ABA Journal



Judge explains why she ordered name change for baby ‘Messiah’: Only Jesus has that title

Aug 12, 2013, 12:05 pm CDT


Just another prime example of a ruling the court has no business making.

By B. McLeod on 2013 08 12, 12:15 pm CDT

Shorter version: first amendment for me, but not for thee.

By Patriot on 2013 08 12, 12:34 pm CDT

The Christian Taliban is alive and well in Tennessee.

One has to wonder if Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew stays awake at night fretting about the daunting task before her of changing the names of all the Jesus's in the Tennessee Latino community.

By Tyrone on 2013 08 12, 12:59 pm CDT

WHAT A JOKE...who has right to tell someone what to name there kid, what happened to separation of church and state.

By dan on 2013 08 12, 1:02 pm CDT

If the parents were feuding over what the name should be, then it does fall to the judge to decide. The judge would have been smarter, I think, to find a non-religious reason for picking the more normal name. "Putting the child at odds" with the population gets closer to the mark, I think. Simply because the name offends the judge's religious values is not enough.

By RecentGrad on 2013 08 12, 1:06 pm CDT

I agree with RecentGrad that this decision was in the best interest of the child.

If the parents had been in agreement then I would vigorously defend their right to name the child Messiah Jesus Christ if they wished. But their dispute was harmful to the child and they brought the matter to court voluntarily.

It may have been more diplomatic to have given the parents a list of suitable names. But if the only way to end the dispute was naming the child by judicial fiat then I have no problem with it.

By W.R.T. on 2013 08 12, 1:50 pm CDT

We all know this will be over-turned on appeal. just another waste of time and money so some religious idiot can praise Jebus.....Amen!

By Messiah Lord God Smith on 2013 08 12, 2:18 pm CDT

It appears the parents had been disputing the "last name" for their son, not his first name. So no, I disagree that the Honorable Judge Crazy Sauce had any legal authority here outside of whether or not to apply a hyphen between the surnames.

By *sigh* on 2013 08 12, 2:35 pm CDT

@ Recent Grad and W. R. T. - the dispute presented to the court was what the child's surname should be - - not his given name.

By Old Lawyer on 2013 08 12, 3:24 pm CDT

Hey Moderator, if #7 is not offensive, what is?

By kennyg on 2013 08 12, 3:25 pm CDT

@kennyg: Religious kOOks trying to run the lives of others. Also, Kenny G.

By tector on 2013 08 12, 5:12 pm CDT

The judge certainly overstepped her authority. Let the kid be named Messiah; after all, who knows if the parents had some divine help in picking the name? I don't think the judge would want to be on the wrong side of THAT situation.

Besides, they could have picked a worse first name, like the first name of an actor with the last name of Reinhold...

By Darwinian Capitalist on 2013 08 12, 5:23 pm CDT

This decision won't stand up on appeal, even though, as others have noted, it is probably in the best interest of the child. Kids get picked on enough as it is; one would hope that the parents would have the good sense not to give their son a name that will almost certainly open him up to ridicule. In many "free" countries the government still reserves the right to disapprove a child's name if it's too unusual, too weird, or too...whatever - but not in the U.S. of A., where we cherish our freedoms, including the freedom to give our children dumb names.

By MrBill on 2013 08 12, 5:32 pm CDT

I hate to think of what the judge would do if the former basketball player named God Shammgod ever entered her courtroom...

By Darwinian Capitalist on 2013 08 12, 5:43 pm CDT

If that Judge thinks "only Jesus had that title" she needs to open a history book.

By David on 2013 08 12, 6:16 pm CDT

Agree with #10 regarding #7

By WMantooth on 2013 08 12, 8:11 pm CDT

Agree with #11 regarding #10.

By Pushkin on 2013 08 12, 8:45 pm CDT

Is the judge now going to change the names of all the kids named "Jesus"?

By mmm on 2013 08 12, 8:56 pm CDT

@18 - we're all a product of our culture, of course. In Spanish-speaking cultures no one bats an eye at Jesus (Hey-Zeus), although a person of Hispanic heritage in an English-speaking society will commonly go by "Jesse".

Now, if an Anglo boy in an English-speaking society were to be named Jesus (Jeezus), he'd likely be mocked relentlessly. Now, I'll admit that here I'm only guessing; I've never known of of an Anglo kid named Jesus.

I DO know of a couple of instances of American children being named Trinity. To me, that's even worse than the parents in the original story. It's plenty grandiose to name your kid after the Savior; but after the Father and the Holy Ghost as well? How often are those children mocked with a sing-songy "God in three persons, blessed Trinity"?

By MrBill on 2013 08 12, 9:13 pm CDT

So now the kid will be known as the one who has the controversial name. Thus the judge did exactly what she claims she was trying to avoid. Of course we all know that is not the real reason for the ruling. I am sure the parents and family will use the original name anyway, and the order will be reversed on appeal.

By Prince George on 2013 08 12, 9:15 pm CDT

Stupid judge, stupid parents.

By Pocahantas on 2013 08 12, 9:21 pm CDT

The king should have cut the child in half, and each parent could name their half as they saw fit.

These various family courts where a judge sits as a sovereign ruler and renders decisions as she sees fit are an abomination. They're the very opposite of what American courts were intended to be. Hiding behind a veil of secrecy to ostensibly protect a family's privacy to avoid a jury rendering a decision results in far too much power for the court, and we know that such absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's not long before judges are telling parents what they can and cannot name their children. And what about the cases where the court takes children from their biological parents and places them with abusive foster parents who kill the children or sexually abuse them? Where is the accountability for these court manufactured tragedies?

By Liberty4Ever on 2013 08 12, 9:34 pm CDT

Next we will see evangelical judges ruling against naming babies "Muhammad" or "Jesus"

More amusingly, it turns out thaat "Messiah" now is one of the most popular bay boys' names in the USA:

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 08 12, 9:40 pm CDT

@23 - more accurate to say it is trending upward faster than almost every boys' name - but it needs to continue that trend in order for it to be eventually counted as truly popular. In terms of overall popularity, the article had it at number 387.

To me "Messiah" (a description of religious significance) is more grandiose-sounding than Jesus or Muhammad (the names of the men themselves). It's like a Muslim family naming their son "God's Last Prophet".

By MrBill on 2013 08 12, 10:26 pm CDT

@14 - while growing up, he used the name Shammgod Wells because he'd been teased about his given name (imagine that!). When he arrived at college, he was told that he'd either have to change his name legally or revert to his given name. Since he didn't have the money for the name change, he reverted to being God Shammgod. He attended Providence College - a Catholic institution - which could legitimately say that God was on their team.

By MrBill on 2013 08 12, 10:33 pm CDT

The good news is that under TN law, since the decision was made by a child support magistrate, EITHER parent has the right to a de novo appeal to have the issue reconsidered by the elected Juvenile Court Judge in that county, and the foolishness of the magistrate will likely be very short-lived. In fact, under TN law, while the magistrate has the legal authority (by statute) to change the child's last name from the mother's last name to the father's last name if the father requests this in a paternity suit and the court finds the change would be in the child's best interest, the statute gives the court no such authority to change the child's first name.

Sounds to me as if the magistrate's order regarding the child's first name would be void as a matter of law.

By Jes Beard on 2013 08 13, 12:05 am CDT

Think #7 should have asked someone who might know.

By B. McLeod on 2013 08 13, 12:47 am CDT

@19 A few weeks ago I had some work at my home done by a contractor whose name was Trinity. I asked him if that was a family name and he told me no. He said his parents were both big fans of the movie “They Call Me Trinity.” I don’t know what is worse, being named after the Deity or being named after a character in a spaghetti western.

By StephenB on 2013 08 13, 4:04 pm CDT

Maybe the judge would have been less upset if the parents had agreed to the nickname "Mess."

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 08 13, 7:49 pm CDT

Terrible name. I think only "regular" names from the calendar should be used. This would prevent unusual and bizarre names. After all this why nicknames are for.
What the judge did is overstepping. With a law on first names, case closed!

By B on 2013 08 13, 10:09 pm CDT

@ everyone who has pointed out the only dispute was the last name - if that is true, and both parents were in agreement about the first name, then I concur that the judge has overstepped the bounds of the dispute and should be reversed. If there was a dispute over the first name, then I think the judge should have been more careful about the reasoning given for the change.

By RecentGrad on 2013 08 14, 6:03 pm CDT

@ 18: Christ is a fairly respected surname in some parts of the country. The judge would probably pop a gusset if she were confronted by a "Jesus H. Christ."

By BMF on 2013 08 16, 4:48 am CDT

If the child had all of the qualifications to be the messiah then the name would be appropriate. Is the child a son of a Jewish woman? can the father trace his lineage to the house of David? Any miracles associated w/ his birth? Anything unusual about the child? Has there been a proper authority to rule on his messiahship?None of these questions were addressed by the judge. And if they were it would be a gross violation of the first amendment's separation of church and state!

By Sababba on 2013 08 16, 10:49 am CDT

Wouldn't the question be, "Can the mother trace her lineage to the house of David"? Because the father of Jesus certainly could not.

By B. McLeod on 2013 08 16, 12:36 pm CDT

Re 34: Which is one of the classic problems with having a gospel trace Joseph's lineage to David, since that same gospel is pretty clear that Joseph is not the father of Jesus.

By T. Ball on 2013 08 16, 12:45 pm CDT

Re judge Lu Lu: What about persons named Madonna, Prince, King, or Judge? Did this judge ever attend an accredited law school?

By Bob F on 2013 08 16, 1:22 pm CDT

This judge would have a major problem in those states which have high Hispanic populations, and in which many young males are named Jesus.

By Keith G on 2013 08 16, 1:56 pm CDT

@27 - Would that be #17?

By Esquite on 2013 08 16, 2:07 pm CDT

The courts have no business deciding what people are to be named. But @3--what a stupid thing to say. You clearly are ignorant of what the Taliban does.

By silencedogood20 on 2013 08 16, 2:28 pm CDT

Comment removed by moderator.

By Patrick on 2013 08 16, 2:29 pm CDT

Surely it the opportunity to work on cases like this that lead so many of our best and brightest to a career in the law.

By Older Guy on 2013 08 16, 2:33 pm CDT

Being at odds with a lot of people might not be that bad. Remember the Johnny Cash song about "A Boy Named Sue?"

By JRBtheLawyer on 2013 08 16, 2:34 pm CDT

Philippians 2:9-11

Just saying .......

By Hugh Palmer on 2013 08 16, 2:37 pm CDT

@26 - true that it's good to have the right for de novo appeal. A shame that they will have to pay a lawyer to get it done.

By Air of Unreality on 2013 08 16, 2:50 pm CDT

That magistrate should be removed for cause. Even non-lawyers know that the judge's comment is a big FU to the first amendment. If that is how she is handling her court, she has no business being on the bench.

By Bruce on 2013 08 16, 2:55 pm CDT

Many years ago there was a custom in the black community to give a boy a title as a first name--like King or Judge or General or Lawyer. I can't say if they did this with girls, but maybe. It may also explain historical last names as first names like "Washington" but again I don;t know this.

The reason? White people would call other whites "Mr. Jones" but referred to black by first names, "James", regardless of his age or position. It was clearly a means of showing less respect to the blacks, even if it became habit/custom without specific ill intention. So when they had to refer ro him as "Judge" rather than "James," or even better, "Judge Smith" the parents had turned the trick back on the whites somewhat.

Just a historical note; no racial agenda intended by this. You see it in the literature from the end of the 19th century and into the twentieth. Next week: why many southern boys back then had last names for first names.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 08 16, 3:03 pm CDT

Tennessee--Bring on the Snake Shakers!

By greyghost on 2013 08 16, 3:27 pm CDT

I read a few comments where people believe the judge's decision to change the child's name is in the child's best interest. Well, who would have thought that a child named Barack Hussein Obama II would grow up to be president of the United States of America. The person makes the name, the name does not make the person. I believe this judge may have some inherent bias, and she may be a candidate for counseling in that regard. I am looking forward to reading the follow up where her decision has been overturned.

By William on 2013 08 16, 3:41 pm CDT

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew serves in Newport TN, which is not too far from Dayton TN. Seems like things have not changed much in that area since 1925.

By buzzflood on 2013 08 16, 3:48 pm CDT

Newport, Tennessee. My father was born there. That explains a lot.

This one will be added to my long list of Newport and the surrounding Cocke County stories.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 08 16, 4:00 pm CDT

The decision isn't as crazy as it sounds. The judge has to decide based on what's best for the child. If the name "Messiah" will subject the child to ridicule, abuse, etc., then the judge can order a different name.

Take a less religiously charged example: Suppose a parent wanted to name their child "F*ck N*gg*rs" or "F*ck Cr*ck*rs"? In either of those cases, I think most people would agree that the court can and should order a name change.

By Steve on 2013 08 16, 4:06 pm CDT

Crazy decision for three reasons. "Messiah" doesn't equate to God or Jesus - it is Hebrew merely for annointed. Further, as a precedent, there are many people who have either a first name or last name based on "Christ", which is not Jesus' last name, but I understand is Greek for annointed. And how about "Joshua" (actually, Y'ho-shu-a), which is Jesus' name in the original Hebrew?

By Alan Ehrlich on 2013 08 16, 4:07 pm CDT

Esquire ran a long article on Newport/Cocke County years ago. I bet the judge's family tree is quite twisted.

By Older Guy on 2013 08 16, 4:12 pm CDT

@51 - Not all speech is protected under the Constitution. For example, there is restrictions on speech that incites people to break the law. Also, the Supreme Court has held that speech creating imminent danger to others is not protected under the First Amendment. Certainly, a name containing a racial epithet may create an imminent danger in a diverse society. Looks like the law has already addressed the types of extreme examples you have listed. Personally, I don't believe the name "Messiah" falls within this category and hopefully the appellate panel will agree.

By William on 2013 08 16, 4:25 pm CDT

I agree with @54 regarding the comment of @51.

A child who was given one of the alternate names suggested by @51 would undoubtedly suffer ridicule, and probably much worse. Just about all children suffer some level of abuse at the hands of other children. I can't imagine a child would suffer a higher level of abuse because of the name 'Messiah'.

The judge did not limit herself to saying that the child might suffer ridicule. She stated as a fact (in her mind) that Jesus Christ is the one and only Messiah. She very clearly revealed that her decision was based on her personal religious beliefs.

By buzzflood on 2013 08 16, 5:04 pm CDT

I think the mother naming her child "Messiah" was a lot more "there" than the one who was dissuaded by the hospital nurse from naming her child "Syphilis" (pronounced "Seefielus") She said she just loved how the name sounded. (By the way, this is not fiction. It really happened.)

By AAA on 2013 08 16, 5:32 pm CDT

@56 - that's worse than "Toilette" (pronounced Twa-lette). (An actual name of someone whose personnel records I had occasion to review years ago.)

By MrBill on 2013 08 16, 6:31 pm CDT

I have a similarly restrictive take on the surname "Ballew." In my mind, it should only be used by someone named "Cat."

By Mike Appleton on 2013 08 16, 7:49 pm CDT

While "it's in the best interests of the child" would certainly have been a more sympathetic explanation than the obviously unconstitutional religious explanation, to me it is wrong either way; no matter how sympathetic, I just don't think the state should get involved here any more than in the NJ case where the couple named their kid Adolf Hitler Campbell. Too slippery of a slope; we have enough gov't overreach already.

Having said that, it is truly sad all around when such stupid people breed.

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 08 16, 8:54 pm CDT

I had a problem years ago with a Tennessee state agency attorney trying to tell me how I could sign my name. He acquiesced. In Tennessee we have a very high content of calcium carbonate in our water. This sometimes causes the neurons in the brains of those who are public servants to short circuit. Not to worry because they are usually quickly rehabilitated. I can only hope this is true of the magistrate under discussion. In the meantime, I am naming my new offspring Bubba Budda.

By Chester Butler on 2013 08 16, 10:11 pm CDT

I want to ask my friend Jesus Gonzalez if someone else can take his title away. Oh, and i want to ask my Jewish friend Moshiach (Hebrew for Messiah) Cohen (Hebrew for Priest) if somebody can use his name in english.

In response to #6 with the following comment: "It may have been more diplomatic to have given the parents a list of suitable names. But if the only way to end the dispute was naming the child by judicial fiat then I have no problem with it." He is flaunting the fact that he is a "Recent Grad" [sic].

By NY Lawyer on 2013 08 16, 10:34 pm CDT

It's ridiculous to say that a Judge gets to decide what's best for the child.

At the very least, a judge gets to pick which parent's views make more sense. But banning the 4th most popular trending name? Sounds too much like Germany, where personal possession of swastikas is illegal.

If one parent would like to name a son "Christian" because he likes the name, or even because he likes the aspirational implications, and the other parent argues that it "could put him at odds with a lot of people," could the judge legitimately decide the case on that basis? I don't think so. In a culturally-diverse city? I still don't think so.
Perhaps a judge should have to fashion an outcome when a parental dispute is intractable (if that's what state law requires/permits a judge to do about naming, which I rather doubt), but not on the basis of bully-phobia or pandering to public prejudice.

By Avon on 2013 08 17, 12:09 am CDT

What's the big deal about Jesus? We all know he was only the seventh child of the Divinity. Before him were Aysus, Beesus, Seasus, Deesus, Eassuse, and Efsus (credit to Eddie Izzard).

By Jim on 2013 08 17, 12:47 am CDT

Reminds me of the fact that Joshua judges Ruth.

By Jim on 2013 08 17, 12:49 am CDT

Tyce, Jaden, and Brycelyn are actually common baby names today (heaven help us), and this judge singles out the really-not-so-horrible Messiah. She was practically begging for unflattering news coverage.

By jurisimprudence on 2013 08 17, 4:44 pm CDT

Can't see the difference it makes as to whether the dispute was over his given name or surname... Reminds me of the Venezuelan court decision denying the naming of a child Canonero, after the 1971 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner.

By Clay Thomas on 2013 08 17, 10:33 pm CDT

Well at least her ruling was based entirely on legal principles and not on religion.

By Adamius on 2013 08 20, 9:16 pm CDT

Another example of why every judicial decision should be accompanied by a written opinion! Would love to read the reasoning that differentiates gods and their offspring (i.e., Jesus, Siva, Perseus, etc.) from second-tier divinities like saints and demons.

Nothing short of disbarment will set this right.

By Casefiler on 2013 08 22, 11:14 am CDT

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