Aug. 13, 2013 at 9:57 AM ET
A Tennessee woman is vowing to keep calling her infant “Messiah” in a case that has legal experts puzzled and many parents wondering how far the government can go in deciding what they can call their babies.
“I refuse to call my child Martin. His name is Messiah,” Jaleesa Martin said. “If I have to do what I have to do for my child and my rights, then I will.”
NBC station WBIR reported that Martin and the father of the 7-month-old went to a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court because they could not agree on his surname. But Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew decided Thursday that the baby, Messiah DeShawn Martin, should be renamed “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,” Ballew said, according to WBIR-TV.
She said she made the decision in the best interests of the child, but observers predicted it’s not likely her order will hold.
“I think this judge is going to have to revise her decision,” said Randall Kessler, a family law expert. “It’ll probably go before her to give her a chance to correct her own mistake.”
An appeal has been scheduled for next month.
Martin said her two older children are named Micah and Mason and she was simply continuing the pattern of naming her kids with a name that starts with an M.
“I wanted to keep my ‘M’s’ going,” she said.
While it might not be the first choice for most moms and dads, “Messiah” is not even that rare of a baby name and it’s been gaining momentum in recent years. The moniker ranked at No. 387 on the Social Security Administration’s list of the most popular baby names in 2012, up from No. 904 in 2005. (Jacob topped the list of most popular boys’ names last year.)
Of course, when it comes to baby names, there seems to be no limit to parents’ creativity and taste. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have named their baby daughter North West, Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter goes by Apple and guitarist Frank Zappa famously named his daughter Moon Unit.
Some unusual names at the bottom of the Social Security Administration’s list last year included Ikea, Vegas and Vader.
Online database Nameberry.com recently reported that Katniss and Django are getting lots of attention from new parents looking for baby names.
So can the courts dictate what you call your child?
While the U.S. does not legislate baby name choices, some countries do maintain lists of banned names. In New Zealand, for example, you can’t name a child King, Queen, Saint or Duke or a number of other monikers.