Messiah or Martin? Baby Naming Conundrum a Question of Constitutional Rights

I’m generally against the idea of a government authority telling parents what they can and cannot name their children, although only a fool would fail to realize the damage that saddling a child with an offensive or unconventional name can cause in his or her life. What do you do when you have a parent who wants to name their child “Adolph Hitler“, “Mafia No Fear“, or in this case, “Messiah”? When questions about free speech and religion become involved, things can get complicated.


An unusual name isn’t always an impediment.

Via NY Times:

Last week, when a Tennessee judge forcibly changed an infant’s name from Messiah to Martin, it was hard to decide which was more noteworthy, the parents’ grandiosity in naming their child for the one they consider their Savior or the judge’s religious zealotry in prohibiting the 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,” said Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

The American Civil Liberties Union has offered to appeal the ruling for the child’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, Tenn., who did not return a phone call. The ruling came in a hearing after Ms. Martin and the baby’s father could not agree on a last name for the boy, but the judge took issue with his first name.

The case of little Messiah — or Martin, for now — raises two interesting questions, one legal and the other religious. Both are trickier than they seem.

Keep reading.

18 Comments on "Messiah or Martin? Baby Naming Conundrum a Question of Constitutional Rights"

  1. AlabamaAnomaly | Aug 18, 2013 at 10:50 am |

    Any bets that the magistrate is planning to run for elective office and is looking for a power base of voters from the local herd of fundamentalists?

    • Anarchy Pony | Aug 18, 2013 at 11:03 am |

      I don’t normally condone gambling, but I’d totally get in on that action.

  2. swabby429 | Aug 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm |

    I say, whatever works. Seriously, I’ve seen mention of an Hispanic girl named Concepción Inmaculada (Immaculate Conception). How about Dweezil or Moon Unit Zappa? I think the most embarassing name was the NASCAR racer’s name, Dick Trickle. I’d say Messiah seems like a fairly tame name. Even Adolf Hitler can be shortened to just Adolf or Addy once the kid attends school.

  3. Hocketeer | Aug 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm |

    Jehovah, Jehovah!

    • Anarchy Pony | Aug 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm |

      “All I said was ‘That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.'”

  4. Calypso_1 | Aug 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

    That the magistrate specifically made statements pertaining to a religious belief & offered them as part of the reasoning for the enforcement should in itself render the order unconstitutional.

    • The horror of a white judge daring to rename a black baby while the parents watch, in some twisted reenactment of what went down in the Antebellum South, is ghastly enough.

      This incident taught me something about myself, though, and it is that I am unbelievably pedantic when it comes to pushy Christian Fundamentalists who have never read their own bible. To wit: Cyrus the Great, Emperor of Persia, is explicitly called the Messiah in Isaiah 45:1-7. And I was mad about that before the race angle even came to mind. I’m still don’t believe for a second that the judge would have done this to two white parents.

      This asshole of a judge fails at basic bible literacy, as well keeping church and state separate and keeping a lid on her contempt for what African American parents name their kids.

  5. DeepCough | Aug 18, 2013 at 3:12 pm |

    And what if the child was named–oh, I dunno–Joshua?

    • unbound55 | Aug 20, 2013 at 6:41 am |

      Sssshhhhhh. Very, very few christians know that their Jesus actually translates to Joshua. You know how allergic christians are to truth…

  6. InfvoCuernos | Aug 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

    This is the loophole the right has been looking for to trim up a large chunk of illegal immigrants- just send back the ones named Jesus or Maria. You’re welcome republicans.

  7. So clearly unconstitutional…this judge should be barred from ever holding any government position.

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