A judge in Tennessee has ordered the name of a 7-month-old baby to be changed from Messiah to Martin, ruling that the religious context of the name was "earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ."
Lu Ann Ballew, a Child Support Magistrate, ordered that the child, originally named "Messiah DeShawn Martin," should be renamed "Martin DeShawn McCullough" on Thursday. The parents of the child initially went to a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court in Tennessee because they could not agree on his last name, but Ballew ordered their son's name to include both parents' last names.
“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,” Ballew said, explaining that the final name was in the best interest of the child, according to NBC affiliate WBIR-TV.
“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,” the judge said.
Ballew pointed out concerns that the name "Messiah" had the potential to cause problems if the child was raised in Cocke county, a largely Christian population. This was the first time Ballew has ordered a first name change.
"Parents, not the government, have the right to name their child," said Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "While the judge certainly has the right to her religious beliefs, she cannot impose her faith on those who appear before her in her courtroom. Selecting your child's name is a very personal and private decision that belongs to the parents and not to a Judge whose decision is driven by her religious faith."
The baby's mother, Jaleesa Martin, told WBIR on Sunday that she plans to appeal the decision. “I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God and I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs,” she said. Martin added she wanted to give her son a unique name, along with her two other children, Micah and Mason.
“Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else,” she said.
The appeal will go before the Cocke County chancellor on Sept. 17.