Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's more than one Messiah, after all

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HOSPITAL nurseries last year were filled with Jacobs and Jaydens, Madisons and Mias. It's not unusual for a modern kindergarten classroom to have two Emmas or two Ethans.

But there is only one Messiah, a Tennessee judge declared in August, stripping the name from a seven-month-old boy.

"Messiah is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ," Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew said in a court order. "Labeling this child 'Messiah' places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill."

This came as a surprise to Messiah's parents, who were in court arguing over his last name, not his first. Jaleesa Martin called her son Messiah Deshawn Martin. Jawaan McCullough wanted him to be called Messiah Deshawn McCullough.

The judge decided the baby should be called Martin Deshawn McCullough.

"I was shocked," Jaleesa Martin said. "I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God, and I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs."

Of course she can't. On Wednesday, Ballew's ruling was overturned on appeal. A chancery judge found that it violated the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from promoting any religion.

That doesn't mean parents have a constitutional right to name their baby whatever they please. Many states allow a judge to reject the parents' choice if the name could expose the child to bullying or ridicule. Every once in a while, someone thinks it's cute to name their kid Adolf Hitler, for example. Several states bar obscenities (or numerals).

But Americans otherwise enjoy wide latitude to name their children. Witness the Kanye/Kardashian baby named North West. Singer Jermaine Jackson has a son named Jermajesty. Actor Rob Morrow's daughter is named Tu. (Get it?)

Some demographic groups are famous for making up names for their offspring. Google "Mormon name generator," for example.

And why not? Sometimes it feels like our naming conventions could use a shot of originality. A generation of Michaels and Marys gave way to the Jennifers and Jasons, with Matthew and Emily never far from the top of the list. Currently it's Sophia/Isabella/Olivia and Jacob, Jacob, Jacob. Or Jacob F., Jacob A. and Jacob W.

How disheartening it must be to scour the Internet for a novel baby name, only to learn at preschool parent night that your little angel is not Ashley, but Ashley S.

Messiah, it turns out, isn't all that imaginative. In 2012, it was the 387th most popular baby boy's name in America, according to the Social Security Administration. (Jesus was 101st.) Messiah has been climbing steadily since 2005, when it was 904th.

The Tennessee baby's mother wasn't making a religious statement when she chose his name. She was going for alliteration. Messiah's big brothers are named Micah and Maison. The parents, meanwhile, have resolved their disagreement over the baby's surname. He is now officially Messiah Deshawn McCullough. Or Messiah M. for short.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2013 $sourceSection0

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