Messiah: What’s in a name?

” I have not come to bring peace, but the sword…and the noms”

Recently, a Tennessee magistrate in a case involving what a child’s last name should be, overstepped not only the bounds of the actual case she was presented with but also the separation of church and state.  Let’s pick up the story from NPR:

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.

There are so many problems here I don’t know where to begin.  The least of which is naming your kid Messiah.  First of all, the dispute was about the kid’s last name, not his first name.  Secondly, judges don’t get to impose whatever first name they want on another person’s child no matter how offended they might be. Thirdly, the United States is pretty liberal about what you can name a child. It varies a bit from state to state but Tennessee common law has very little to say about what you can and can’t name a child. So when the judge talks about protecting the child since it’s growing up in a county with a large Christian population, that is nonsense. Worse than nonsense, it betrays anything resembling legal reasoning. Furthermore, it showcases the magistrate’s religious bias. No more so than when the judge trotted out this little ditty:

“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.

And now it all becomes clear. The magistrate, a good and proper Christian woman that she is, was personally offended that Ms. Martin dared to name her son Messiah. For you see there is only one Messiah. Religious bias, any bias really is fine. We all have them. But the job of a magistrate is to put aside any personal biases and rule based on legal principals and precedent. Deciding you don’t like a name because it offends you religious sensibilities and then reverse engineering a rationale based on a kid living in a Christian community and not being the son of God doesn’t pass the laugh test. I’m fairly certain if the kid’s name was Major McCullough she wouldn’t have ruled that the baby is too young to enlist in the Army. Therefore he hadn’t earned the title. What about several family members of mine who are named Jesus?  How about names from different faiths?  That is a Christian county after all. If his name was Muhammed McCullough, shouldn’t you change it that too? Surely being named after the Islamic prophet might “put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”

Look, I hate to have to tell a magistrate in Tennessee this but: This is America. Not New Zealand where you can’t name your kid something that might offend “reasonable” people or Japan where you must sift through a list of 7000 acceptable names. I grew up with two kids on my block named “Unique” and “Superior.” Is that ridiculous? Of course. But in a free society we must put up with a certain amount of ridiculousness so we can enjoy other freedoms. We live in a world where you can name children after fruit like Gweneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple or whatever the hell Frank Zappa’s kid Moon Unit was supposed to signify. Worse yet, even wannabe Nazis like the Campbells of New Jersey have naming rights. But that’s the way it goes despite the fact that these Mensa candidates named their kids “cute” names like Adolph Hitler and Aryan Nation. Messiah, in addition to being one of the fastest growing names for boys, is also small potatoes compared to perhaps the most offensive names in living memory. Just because you find something personally distasteful doesn’t mean its illegal.  Freedom isn’t always pretty. But once again, this is America.

That’s why the case is being appealed, and hopefully the ruling will be overturned, so that little Messiah can get on with the important work of ministering to his teething rings — without judicial interference.

Categories: Politics Fix

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