If you’re not familiar with Martin DeShawn McCullough, don’t feel bad. He’s just seven months old, lives in East Tennessee and doesn’t do a lot of communicating yet. Besides, he’s probably busy learning to walk, trying to talk and adjusting to his new name.
Last week, his first name was Messiah, and he was caught in a dispute between his mom and dad over his name. Not his first name; his last name. So the three of them ended up before Lu Ann Ballew, a Cocke County child support magistrate. Judge Ballew ruled that Messiah’s last name should be a combination of his parents’ last names —DeShawn and McCullough. That seems reasonable.
But she also ruled that Messiah could no longer be named Messiah because he wasn’t THE Messiah. “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,” she said. For good measure, she added, “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.” So, over the objections of his parents, she named him Martin.
Martin is certainly an honorable name, but stripping the little kid of the name Messiah because it offended the judge’s Christian sensibilities was arrogant, asinine and perhaps even unconstitutional.
Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the University of California-Davis, put it well to a Los Angeles Times reporter: “This kid can’t be a Messiah because the Messiah is Jesus Christ? Judges don’t get to make pronouncements from the bench on who is the Messiah and who is not. They’re prohibited from that.”
Judge Ballew might not be aware that there is more than one Messiah. In fact, there are lots of them. According to the Social Security Administration, which keeps tabs on what children are named, Messiah in 2012 became the fourth fastest rising baby name. There are plenty of Jesuses as well, though they’re usually pronounced Hay-seus.
Messiah’s mother, Jaleesa DeShawn, plans to appeal, and she’s got the ACLU in her corner. When she named Messiah, she was thinking like a mother, and liked the way Messiah blended with the names of her other two sons, Micah and Mason.
But she was speaking for people of many faiths when she said, “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.”