A Tennessee judge ordered a baby's name changed from Messiah to Martin last week, after the boy's parents went to court to fight over their son's last name. The boy's mother, Jaleesa Martin, says she was shocked by the decision and that she'll appeal the judge's order to rename her baby Martin DeShawn McCullough.
"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," says Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, in an interview with Knoxville's WBIR TV.
Ballew said the 7-month-old boy's birth certificate should be changed to reflect both of his parents' names — and omit the name they chose for him. After he was born in January, the boy was named Messiah DeShawn Martin, which his mother said she thought went well with his siblings, Micah and Mason.
His parents had asked the court in Newport, Tenn., to rule only on what the boy's last name should be.
"I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means 'God,' " Jaleesa Martin tells WBIR, "and I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs."
The name Messiah has steadily grown in popularity since 2005. As a check with the Social Security Administration's database of baby names shows, the name was in the top 400 for 2012, after being ranked outside the top 1,000 names in 2004 and earlier years.
According to the SSA, the surge in naming babies Messiah put it fourth on the list of the fastest-growing names in 2012 — just behind Jase. But Judge Ballew says she believes the name could put an unfair burden on the boy later in life.
"I thought out into the future," she tells WBIR, explaining that the name "could put him at odds with a lot of people."
Asked what she thinks of parents who name their child "Jesus," Ballew said, "I thought about that as well. And that's not relevant to this case."
It's unclear what Judge Ballew would have made of the name of God Shammgod, the former pro basketball player who starred in the NCAA Tournament for the Providence College Friars back in 1997.