Tennessee magistrate won’t let parents name their child Messiah

Recently, a couple brought their child to a magistrate in Tennessee to decide on a last name for him. The magistrate decided to change the child’s first name to his mother’s last name, and give him the father’s last name. The big problem is that the child’s name was Messiah, which is actually up and coming in popularity, and the magistrate’s reasoning was:

“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,” said Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

There’s a lot wrong with this whole situation. Most people are focusing on the judicial overreach, which seems obvious. But it has been pointed out that New York courts did something similar for a different reason. A couple wanted to name their child ChristIsKing and the judge found:

“A calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out, ‘JesusIsLord ChristIsKing’ or ‘Rejoice ChristIsKing,’ ” wrote Judge Philip S. Straniere, of Richmond County. He was alluding to the daughter’s first name, Rejoice, and a name they had sought for their son, although no court would allow them to change it to “JesusIsLord.”

Hmm. Does this apply to Messiah? What if the magistrate had said that calling the boy Messiah meant that Jewish people, who don’t believe their Messiah has shown up yet, would find it painful to have to address this eventual adult as “Messiah”? What if she’d argued that atheists and others who don’t believe in any messiah would find it offensive? Would that make it any better?

The magistrate claimed that the name would expose the child to bullying, and that’s a typical argument when, say, the grandparents are suing the parents to change the name of the poor child. In that type of case, an interested party is arguing on behalf of the child. But no one was doing that here – the magistrate took it upon herself.

One thing no one’s mentioned in this case (that I’ve seen) is racism. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the judge is white, and her actions strike me as paternalistic – the Great White Savior rescuing the poor hapless black boy from the foolishness of his parents. Granted, it doesn’t bode well that this particular couple needed to go to court to decide on a last name for their baby, but it’s hard to imagine a judge dealing with a middle class white couple the same way. (Poor whites, maybe – middle class whites hate poor whites for various reasons.)

What do you think?


  1. SunlessNick says

    I have seen racism brought up, but not in a paternalism way – rather in the way that a white authority figure arbitrarily renaming a black child has certain historical parallels.

    Also, the judge is factually wrong. More than one person has earned the title of messiah, including at least one – Cyrus the Great – for whom that’s a matter of historical record.

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