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Judge's Disapproval of 'Messiah' Baby Name Craze Raises Interesting Questions

(UPDATED) New ruling means Tennessee baby once again has one of 2012's most-popular names.

Update (Sept. 18): A Tennessee baby will once again be named Messiah after a court prohibition against the moniker was overturned.

Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. said Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate, overstepped the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution last month when she ordered the baby's name be changed to "Martin DeShawn McCollough." The purpose of bringing the child to court was to determine only his last name, ruled Forgety.


Update (Aug. 21): The growing controversy over a Tennessee judge's decision to change a baby's name from Messiah to Martin (more details below) has unexpectedly united two often-opposing forces: the American Family Association (AFA) and the American Civil Liberties Union. The AFA's Tim Wildmon told ABC News that the group agrees Jesus Christ is the only Messiah but disagrees with judges having control over what parents name their children.

Meanwhile, The New York Times notes the ruling "raises two interesting questions—one legal and the other religious. Both are trickier than they seem."

Writes Mark Oppenheimer:

"Last year, there were 762 American baby boys given the name Messiah, putting it right between old standbys Scott and Jay for popularity, according to the Social Security Administration database. As currently formulated, the magistrate's reasoning would be a problem not only for all of them, but also for all the Americans, primarily of Hispanic ancestry, who have named their sons Jesus. There were 3,758 Americans given the name Jesus last year, putting it way ahead of Messiah."

The Los Angeles Times also notes an interesting legal analysis of parental naming rights and current problems.

CT previously noted the failed attempt by a New York couple to change their last name to ChristIsKing.


Update (Aug. 12): As it turns out, New Zealand isn't the only place to frown upon use of the name "Messiah." One 7-month-old baby in Tennessee is sporting a new name—"Martin"—after a judge ruled that his previous name, "Messiah," was unacceptable. According to the Associated Press, the child support magistrate changed the child's name because his previous, religious name was earned by one person and "that one person is Jesus Christ."

Local media report that the child's mother is appealing the court's decision. Meanwhile, a Christian baby name expert tells RNS it might be "a lot to live up to."


Update (May 13, 2013): Reuters reports that the newly released list of most commonly used baby names includes some unlikely contenders–"less traditional, but more attention-grabbing names. Messiah was the fourth fastest-growing name for boys, rising to 387th in 2012 from the 633th spot in 2011, according to the [U.S. Social Security Administration]."

But New Zealand won't be seeing a greater number of "Messiahs" running around. The island nation has banned use of the name "Messiah," along with other biblical picks "Lucifer" and "Christ."


[First published May 17, 2012, under title, "Top Baby Names Reflect Old–Not New–Testament"]

The list of most-popular names for babies born in 2011 has been released by the Social Security Administration, and the parsing has begun.

Four of the top ten names for both boys and girls have biblical roots, notes the Washington Post. Popular biblical names have shifted from the New Testament to the Old Testament, "baby name wizard" Laura Wattenberg told the Associated Press.

CT recently charted trends in biblical names and examined whether giving children biblical names enhances their spiritual development.

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