A mother can name her eight -month-old son "Messiah," a Tennessee judge ruled Wednesday, overturning an order from another judge who said the boy's name should be changed to Martin.
Child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew last month ordered the boy's name be changed during a paternity hearing, because “'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”
She also said that the name would likely offend many residents of Cocke County, with its large Christian population.
At an appeal hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Wednesday, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety overturned Ballew's decision, finding that she acted unconstitutionally.
Forgety said that there is no basis in the law for changing a child's first name where both parents are in agreement about it.
He also said that Ballew's decision violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which mandates the separation of church and state.
The parents had initially disputed the baby's surname, with mother Jaleesa Martin hoping to keep the name she had given him, "Messiah Deshawn Martin", and father Jawaan McCullough wanting the baby to bear his last name.
Ballew surprised both parents by ordering that the baby's name be changed to Martin Deshawn McCullough, saying calling him Messiah was not in his best interest.
Her written order stated that “'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ,” and “Labeling this child 'Messiah' places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill.”
By agreement of the parents, Forgety ordered the child's name to be changed to Messiah Deshawn McCullough.
Additional reporting by Associated Press