Judge Decides Only One Person Can Be Named ‘Messiah,’ and It’s Not This Baby in Tennessee

The baby’s mother plans to appeal the decision

Messiah’s birth certificate (not pictured) will have to be updated if the judge gets her way.
Messiah’s birth certificate (not pictured) will have to be updated if the judge gets her way. AnnieCatBlue

In Virginia, apparently, judges can arbitrarily order a baby’s first name to be changed if the name doesn’t bode well with their personal belief system. Parents brought a seven-month-old baby named Messiah into court over a dispute over the infant’s last name, but the little boy wound up leaving with both a first and last name change. The judge there decided that “Messiah” belongs to one person alone, ABC reports, and ”that one person is Jesus Christ.” ‘Martin,’ the judge ordained, would be a more suitable moniker for the baby.

Ballew said the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population.

“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 said.

“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.

The baby’s mother, however, does have a choice in what her child’s name is. Not surprisingly, she was less than pleased about the surprise name swap, and she says she plans to appeal the decision. She’ll probably have help, if she wants it—the ACLU has already said its staff is reaching out to offer assistance. USATODAY:

Hedy Weinberg, of the ACLU of Tennessee, said Ballew is free to hold religious beliefs, but that faith should remain private.

“She does not have the right to impose that faith on others,” said Weinberg. “And that is what she did.”

Bellew told “Martin’s” parents they would have to make the official name change on their son’s birth certificate, WBIR reports.
According to the Social Security Administration, “Messiah” ranked as the 337th most popular baby name in 2012. Jesus, on the other hand, was the 101st most popular name for that year, and around 240,000 people in the U.S. currently share that name. Messiah has been growing in popularity, too: in 2012, it was fourth on the list of fast-growing names for boys, the SSA said. There are other fast-growing names that one could also argue were titles first: the seventh name on the list is “King,” and the first is “Major.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah
Babies Start Learning Language in the Womb