Baby Called Messiah

August 13, 2013 by  

Baby Called Messiah, When a US judge changes someone else’s baby’s name from Messiah to Martin because “[Messiah] is a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ”, what is the real issue: parenthood or religion? The mother of Messiah-turned-Martin – who liked the name only because it gelled nicely with the names of her two other sons (Micah and Mason, if you’re wondering) – is clear on the matter. “I didn’t think a judge could change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs,” she told local broadcaster WBIR-TV, before professing her decision to appeal.

I do have sympathy with Martin’s mother, but her position seems to imply that naming children is a natural right. Perhaps we shouldn’t forget that biological parenthood requires the lowest qualifications of any job on earth.

When I changed my own name (middle, not first) by deed poll when I was 16, I consulted my parents. Both of them shirked responsibility for cruelly bestowing “Virginia” upon me at a defenceless age, with my mother eventually conceding that: “We’d always thought we wanted to give a middle name, and I was on a lot of drugs.” While it doesn’t sound like such a terrible choice to those who grew up with play mate called Arabella and Eudaimonia, at a nursery school where Virginia Woolf extracts before naptime were the norm, on the playground in Newcastle “Virginia” meant one thing: “vagina”.

The politics of names run deep. It’s long been acknowledged that your first name can change an employer’s impression of your entire CV. Meanwhile, we knew instinctively that the Duke and Duchess’s of Cambridge’s new arrival was no more going to be called “Alfie” or “Riley” – two of the top 10 most popular boys’ names in England and Wales, according to ONS statistics released this morning – than “Lucifer”. And rather than restrict the choices of their aristocracy, elsewhere the rule has been to restrict the commoners’ choice for the same basic reason: Sweden’s 1982 naming law was originally created to prevent non-nobility from giving their children noble names (nowadays, however, it satisfies itself with legally challenging such choices as “Allah” and “Metallica”.)

Naming is one of the first and most significant acts of parenthood – and, like the first bath, it’s worth embarking upon with some expert help lest you accidentally maim your newborn. While legislation will do little to stem the tide of Messiahs – who’s to stop the family in question from officially registering Martin and then referring to him as Messiah for the rest of his life, after all? – a serious discussion about what’s in a name during antenatal classes could make childhood easier for everyone. I may not agree with Judge Ballew’s assertion that a baby called Messiah would insult Jesus Christ, but I do know one thing: even if the baby grows up to be an atheist in the school of Richard Dawkins, he’ll be thanking his lucky stars that an offended Christian renamed him Martin.

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