Yahoo News Service is reporting on a Tennessee story broken by Knoxville’s WBIR-TV Channel 10. In Newport, TN Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ruled that a 7 month old child’s name be changed from “Messiah” to “Martin.“
The child’s parents were in court because they could not agree on a last name for their son. They are not married and the name was such a point of contention that they ended up in court over it. But when Ballew found out the child’s first name, she forced a change there, too. Per Judge Ballew, the child’s name will be Martin DeShawn McCullough. The assigned name incorporates the last names of both parents.
Ballew made the change, the only first name she has ever ordered changed, because:
“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,” Judge Ballew said. …
She said the decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a county with a large Christian population.
“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,” Judge Ballew said.
I share the Judge’s opinions but despise the actions they produced.
Concern over how the name will be perceived may be overblown. The name Messiah broke into the top 1000 names for US males about a decade ago and is currently the 387th most popular name on that list.
Certainly in some portions of our nation having such a name will cause trouble. But that is true if your name is Hussein or Saddam or Mohammed, too. There are American children with those names. Should we unilaterally change them because they might be problematic? No, we should not.
Only Jesus earned the title “Messiah.”
Naming your child “Messiah” is not the same as saying he has earned the title. In fact, in some circles, a name with a strong meaning is a strong argument for the name. My children are all named after specific biblical characters or concepts (we have a daughter named Grace) for precisely that reason.
We have a history of using titles for names. Fox News and CBS News White House correspondent Major Garrett and actor Judge Reinhold immediately come to mind.
Judge Ballew’s ruling seems to be one of those with great intent and horribly flawed execution. Regardless of her personal feelings about the name; regardless of her concern for the child’s future experiences having such a name – there is nothing at all legal or proper in her decision to force the change.
At the end of the day, she appears to be forcing her own opinions and values on the family. This sort of over reach by government is precisely what our founding documents were written to prevent.
The liberty to make one’s own choices and decisions implicitly carries with it the liberty to make bad choices and decisions. It is not the job of the government in general or the courts in specific to force us to make good choices. It is their job to punish those who violate the rights of others when they make bad ones.
Thus, it would be appropriate for Judge Ballew to throw the book at anyone bullying Messiah for having the name that he does. It is highly inappropriate for the Judge to attempt to prevent perceived and potential bullying – hypothetical bullying – with an anything but hypothetical ruling.
In fact, for the very same reasons Judge Ballew suggests Messiah’s name be changed, her ruling should be overturned in the appeal filed by the child’s mother.
There is no authority to which the Judge can appeal for this ruling – it has not been earned, as it were. Further, the Judge has put herself at odds with a lot of people, especially in a country with a large population which still value the individual liberty recognized in our founding documents.
In a variation of the way we used to say it when I was a kid, “I may disagree with your choice of name for your child. But I will defend to the death your right to make it!”