NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge's decision to change a baby's first name from Messiah to Martin is drawing strong reactions.
Thousands of people have commented online about the judge's order since WBIR-TV published its story. Many of them said Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew went too far, but not all.
“I agree 100 percent that we only have one messiah and that's Jesus Christ,” said Edith Wood, who lives in Cocke County, in eastern Tennessee, where the boy lives.
The hubbub started when the boy's mother sought an order to establish paternity. It included a request for the judge to determine the child's last name.
When Ballew heard Messiah's first name, she decided it, too, should be changed, saying the child could face problems with the name Messiah.
The name on his birth certificate was Messiah DeShawn Martin. The judge changed it to Martin DeShawn McCullough, giving the boy his father's last name and replacing Messiah with his mother's surname.
“The word messiah is a title, and it's a title has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew told WBIR-TV in an interview from her office, with a ceramic figurine of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus on her desk.
While Messiah may not be a traditional English name, it is becoming more popular. Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, just ahead of King but behind Major at No. 1, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.
The ACLU, citing possible First Amendment violations, has offered to help the parents fight the judge's decision.
The baby's mother, Jaleesa Martin, told WBIR-TV she chose the name Messiah because she likes the way it sounds and thinks it goes well with the names of her other sons, Micah and Mason. She said she's appealing the decision and in the meantime will call her son Messiah.
“I never intended on that — naming my son Messiah because it means God,” she said. “And I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs.”