What’s in a name? According to a Tennessee judge last week, there’s plenty in a name and she felt she had the authority and duty to make one woman change her seven-month olds’ first name because apparently he had not earned it.

Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate serving the 4th Judicial District of Tennessee, was brought into a battle between parents who had no problems with the baby’s first name being Messiah. Instead, the two asked Judge Ballew to settle a dispute over the child’s last name.

However, Messiah’s mother said in a taped interview that she was shocked when the judge ordered her to change her baby’s first name.

In a taped interview, Ballew said, “Messiah is only a title, and it is a title that has only been earned by one person and that person is Jesus Christ.”

This is a clear abuse of power as this judge took it upon herself to interject personal religious beliefs into a case that she had no business making such a decision. 

The judge further stated she felt like she was doing young Messiah a duty by saving him from later heartache he would suffer by being raised in a largely-Christian community.

Maybe the judge is right. Young Messiah might be picked on, or judged by other children or adults raising their eyebrows to his parent’s choice of name. However, it’s not for the judge to decide.

Who knows, Messiah may struggle to get a job in the future because Messiah on a job application might make human resources flip to the next applicant. The possible ramifications of his mother’s decision may be endless, but again, it’s not for this judge or any other to decide.

What the overreaching judge might not have realized is Messiah is actually growing in popularity. According to the Social Security Administration’s annual list of the 1,000 most popular names, in 2011 Messiah ranked 633rd. In 2012, it was the 387th most popular name among baby boys.

Needless to say, Judge Ballew’s ruling has already been appealed and has gained national attention over whether or not she has the right to even look at the baby’s first name when mom and dad were fighting over what his last name should be.

Ballew’s order says the mother must change the birth certificate to say her son’s official name is “Martin DeShawn McCullough”. In all likelihood, the ruling will be overturned in a higher court where a judge uses the letter of the law to rule, rather than a religious belief that while it should be respected, it should not interjected into the court system.

In the end, it will be a total waste of taxpayer dollars and the court’s time.

For me, I look at the rights issue. With a baby boy due in October, I have tossed out the name Milton. Some may laugh, but it’s a name I like. While my husband has used his veto power over the name, never in a million years do I believe the government would have the right to step in and say “no”.

Let’s face it, if Milton were to be chosen and placed on his birth certificate, some joke he’ll be picked on, or beat up because of it. However, that’s the consequence I and his father would have to deal with. Maybe he’ll end up hating us, maybe he’ll change it as soon as he legally can. Maybe human resources might not be excited to hire a Milton Grimes. Who knows, maybe he would like it. Either way, it’s not up to a judge to decide any baby’s first name unless, of course, it is their own child.

(1) comment

John Flanagan

It is amazing, isn't it? Judges can make wrong decisions, as this was one of them. Some people have the book thrown at them far beyond the nature of the crime, while others who do far worse get special treatment. There are injustices built into our legal system. For this reason I recoil when some lawyer or TV pundit will say, " We have
the greatest legal system in the world." No, we do not have a system where defendants in some countries are tried and convicted on scanty evidence, then taken out and shot. Yes, we do have trials with juries, due process, evidence presentation......but these things are regularly corrupted by lawyers, prosecutors, and juries. The allowance of some evidence and the suppression of other evidence can also effect the outcome of trials.
If this mother were to name her baby a pejorative word like "Meathead"(after his father, of course), or "Dummy", then I could almost agree with the Judge, but the name "Messiah" or "Jesus" ( a common Hispanic first name in some Latino cultures), then why couldn't this judge just leave this poor woman alone? I suppose a good Appelate court might reverse it. Our legal system is decidedly imperfect and we, as citizens, must monitor it and speak out when abuses take place. It is our responsibility to do so often.

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