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. Dianne

    I've knew a black woman who named her daughter Valvoline.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. Linda

    Messiah is a silly name for a child. My question, I don't believe the story mentioned her age but it did say she wasn't married and this was her third child? So are Jaleesa and Jawaan but it sure isn't up to a Judge to change the child's first name unless it was some kind of vulgariety or they named the kid Applie Pie or Fudge Sunday or something similar.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Feekoningin

      I don't think the judge has a right to change the child's name no matter how vulgar or silly. That would violate the parents' First Amendment right to free speech. The only way the judge might be able to get away with it is if one of the parents disagreed and said he or she wanted the name changed. short of that, the judge simply had no jurisdiction in that matter. There already have been children with names like Lemonjello that haven't been changed. Also, it's a little hard for the judge to justify, given that Messiah is one of the fastest growing names. She can't single out a child for change or even argue that he will be ridiculed because he apparently is in good company.

      August 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        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 4:14 pm |
  3. chris

    "The bench is not a pulpit" Maybe not, but it is interesting that God does play a big role in the courts:

    Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth so help you God? Place your hand on the Bible, etc."

    O course, law is mostly derived from Christian values. The basis of which is the Ten Commandments.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The oath you quoted is NOT a requirement.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • ME II

      Interesting how the 1st Amendment, Freedom of Religion, seems to go against the 1st Commandment, You shall have no other gods before me.
      But why quibble?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • chris

        Yes, it is very interesting!

        August 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • ME II

        Yes, interesting how it contradicts your statement:

        "...law is mostly derived from Christian values. The basis of which is the Ten Commandments."

        August 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Feekoningin

      Actually, I've never taken the oath on a Bible in court. Also, I always ask the judge to remove the reference to a deity.

      August 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Wow. Every single sentence has at least one factual error, usually several.

      August 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  4. Monomachos

    leaving aside the judge's decision – why would any parent want to burden their child with a name that will invite ridicule for the rest of his life? The Mom should try it out on herself – go around introducing herself as "Messiah" and see what kind of reactions she gets.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Ask the Zappa kids....

      August 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • rahul

      No less "burdensome" than naming a child Jesus, which is a commonly accepted name in Hispanic communities.

      Or how about naming children after archangels and saints? Is that somehow not "burdensome?"

      August 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Feekoningin

      Who is going to ridicule the kids? Christian children who aren't taught better than to judge by their parents? Surely, YOU aren't ridiculing this child? Do you ridicule Hispanic children named Jesus? And did you not notice it's one of the fastest growing name choices? The more kids who have it, the less silly it becomes.

      August 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Doc Vestibule

    Only the true Messiah denies his divinity.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Mr. Black

      I deny my divinity. Do I get to be the Messiah now?

      August 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  6. gator

    At least they didn't name him "The Messiah".

    August 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Chedwick

    I think the name is retarded like most black names

    August 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • midwest rail

      As soon as you typed the first two words, you were wrong.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
      • Chedwick

        Ok libtard. Why don't you go to Detroit, to be with your kind?

        August 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Awesome retort. Get back to us when you have something original.

          August 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
        • sam


          August 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
        • rahul

          and we instantly know that no one will ever take you seriously.

          August 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
        • ProudACLU

          Why don't you move to Somalia to be with your kind and take the rest of you Contraitors with you.

          August 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      wow...offending two seperate groups of people with one ignorant statement.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  8. Locktiss

    Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew should be removed from her post. The fact that people pick dumb names for their kids pales in comparison to the fact that religious nutjobs occupy positions of power in our "blind" legal system.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • thereisnogod

      Religion is a mental illness. It should be illegal for anyone in power to be religious. It ALWAYS influences their decisions.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Johnross1968

    Who the h*ll does this judge think she is?
    People might be offended?
    You have every right to be offended, you however do not have the right to not be offended.
    Does she plan on not letting any babies be named Mohammed? Or Buddha?
    Sorry but Christianity is not a protected class, nor does it need to be. And we do not need the Government telling us what to name our kids.
    This Judge needs to be over-ruled and if it is found she is abusing her power as a judge to protect her choice of religion again she should be disbarred. Then she can go become a Minister or a Priest. Seems that is what she really wants to be anyway.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  10. I just don't get it ...

    This judge is using the power she has to change something about the world she doesn't agree with. I wonder two things, if her name offends us do we have the right to change her name? And if it was a white American boy with the name Messiah would she had still been offended? This judge deserves no place in our legal system, how many people have been treated or judged unfairly because of her?

    August 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  11. uos_spo6

    Land of Free? Indeed. How can anyone seriously choke that concept down when we've got people sitting in Judge's chairs who go around dolling out these sorts of legal opinions?

    Anyone who is offended by the name ought to be the one in court having to wage an argument over the defense of their mental legitimacy. The world is not bound by your ridiculous fantasy notions of belief and faith. Come down, get off your cross.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  12. indyjoshmo

    In other news, any Hispanics named Jesus will be forced to change their names to hayseus.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Hey Zeus?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  13. Mike Jones

    How the hell is this even legal???

    That's like a judge taking your home cause they don't like the bank you're using..

    August 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  14. georgieboy

    The mother said, "she'd heard the name on one of her favorite TV shows and thought it'd be a good name for her son." And her family are Baptists and she'd never heard this word in church before? Ignoring the fact this is so stupid it's just ridiculous, this girl doesn't even know what truth is. What a fool.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Please define truth for us.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Feekoningin

      None of this matters. It is the sole right of the parents to name their children. If I were the mother, I wouldn't even justify it because I wouldn't have to. The law is entirely on her side. And someone mentioned disbarment for the magistrate. Maybe that would be a good idea. She's definitely overreached and showed poor judgment because she had to know this would be appealed, that there was no legal precedent and that she's wasting taxpayer money to satisfy her personal feelings.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        Not true – children have rights as well – they aren't 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 4:19 pm |
  15. Rob

    This judge seems to think she can make up names for children who aren't her own and is totally using her own religious views to come to her own conclusions about the name.

    The mother is right, Messiah has a nice ring to it and, unless I'm mistaken, does not refer strictly to Jesus Christ but can be applied to anyone considered a savior. Still, the name will only cause problems for him.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Sherron Teal

      This judge will never get away with this. This is America we can name our children whatever we want! And why is he trying to dictate his religious views on someone else?

      August 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Hannah

      THANK YOU! Some common sense. No, I would never name my child that but seriously people. Celebrities can name their children things like Apple for goodness sakes. It really is just a parental right to be able to name their child whatever they want. Think about how many people are name Mohammed.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Doc Vestibule

    They should change his name to Muad'dib.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • uos_spo6


      August 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Is that you, Baron?

        August 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Leto

      There you go with that Pauline doctrine again, eh?

      August 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "Muad'dib" is much cooler than "Paul"

      August 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  17. BRC

    Here's another thing I don't get. Why do people assume that the name "Messiah" would get a child picked on more than any other kid's name? It doesn't rhyme with a body part, doesn't fit too easily into a fat joke, isn't a word for poop or fart, and, as of yet, has no ties to any gay jokes, so what makes people think that kids are going to jump all over it? Teenagers are cruel adn creative, but not really original.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      His friends would likely call him "Si" and bullies would dub him "Messy".

      August 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • letmesee

      well lets see,,,hmmm, do you get picked on because YOUR name ISNT idiot ? hmmmm.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • BRC

      I agree, and if the worst your name turns into is Messy, I'd say you're doing fine.

      I didn't get picked on probably because in retrospect I was a bit of a bully (I never stuffed people into lockers but I was quick to make fun of people if they made mistakes or there was a clear opening). I can tell you that back in school the name Mesiah wouldn't have made me think of mocking anyone, unless that someone did something stupid, and I'm an athiest. A name is just a name, they're our parents faults not ours. If the kid is confident and interacts well with others he'll go by a nickname the whole time and noone will ever think twice about it.

      If you were trying to anger me you're a prattling twit and I recommend you have someone smatter and wittier edit your insults before you send them. I've got time if you need help; just let me know.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Feekoningin

      I think if the name is as revered as some people believe, there would be no reason to ridicule. In fact, if I were religious, I would think it was sacrilegious to give someone a hard time about a name like that. It would seem, well, unchristian.

      August 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  18. Hugh Jorgan

    The parents should think about this. While in grade school, little Messiah's school mates ask him to walk on water.
    When he can't, he will get a HELL of a beating.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  19. blakmetalemp

    I don't mind what she names her child, its her child. Is it a bit insane? Maybe but what really bothers me is her excuse, "she'd heard the name on one of her favorite TV shows". RIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHTT. She had no idea idea there would be arguments over this? Please.

    August 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Scout Kent

      It's trending toward a popular name right now; it's hardly unique or even rare. Perhaps she should have expected a REACTION to it from some people, but why arguments? See: USA, free speech, freedom, and so on.

      August 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  20. Flip

    Why isn't the name Ja'Messiah or La'Messiah???

    August 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • blakmetalemp


      August 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • JibJab


      August 14, 2013 at 2:31 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.