It took me days to name my children. People would harass me in the hospital, noting I would not be allowed to leave until the Social Security forms were completed with the baby’s full name entered in the appropriate spaces. However, I took the naming part of my job as a new parent very seriously. I refused to be bullied into making the wrong decision.
In the hospital nurseries, my boys were easy to find. Their bassinets were labeled "Baby Boy," which was written in black on blue name cards. While they were lacking first and middle names, they were clearly identified as boys. They were given blue blankets, blue caps, and blue booties. Our society likes to provide a solid foundation for differentiation and sexism right out of the womb.
Admittedly, there might have been too much thought put into naming the boys. They all go by their middle names, which all begin with the letter E. In addition, their first and middle names are in alphabetical order by birth order. The same methodology was used to name each of them, so as to not cause jealousy or feelings of a lack of belonging later in life.
After all the effort put into naming them, I’ve spent the last couple of decades defending the names and methodology. Relatives blame me for not being able to remember which is which, since they all go by a name that starts with E. Teachers get frustrated because they use their middle, not first, names. Many of these people would testify against me if their names were ever challenged in a court of law.
Thankfully, we live in a country in which we are free to name our children as we please. No parent in America could ever be forced to change their child’s name by our judicial system.
Unless you live in Tennessee.
The child’s name was Messiah. But the magistrate ordered the name be changed to Martin. From what I read, the parents were in court due to a dispute over the child’s last name. The magistrate ruled on both the child’s first and last names. The magistrate explained that "Messiah" was a title and not a name, and that only one person earned the title. She went on to explain that the name could cause problems for the child if he were to grow up in the mostly Christian town.
Based on the reasoning of the Tennessee magistrate, parents should not be allowed to use titles to name their children. Those of you who named your child King, which was ranked the 256th most popular name in 2012, beware. Unless your child is of royal descent, heir to the throne, and the reigning monarch is on his or her deathbed, the name could be challenged.
Of course, the parent of a child named King who is challenged in court could always fall back on The Offspring Formally Known as King.
I’m more concerned with the magistrate noting the name could cause the child problems. Did this keeper of the law miss the day in law school during which they discussed the freedom of parents to burden their children with names that will make their lives, especially during elementary and middle school, a living nightmare? And if the law has changed and parents are no longer allowed this basic freedom, someone needs to inform Kim and Kanye.
As for the Christian implications, I was under the impression naming a child after someone great was the highest compliment to that person. Isn’t that why Great Aunt Lilly left her fortune to her grand niece, Lilly? Or why Great Grandma Hildegard felt slighted when hers was the only family name not given to any of her female descendants?
The name Jesus was the 101st most popular name in America in 2012. Messiah was ranked 387. These names just might be gaining in popularity because of the great reverence, admiration, and love new parents have for their religion and their savior. Therefore, I find it hard to believe that the name Messiah could offend people in a locale that is predominantly Christian.
If, on appeal, this decision is overturned, parents can breathe a sigh of relief. They will be able to resume, without fear of persecution, naming their children anything from Kaixin to Espn—yes, parents actually chose those names in 2012.
However, should the decision hold up, it will become much more difficult to name a baby. Based on this precedence, parents would have to avoid names that haven’t been previously deemed names. They’d have to consider how the community in which they live will react to the name and whether it could cause the child to be subject to teasing. In addition, parents would have to weigh carefully who might be offended by the name.
On the bright side, should the ruling be upheld, Great Grandma Hildegard’s name might actually make a comeback.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.