Citing Jesus, Tennessee judge orders change in baby's 'Messiah' name

By Los Angeles Times

A Tennessee woman named her baby Messiah, but she and the boy's father couldn't agree on whose last name he should bear. So they went to court.

Except at a hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Thursday, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew changed Messiah's first name.

"The word Messiah is a title, and it's a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ," the judge told WBIR-TV, a local channel.

The mother, Jaleesa Martin, told WBIR that she and the boy's father had gone to the hearing in eastern Tennessee to argue over the boy's last name. Born Jan. 9, the boy was named Messiah Deshawn Martin, with his mother's last name.

Ballew decided otherwise. The judge renamed him Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parents' names.

The judge explained her decision to WBIR-TV in an interview by citing the area's heavily Christian population.

“It could put him at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is," Ballew said.

Jaleesa Martin rejected that argument. "I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs," Martin told the TV station, adding, “Everybody believes what they want, so I should be able to name my child what I want to name him."

Christianity isn't the only religion that lays claim to the concept of a messiah, and Messiah is an increasingly popular name in the U.S.

According to U.S. Social Security Administration statistics, Messiah was the fourth-fastest-growing name for boys in the U.S. between 2011 and 2012.

In 2012, Messiah was the 387th most common name given to baby boys in the U.S.

Martin said she would continue calling the boy Messiah and would appeal the judge's decision.