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Tenn. judge changes infant's name from "Messiah"

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

NEWPORT, Tenn. A judge in Tennessee changed a 7-month-old boy's name to Martin from Messiah, saying the religious name was earned by one person and "that one person is Jesus Christ."

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the name change last week, according to WBIR-TV. The boy's parents were in court because they could not agree on the child's last name, but when the judge heard the boy's first name, she ordered it changed, too.

"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," Ballew said.

"Parents, not the government, have the right to name their child. While the Judge certainly has the right to her religious beliefs, she cannot impose her faith on those who appear before her in her courtroom. Selecting your child's name is a very personal and private decision that belongs to the parents and not to a Judge whose decision is driven by her religious faith," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee (ACLU), in an email to

The judge said it was the first time she ordered a first name change.

Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.

Ballew said the baby was to be named Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parents' last name.

The boy's mother, Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, said she will appeal. She says Messiah is unique and she liked how it sounded alongside the boy's two siblings — Micah and Mason.

"Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else," Martin said.

Ballew said the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population.

"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," the judge said.

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