‘Messiah’ baby name controversy gets worldwide attention

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NEWPORT, Tennessee (WBIR) – Is the word Messiah a name or a title?

That question in a Tennessee courtroom is gaining worldwide attention.

The parents of a young boy named Messiah were in a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court when child support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew said the boy’s name should be changed to “Martin DeShawn McCullough.”

Martin is the mother’s last name; McCullough is the surname of the father.

Ballew said it was best for the child to not have that biblical name, living in an area with a large Christian population.

Since the story aired, the case of Messiah has reached far beyond East Tennessee.

“I had some people contact me from Louisiana about it. And from Nashville, and my dad from Kentucky called me this morning saying he saw it on the news down there,” Jalessa Martin, the boy’s mother, said.

News operations, like the CBC and BBC, have reached out to the family, as they said they will appeal the case.

“It’s a lot of mess,” said the boy’s grandmother, Lucy Veronica Benjamin. “It’s just something they wanted to name him. It’s nothing big, it’s just a name.”

Judge Ballew told 10News last week it was in the best interest of the boy to have a different name.

“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,” Judge Ballew said last week.

She was unavailable for an interview on Monday.

Meanwhile, residents around Newport have been talking about the debate. According to a recent poll on WBIR.com, a majority of people disagree with the judge’s decision.

Residents hope the news does not put the town in a bad light.

“And you can’t tie what one person does to the town,” said resident Shari Perryman. “I don’t think anybody should have to tell somebody can or can’t do to their children or what to name their child.”

“In teaching, you hear a variety of names and I would not be surprised to have a child in my classroom named ‘Messiah,” said resident Robyn Elkins.

Parent Jalessa Martin said she will continue to fight for her son’s name. She told 10News an appeal to the Cocke County Chancery Court is set for September 17th.

“Why should anyone tell us what we should or shouldn’t name him — and if we’re right or wrong about it, it doesn’t matter, he’s ours anyway,” Martin said.

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