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. Goldielover

    Just waiting for the outcry when someone tries to name their child Allah or Yahweh. Surprisingly, the name Jesus doesn't seem to cause any problems and is common enough in the Spanish speaking community. I suppose because of the different pronunciation.

    Having said that, there is no way I would have named a child Messiah. Not because of the religious connotations, but because he is bound to end up being called Messy. Not a short form I'd want a child to have to live with.

    August 15, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  2. benji

    I'll bet this same judge is a GOPer who whines about "freedom" while trying to limit the freedom of others. What a hypocrite.

    August 15, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • skytag

      It's hard to imagine this judge isn't a Republican.

      August 15, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  3. hannah1

    Honestly you have never experienced a "police state" unless you've lived in Tennessee. EVERYTHING is ruled by "the bible" whether you believe it/like it or not. As an officer of the court, this judge HAD NO RIGHT to force her beliefs on this parent!!!!
    What an abomination! this mom needs to move somewhere normal, and call her son whatever she wants! Shameful!!!!

    August 15, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Sara

      When a state declares evolution a controversial theory, you know you don't want to be setting up business there or, frankly, even take a holiday there.

      August 15, 2013 at 8:50 am |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        You can add Kansas, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi to that list...

        August 15, 2013 at 9:14 am |
        • Sara

          And Texas and the Carolinas.

          August 15, 2013 at 9:45 am |
        • Thinker...

          Lawrence Kansas is OK though. If you can stand a college town.

          August 15, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  4. G. Stott

    Judge should be removed from the bench, permanently. ZERO tolerance for religion-influenced rulings. Fire him, stat!

    August 15, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • hannah1

      HER, and yes she does not deserve to be on the bench if she can't stop cramming her religion (BAPTIST) down people's throats! MOM: You need to move. It isn't like this anywhere else!

      August 15, 2013 at 8:37 am |
      • Sara

        It's really not. I went to grad school in the south assuming all the stories were exaggerated. They aren't. One of the saddest things is seeing people from the south getting all offended about how they are judged by how a few elected officials or gov employees behave. You just want to wake these folks up and say "Don't you realize we wouldn't elect these people anywhere else? That they would lose their jobs on the spot for such obviously inappropriate behavior? They really just don't know any different, and travel and knowledge about the rest of the country and world are not valued.

        August 15, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  5. Robert

    This southern inbreed judge should live in Germany to worship Hitler's grave and stay there.

    August 15, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Why not systematically defame everyone that, you think, doesn't resemble you?

      August 15, 2013 at 8:30 am |
      • hannah1

        That's a dumb thing to say, Tom. This religious-bigot judge has overstepped her jurisdiction, and has no more right to change that baby's name than I do, just because she's a religious zealot! She's the only one on this planet who would have a problem with it.

        August 15, 2013 at 8:41 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Tom Tom's reply to Robert obviously went right over your head...

          August 15, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  6. trollol

    The judicial system has failed the people!

    August 15, 2013 at 6:26 am |
  7. NFI

    I hate living in TN. This is why we need to keep Christians out of office.

    August 15, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Thanks, we will put you into the groups with all of the other hate groups. Can't have Blacks holding office. Can't have a White guy running our city. No, Hillary can not be president because she is a woman. No non-Muslims to hold office.

      Sigh....in the end all of your types not only carry the same message, you basically begin to use the same words. Yall' just fill in the blanks with the group you hate.

      August 15, 2013 at 4:36 am |
      • truthprevails1

        It's not about being exclusive, it's about them setting aside their own beliefs out of respect for others. We're not living 100 years ago where this kind of thing was the norm. This judge was clearly in the wrong but she is not representative of all christians or all in her position. A great many christians have spoke against her decision.

        August 15, 2013 at 5:05 am |
  8. cgs

    What if this silly mom named her baby "idiot Mohammadallah"? Would a judge let it stand if the baby's life was in danger?

    August 15, 2013 at 2:11 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Why do you believe this mother is silly? And, no, a judge should not intervene, but they should expect their decision to be appealed, especially if they do based on religious beliefs.

      August 15, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • HotAirAce

      And why are you singling out the mother? The article says her and the father were in dispute over the child's last name, not its first, so the father appears to be ok with Messiah as a first name. Is he silly too, and if yes, why!

      August 15, 2013 at 2:33 am |
      • Dippy

        It's "she and the father," not "her and the father."

        August 15, 2013 at 3:02 am |
        • jksprout

          Who cares.

          August 15, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • David E

      ...but she didn't. You can throw out all kinds of hypotheticals but the fact remains she named him Messiah, a name that appears to be fairly popular. The child's life is not in danger because of his name. The judge obviously changed the name because of her own (personal) religious convictions, and her ruling will be overturned (and rightly so).

      That said, she will likely spin this as 'standing up for Christian/Republican/Conservative values, which are under attack by the liberal elite' and turn it into some form of media and/or political gig, a la Sarah Palin.

      August 15, 2013 at 6:30 am |
      • Sara

        She might fit in with the idiot lawyers in the Westboro Baptist Church. I think that's sort of a club for crazy christian fundamentalist lawyers.

        August 15, 2013 at 6:38 am |
    • Sara

      In the US there are no laws prohibiting that but I could see a case if the name where actually abusive, derogatory and created with complete disregard for the child. This is definitely not the case here.

      August 15, 2013 at 6:55 am |
    • skytag

      What if you don't waste time and energy on stupid hypothetical questions?

      August 15, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • Michael

        Saw what you did there ... like it. Too funny ... but would go right over most people's heads

        August 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  9. 9hydra

    Didn't know the name messiah was reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. The term messiah and the ideas behind it predate and post date the Christian sect. It's a term reserved for the Jewish people, and especially those of the diaspora.

    August 15, 2013 at 1:56 am |
    • Sara

      Yeah, she's pretty much a dimwit.

      August 15, 2013 at 6:26 am |
  10. geoffsmorris

    Well, it cannot be judicial activism. Only liberal judges ever do that...

    August 15, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • Observer

      Liberal judges don't do religious activism.

      August 15, 2013 at 1:06 am |
    • BIGBOY

      The name was against her RELIGIOUS BELIEF.....seems more like a conservative.

      August 15, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  11. Concious stream

    Ahhh Religion...just feel the breeze of separation and dispute all in the name of the one you think you know, in the name of the of the one who brings peace and in the name of the one that is love? What is your name for him, God, Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha...look at all of you spewing hate and judgement in the name of the one that you obviously don't know...yet.

    August 15, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  12. Robert

    There was a case not long back of a guy who wanted to name his kid Adolph Hitler Donaldson, or something like that. All the liberals were in an uproar and they took the guy's kid away, saying it was child abuse to name him that. Just saying – we should be fair both ways. If a person can name their kid Messiah, another can name their's Satan. Personally, I feel parents have to be free to name their kids whatever they want. This is not something that can be practically legislated at all.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's theirs, not their's.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:25 am |
      • skytag

        You must have really low self-esteem or suffer from some form of OCD. This is the third homonym typo I've seen you correct.

        August 15, 2013 at 9:27 am |
        • thomas

          get a life. few things worse than pedantic bores.

          August 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Gary

      For the first ten years of my life, I thought My name was Dammit. My Father would say, " Dammit get over here, Dammit take out the trash , Dammit, Do your Home work!!!

      August 15, 2013 at 12:51 am |
      • Michael

        OK, Bill Cosby ... I heard that line 40+ years ago. Not original. Sorry ...

        August 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Sara

      The children in that case were removed from the home due to issues of domestic violence unrelated to the names. The parents just played up the name issue in the media because they actual case facts were locked and they thought the PR might help. It didn't.

      August 15, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  13. HONEyWoMAN

    I just read where a family with the last name Dactyl named their daughter Tara. She's a straight-A student, a cheerleader and a happy girl with lots of friends. Unusual, even comical names aren't that big a deal these days. As for christians' outrage over the use of a name they feel they own...I'm simply not surprised.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Athy

      This goes back a ways, but Bill Lear, prolific inventor (eight-track tapes, airplane autopilots and father of the Lear jet) actually named his daughter Chanda. Other than that, the guy was a genius.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Athy

      Sorry, her name was Shanda. My bad.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:35 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I went to school with a girl named Candy Barr. She put up with lots of jokes about being eaten, but turned out ok.

      August 15, 2013 at 2:26 am |
      • Athy

        There used to be a stripper back in the fifties named Candy Barr.

        August 15, 2013 at 2:34 am |
    • Michael

      I knew a guy, whose last name was Pepper, having the legal first name of "Doc" ... True Story.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  14. Sara

    People living in that judicial district should, if they have time to kill, go in and file to change their names to Messiah and see what the courts do.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  15. Cara

    It sickens me that this woman is on such a power trip that she feels she can dictate a family like this. Someone needs to knock this judge off her high horse. I hope this family doesn't back down. If Messiah is "offensive", then so are all the people named Jesus, Miracle, and Nevaeh( heaven backwards, that could be construed as sacreligous). This judge should have kept HER OPINION to herself.

    August 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Sara

      How about the name Angel? That seems pretty presumptuous if you aren't actually an angel. Kids with that name must get tortured and tormented and cause no end of offense.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:06 am |
      • Athy

        Angel (with Spanish pronunciation, of course) is a very common masculine name in my part of the country (Southern California). As far as I know, no one is teased about it. Likewise Jesus (again, Spanish pronunciation, hey soos).

        August 15, 2013 at 12:21 am |
        • Sara

          Agreed. If this wasn't a problem for them, society has shown itself able to accept kids named after beings from Judeo-Christian mythology.

          August 15, 2013 at 6:33 am |
  16. Lou

    It's a word, not even a name of a person, just a word....these religious brain freezes are telling...

    August 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  17. Religious Guy

    Funny why she targeted only this child when thousands are named Messiah or Yesu or Jesus? Why did she feel that the name places an undue burden "only" on this child and not on the other thousands? Is she fit to continue as a judge?

    August 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • Athy

      In a word, NO. She'll be overturned on appeal. And she should be admonished, if not outright removed from office. Of course, this is Tennessee, so who knows.

      August 15, 2013 at 12:52 am |
    • skytag

      It's not a common name. In her little corner of the world she may think no one else has that name.

      August 15, 2013 at 9:39 am |
      • Sara

        A lot of folks down south are born, go to college in and raise their kids in the exact same spot without even taking a year or two to explore. Their travel is limited to spring break on the strip in Cancun and they think watching a couple of BBC dramas on PBS is significant intercultural exposure.

        August 15, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  18. Chrissieh

    Apparently, the judge thinks she is above the law. You can't just change a persons name because you are offended or think it wrong. I agree, its ridiculous to name a baby Messiah but it's not illegal. Would you be equally offended if the baby were named after another religious leader/prophet etc? No? Then you are using law to exert your religious preference. That is not right. And just because someone (even a judge) thinks something is wrong, doesn't mean it's illegal. Will she now have all the little boys named Jesus change their names too??

    August 14, 2013 at 11:39 pm |

    Do you understand what kind hell his classmates will put him through with year after year of incessant teasing for a name like Messiah? Do you have any idea of what kind of handycap that is? Why not just cut off one of his arms, it would be less painful and less debilitating. .

    August 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • Yup

      Yup, religion poisons everything...

      August 14, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Sara

      Do you understand that even if that were true its not the point here? Parents name their kids poorly all the time, much worse than this. If there's going to be a law it needs to address all those cases, not be at the whim of individual judges who have religious motivations. She never axed ANY other name.

      But really, if you think this kids name is going to stick out that much you're pretty out of touch with what kids names look like these days.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Religious Guy

      I have not heard from other thousands who are names Messiah or Yesu or Jesus that they ever felt offended or sad by their name. Not sure which world do you live in.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
      • Sara

        Just today a guy told me he hated his middle name Jesus. Not because anyone teased him but just because he isn't a Christian and thinks it sounds stupid.

        August 14, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
        • Religious Guy

          That's because he is not a Christian and hence does not like it and not because what "DOESN'T ANYONE CARE ABOUT THIS CHILD?!!!" is referring to here.

          August 14, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • Cara

      If this is your reasoning, then the name Richard should be banned forever. Kids now days are named after birds, fruit, actions, objects and even directions. If you think Messiah would be worse than "Dick", you are so mistaken.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
      • Sara


        August 15, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • Athy

      Oh, c'mon, Doesn't. You're overreacting to the max. It probably won't affect anyone but the religious zealots, and who cares about them. By the way, it's "handicap," not "handycap."

      August 15, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • meandmyopinion

      pretty sure 99.9999% of kids today dont know what the word Messiah signifies/represents/means. How about Apple or MOSES? There are crazier names out there that kids couldnt care less about. Have you heard a kid named Mike, John or David lately? Tradition doesn't seem to exist anymore.

      August 15, 2013 at 7:20 am |
      • Sara

        Meesiah is going to cause a lot fewer problems than a lot of other names parents give kids. Boys with feminine names, for instance, have much worse discipline problems than other children and no one prohibits naming a boy Leslie or any of the other names that have changed from male to female and may now cause issues.

        August 15, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • John

      Yes, I 100% agree. His parents should have given him a proper name like Obediah, or perhaps Algernon or Horatio. He'll certainly be teased relentlessly with a name like Messiah! Pffttt!

      August 15, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • John

      Coming for a person named DOESN'T ANYONE CARE ABOUT THIS CHILD?!!!. no less...

      August 15, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  20. miles

    i just viewed a piece by you that totally went against what you preached in the zimerman case hold your thoughts to murrow

    August 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
    • Athy

      Want to try that again, miles? Maybe use some punctuation and correct spelling this time?

      August 14, 2013 at 11:32 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.