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.
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.