What's in a name? Much, it seems. And here's a little story that was all over my local news yesterday about some East Tennessee parents who were told by Tennessee Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew that they would have to change their child's first name - which is Messiah - because that is a title which fits Jesus of Nazareth alone:
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.
This story is doubly silly because the parents were before the judge in the first place because they couldn't agree on what the child's last name should be. But evidently the first name of Messiah offended the religious sensibilities of Magistrate Ballew; although Ballew did offer the additional rationale that because the child would be growing in such a Christianized portion of the country, "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."
This reminds of the spring of 1968. My older brother, on a whim, had stopped off at our local mom & pop store and picked up a pack of Topp's Baseball Cards. This soon led to our following the sport closely as we continued amassing a collection of baseball cards.
And then one day my brother opened a pack he had bought and looked at me all wild-eyed and said "holy moley, Doug, here's a guy named Jesus!" It was Jesus Alou, a then Giants outfielder, and we were astounded at his hubris. We wondered what kind of parents would do a thing like name their child Jesus. We stared at the name on that card for a long while in disbelief. But we were kids, too.
Here in the Bible Belt biblical names are common. I have one. My middle name is Nathan. Mom deliberately chose that in honor of the Old Testament prophet. I had childhood friends named Timothy, Thomas, Matthew and so forth. As children we made fun of our friends' names no matter what they were.
My best friend when I was 8 had made up a little rhyme about my first name (I never went by Nathan, although my mom called me that almost exclusively when I was a kid and still does now on occasion). It went like this:
Doug, Doug the beetle-bug,
the rotten apple cider jug.
Funny, right? But it caught on. I was just frustrated because, at eight, my poetic skills were such that I couldn't return the "favor" by thinking of a rhyme for his first name, which was Jimmy (still another biblical name, James). In fact, I don't think my poetic skills are adequate for that task today. But also I've outgrown that type of thing.
So back to Messiah. Of course the mom is outraged and is going to appeal. I was heartened that most of the feedback on the forced name change has been negative. Even here in the Bible Belt the idea of a judge overruling parental rights in choosing a child's name is unpopular - even with a controversial name such as this.