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. Principaldad

    Obviously, even judges can be dim. The term Messiah HAS been applied to others in history. Jesus has been by far the most accepted one, and the one accepted by the Christian faiths. However, the term does not originate in Christianity. Outside of Christianity, others have been considered through history, and the term has been applied to them by their supporters. The judge needs to understand her history before making such pronouncements.

    Aside from that, it is a common name in the US, with hundreds of children being given the name each year. It is in line with many other common religious names, such as Emmanuel, Jesus, etc. Virtually all names "mean something", but not all parents pick a name for the meaning. Many just pick a name that they feel sounds pleasing. That is the apparent case here, and no judge has any right to impose religious restrictions on that.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  2. ME II

    Apparently odd names is nothing new:


    August 14, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • truthprevails1

      My niece is Autumn Rayne. I have another niece named after the outlaw Jessie James, except her middle name is Jane. Odd names aren't new...part of the joy of being a parent is getting to pick out the name...it's the one right the government can't take away as a rule.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:41 am |
      • hharri

        I Am Hipp was an outstanding football player

        August 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  3. Jesus Gutierrez

    This judge would throw a rod if she ever meets a Mexican-American named Jesus.

    Could she send Jesus to jail for DWI? What about fining Mary and Joseph for doing carpentry work without a building permit?

    "Judge" Lu Ann Ballew really stepped in it. Now she is going to prompt lots of others to name their kids the same. Some European countries have official name lists. You have to pick a name from the list or get permission to deviate. It's hard to legislate against bad taste.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Vic

      Actually if you watch the news report video in the previous article, judge Ballew answered the question about "Jesus" for a first name with "That's not relevant to this case." So, from what it sounds like, it not just a mere sentiment.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:43 am |
      • G to the T

        Doesn't mean she was correct in that assessment. If anything, it holds to light the double-standard she was applying.

        August 14, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • truthprevails1

        If I'm understanding this judge or reading in to this correctly, it would appear that she is rising the level of the name here. She stated that only one person had earned that title and that that person was Jesus. She was separating the two. It's like saying Queen Elizabeth...in this case it is Messiah Jesus.
        Regardless of her intention and meanings, she is violating this couples rights.

        August 14, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  4. roe

    This is the place we call home. How upsetting.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  5. danfitzger

    Brilliant. This judge actually found a way to offend both conservatives and liberals. Overstepped the limits of her position and legislated from the bench to protect people from being offended while also including religious beliefs in her decision and trying to impose her cultural values on people she sees as different. How did she ever become a judge in the first place?

    August 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Judge Mama June

      You will respect my athoritay!!

      August 14, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  6. Moon Unit Dweezil Blue Ivy...Smith

    I read that Sweden or Switzerland or somewhere has an list from which your baby's name must be approved or denied. This is a very dangerous precedent the Judge is setting.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • ME II


      August 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • Moon Unit Dweezil Blue Ivy...Smith


        August 14, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Vic


      August 14, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • ME II

        FYI this is a reprint of the article referenced above.

        August 14, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  7. Honey Badger Don't Care

    The mom is cute. In a strip per sort of way.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  8. benji

    I wouldn't change the name. This judge is another "self-righteous Christian" who cherry picks what they want to "preach" about.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  9. The Jester

    Further proof that American judges are drunk with power. So, I have decided that Judge Ballew must change her name to White Christian Fascist.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  10. Ann

    Beyond the first name change... why did the judge force them to change the baby's last name to the father's? I mean especially if the mother and father are unmarried. The mother should have every right to have the baby's last name be her own.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Kianasmum

      That's incredible. I can't believe that this is even an issue. If unmarried, a child should be able to carry the primary caregiver's last name – in this case the mother's, if the primary caregiver so chooses. As for the Judge picking the first name, she should be disbarred since she clearly lacks the ability to keep her church out of state decisions. So many American children have been given the name Messiah already. There are thousands of others in America named Jesus as well. This should be a non-issue.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Thinker...

      Probably has something to do with the father being required to pay child support. There is probably something in Tenn. law that would allow it. Personally if I was the father I would be fine with the kid keeping the mother's name. It just doesn't seem like something worth going to court for.

      August 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      The article said something about the mother not giving ANY last name.

      August 14, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  11. Wowza

    So does that many all the hispanic people in the world cant be named Jesus?

    August 14, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • Closet Atheist

      "places an undue burden".... lol

      August 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  12. Johnny

    I think a better headline for this article would have been: "Judge finds self in hole, keeps digging"

    August 14, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Judge Mama June

      Throw me that dang rope!

      August 14, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  13. Ishmael

    heck, I love it.... they should have named it Black Messiah.... even more powerful...

    August 14, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  14. fireitup

    This is just a big bunch of nonsense. That judge is overstepping her duties and she needs to be removed. The day we have anyone telling anyone what they may or may not name their babies is the day we all relinquish all of our rights.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  15. Vic

    For the record, "Messiah" means "Christ" which means "Anointed One" as opposed to the news report interpretation of it as "God."

    August 14, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • fireitup

      That is not the point, the point is that A person has taken offense to the name which is not their decision to make. If some idiot chose to name their kid Sirhan Sirhan, that is still not the judge's decision to make.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • Vic

        A judge may see to disqualifying a name of an assassin, especially that the family of the victim is high profile!

        August 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • BRC

      For the record, a messiah is a savior, of which christianity considers Jesus to be one.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
      • Vic

        That would be Jesus.

        Literal Translations:

        Jesus means "God Who Saves" or "Savior God"

        Messiah means "Christ" or "Anointed One"

        Jesus Christ "Savior God Messiah"

        August 14, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • BRC

          You can say that all you want, and if you only read the newer half of the Bible that's fine, but you're factually incorrect. The Torah and Old Testament describe and list messiahs before either the words Christ or Jesus were ever brought up. Christianity says that Christ is THE Messaih, but they were NOT the first ones to se the word and they do not own it.

          August 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  16. John Vance

    I'm guessing this judge's order won't stand. I'm not religious but I don't think I would have paid any attention to this name other than thinking it was unusual.

    August 14, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  17. john

    Fascist judge you can name your kid whatever you want to, satan, hitler, daffy duck its nobody business but yours and when your kid grows up and slaps you silly for doing it...

    August 14, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  18. Eric

    Separation of church and state?

    August 14, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • Vic

      In a way you can't if you want to legally register this name, "Messiah," with the state! The mother is combining the "Church and State" in this case, I guess. Just a thought.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • ME II

        Individuals are free to combine what they like. They are free to pray in the election booth, read a Bible in school, etc. The state however is not allowed to endorse it.
        I would have thought that you understood that by now.

        August 14, 2013 at 10:21 am |
        • Vic

          I sure do. In the mean time, this very well could be a case of "first impression" that would require a lot of "brain storming" to figure out!

          August 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
        • ME II

          You're making less and less sense these days.

          August 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
      • snowboarder

        messiah is just a word. it necessitates no more meaning than the parents intended.

        August 14, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  19. Marinela

    I'm a atheist and the judge is imposing her religious belief ! As long as the name is not a cursing or offensive word the parents can choose the name that the want for their kids! Even if the name is God, Ala , Mesiah, Perseus ,Jesus. The judge abuse her power and should be banned to be a judge!

    August 14, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • RabiaDiluvio

      agreed. This is not the business of a judge to decide that a baby cannot wear that name. If it offends her for religious reasons, she can get over it. That child can be named Jesus, Prophet, Messiah, Crumbcake, GeneralPatton, Rainbowbrite or anything else as long as it isn't an obscene or vulgar word. I think the parents are a little silly for WANTING to name a baby Messiah, but it isn't my place or that judge's place to prevent it.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • JAMTX

      I agree. I am Baptist and although I think that name is ridiculous(for ME) it should not matter in a court of law what she names her child assuming it wouldn't be asshat, "f" face or any derrogatory words....The judge is completely wrong.
      And even though I find the name ridiculous...it is her perogative it is none of my or anyone elses business.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  20. Valarie

    Than you would also have to go after everyone in Hollywood. They have some crazy ass names for there kids. As do a lot of people around the country. I do not believe that the Judge should have been allowed to do what she did.

    August 14, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa shall henceforth be referred to as "Dan" and "Mary".
      Failure to comply will result in a fine and/or up to 6 months in jail.

      August 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |
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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.