  19. mickey

    I stll lkie the name "Lukeemia"

    August 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Athy

      Yeah, I do too. It has a nice ring to it. Could be either a boy or girl name.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  20. StrongPapa

    Ignorance INDEED...So mom, do you consider the ramifications of growing up with this name?? I ask that question not only to this ignorant lady, but to all the parents who give their children these crazy names...WHat if your child grows up to be a teacher, military commander, CEO....STOP BEING SO THOUGTLESS about the potential impact this name will have down the line...For the other parents who do the same thinking it's cute, may the Messiah help you!

    August 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Athy

      He can easily and legally change it when he comes of age, Papa, so don't worry yourself about it.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
      • Billy

        So it's ok that he has to suffer with the name for a full 18 years? Also imagine the trouble of having to change your name. If, when naming your child the thought of "well they can always change their name when they turn 18" crosses your mind then the name is probably not a good idea...

        August 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Canada

      Then he can go and get his name changed if he wants...

      August 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Canada

      but I do agree with you, especially when it comes to the impact on children that their parents have named "Mohammed" in Tenessee.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • leah

      Untold millions of kids throughout history have been named 'Jesus', 'Muhammad', and 'Mary' to mark a deep respect for those religious figures. How is this any different? You are saying they are all ignorant for caring enough about their religious heritage to signify it with a name? Really?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • What???

      You sir/mam are an idiot.....! Who decides what is an acceptable name in this day an age??? Just because people aren't naming their children Sue and Bob doesn't make their decisions wrong nor idiotic...but your statement certainly is narrow minded..... Let's see a MAN named BARACK is president.... which also means Blessed or Hallelujah...... stop with your jilted narrow views...open your eyes to the world around you....it's changing!

      August 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Danielle

      My son's name is Messiah. I am white so don't think it's a racial issue. I thought of every insult someone could say in school or in sports. Worst they can say in gym class "I'm choosing the chosen one" or walking down the hall "Here comes the Messiah" not too harsh. Doesn't matter your child's name they'll be picked on regardless we have all been picked on atleast once in our school years. If he decides to join the military they know you by last name. If you're a teacher you're students refer to you as Mr. (insert last name). CEO or Judge referred to by last name. If it's a huge deal call him by his nickname Siah or Si or by his middle name which is Antonio. I don't see it as an issue. He was christened in my Roman Catholic church with his first name. I do not see him as THE MESSIAH or as THE CHOSEN ONE I see him as my Messiah Antonio MY SON

      August 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
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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.