Jaleesa Martin and the father of her 7-month-old-baby boy, Messiah, could not agree on a last name. But when they went to a child support hearing in Cocke County, Tenn., last week, they got a decision they didn’t expect and hadn’t even asked for.
Not only did child support referee Lu Ann Ballew decide the child’s last name, but she took it upon herself to change his first name as well, from “Messiah” to “Martin.” Henceforth, the boy would be known as “Martin DeShawn McCullough,” giving him the mother’s last name as his first name and decreeing that he have the father’s last name.
Apparently, naming a child “Messiah” offended the judge’s religious sensibilities.
“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. She contended that the child might have problems growing up with a name like “Messiah” in Tennessee, adding: “It could put him at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”
Asked what the difference was between calling a child Messiah and calling him Jesus, as many Latinos do, Ballew told a reporter she’d thought about that and decided that it “wasn’t relevant to the discussion.” The judge was apparently relying on the ancient legal maxim Claude os tuum, ratio est. (“Because shut up, that’s why.”)
Jaleesa Martin will be appealing the judge’s decision.
Look, I’ve lived my entire life with a name that could most charitably be described as unusual. I’ve heard every lame joke that could be made about my name. I have, for example, developed a deep and abiding distaste for that John Denver song “Country Roads,” thanks to the legions of supposed wits who think it’s the most original thing ever to miss-sing the lyrics as “Dusty Rhoades, take me home....”
News flash: It isn’t, and I’m not going to.
And believe me, I have seen some names pop up, especially on court calendars, that have made me shake my head and wonder what the heck these parents were thinking. But that doesn’t mean that judges, on their own motion, should feel free to override the right of parents to name their kids as they see fit.
I’m not even sure how the question of a baby’s name gets to be an issue in child support court in the first place. In my experience, the only issue in child support is, “Where’s the money?”
Sometimes, it reminds me of the bust-out scene from “Goodfellas”: “You lost your job? (Bad word) you. Pay me. Your car broke down and you spent all your money getting it fixed so you could get here? (Bad word) you. Pay me.” And so on.
They usually don’t concern themselves with matters like whether the child’s name is, in the judge’s opinion, religiously incorrect.
There are countries, particularly in Europe, where the authorities have veto power of what parents name their children. Denmark, for example, has a list of 7,000 “approved” names (4,000 for boys and 3,000 for girls, which hardly seems equitable).
Deviate from the list, and you’ve got to go through Copenhagen University’s Names Investigation Department and then the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. That process often takes weeks, during which I suppose the parents just refer to their offspring with the Danish equivalent of “hey you.”
Sweden has a “naming law” that requires that names “cannot cause offense or discomfort” to the person named. Recently, parents protesting the Naming Law tried to name their child “Brfxxccxxmnpcccc llllmmnprxvclmnckssqlb111163” (pronounced “Albin”). To no one’s surprise, they got turned down. A resubmitted petition to name the kid “A” (also pronounced “Albin”) was also rejected.
I’m not sure how either of those was supposed to cause “discomfort or offense” to Albin — who was, let us not forget, a baby. The first one actually sounds kind of like how a baby “talks,” if you drop the numbers at the end. I admit it could make filling out applications problematic in later life.
Some countries, with good intentions, try to control what you can name your children. But by golly, that’s not how we roll here in the good old U.S. of A.
You want to name your kid “Apple” or “Brooklyn” or some girl’s name ending in “i” that pretty much guarantees that at least some part of her working life will involve a stripper pole, or even “Messiah,” that’s your right as an American.
And no activist judge should be able to tell you different.