Jesus-Worshiping Judge in Tennessee To Be Disciplined in ‘Baby Messiah’ Case

A judge in Tennessee is set to receive a well-deserved rap on the knuckles for mixing her religious views with the affairs of the state. Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew undid a couple’s decision to name its baby Messiah, on the grounds that

“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.”

She has now received a double smackdown in the bizarre case. Last month, a higher judge held that Ballew’s ruling was unconstitutional. Then, a few days ago,

A three-member investigative panel of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct concluded … there was “reasonable cause to believe (Ballew) has committed judicial offenses,” and directed the state board’s disciplinary counsel to file the charges. … The judicial code the panel cited centers on a clause that says religion and other personal biases must not play roles when judges are performing their duties. …

Ballew has 30 days to file an answer with the court, at which time a hearing will be scheduled “to impose just and proper sanctions as provided by law.”

Naming a baby ‘Messiah’ may become just as common among American Christians as naming a child ‘Jesus’ among Latinos. According to this Reuters report,

Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys born in the United States in 2012, based on applications for Social Security cards filed with the U.S. Social Security Administration.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • WallofSleep

    How unusually petty and screw brained of that judge. I imagine the parents must have been dumbstruck at the absurdity of it.

    • Mario Strada

      Of course, these parents came up with the name “Messiah” to begin with. I don;t know their motivation for choosing this name, but I can tell you I would not name my baby Messiah.

      • WallofSleep

        Yeah, I’d go with something like “Max Fightmaster”.

        • m6wg4bxw

          Penn Jillette named his daughter Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            I tell people this in real life (no Google at hand…), and they think I’m lying.

            • m6wg4bxw

              They must not know much about Penn. It’s totally consistent with his personality.

          • Artor

            Let’s not forget Dweezil & Moon Unit Zappa.

      • Peter_FairMarket

        I would never name my son “Messiah”. I would name him “Sue”.

        No, wait, that was Johnny Cash.

        • Nate Frein

          It was Silverstein before Cash. And Silverstein wrote a followup from the Dad’s point of view.

      • Jim Balter

        Your parents named you after a character in a video game.

        • WallofSleep

          How I wish that were true for me. I’d give anything for my driver’s license to read “Random Background Zombie #127″

          • wmdkitty

            I’m seriously considering changing my name to something Khajiit, like Ahnassi. But then I remember that my name? Is something my birthmum gave me, and I don’t want to dishonor her by changing it.

            • allein

              I hated my name as a kid; now I like it (though I still have mixed feelings about passing it on should I ever have a daughter, as my mother would like). I’m still waiting for some German-speaker to ask if they named me “Alone” on purpose…

      • Michael

        A study showed that children named Jasmine do better at school the fewer Zs their parents spelled Jasmine with.

        Just thought I’d bring that up.

  • trj

    “Hello, I’m Messiah Jones.”

    Seems a rather silly choice to me, but if the parents want to name their child Messiah, I say go ahead. Just don’t act surprised when the other kids tease him on account of his name. That name is a cross to bear, and you parents put it on him.

    • WallofSleep

      I know it’s been a long time since I’ve been in grade school, but IIRC, kids can even find a way to make fun of a name like “Jon Smith”.

      • Jeff See

        Exactly. I’m willing to bet, not enough kids even know what “messiah” is/means, to be able to make jokes about it. It sounds similar enough to other names (like Isaiah) to be that big of a deal, I would guess.

        • guest

          His nick name will be Mess. Cool. SMH

    • m6wg4bxw

      Sure, but my own name, which is quite common, is something like the Greek version of the Aramaic, Yeshu’a. It’s somewhat ironic, I guess, sharing a name with a deity I think doesn’t exist.

      But kids will mock anything. They called me “squash.”

      • Artor

        I was labelled Art the fart. Messiah will probably be Messy-ugh or something stupid like that. I felt bad for the kids named Richard.

        • WallofSleep

          That does it. If I have a kid, I’m gonna name it “Meshuggah”.

          • m6wg4bxw

            I’m not a fan of Yiddish, but “Destroy Erase Improve” has a nice ring to it. The world of black metal world is rich with ridiculous unusual names. Necrobutcher, Goat Pervertor, Quorthon, Dead, Infernus, etc.

            • WallofSleep

              “Goat Pervertor”

              Not once have I ever been in a black metal band. Wait, what?

            • WallofSleep

              “I’m not a fan of Yiddish…”

              Now you have me wondering what would have happened if the parents said to the judge “Fine, but would it be okay if we named him ‘Moshiach’?”

        • Liz Erbe Wilcox

          I was Lizard. Imagine!

        • m6wg4bxw

          You have my sympathies. I was unfortunate enough to be given a feces-related nickname in high school. It was unrelated to anything I did, but my name fit with something in pop culture. The good news is, it didn’t last long, so no one had to die.

      • Nate Frein

        I knew a kid named “Draygon.” Which could have worked…but his last name was “Dick”.

        • WallofSleep

          “… but his last name was “Dick”.”

          I fail to see how that makes it any less cooler. In fact, I’d say it makes it even more cooler.

          • Nate Frein

            I’m not sure. It’d be quite a long title to live up to. Imagine your girlfriend or boyfriend’s disappointment when you didn’t measure up.

            • m6wg4bxw

              Yeah, but what a hell of a spin he could put on explaining an STD!

            • WallofSleep

              I would assume that with a name like “Draygon Dick”, not giving a fuck would be a major part of his daily routine.

              EDIT: BTW, have you tried Not Giving A Fuck? It’s an excellent product.


        • m6wg4bxw

          Reminds me of dialogue in Sixteen Candles:

          Girl: So… What’s your name?
          Guy: Dong.
          Girl: What’s your first name?
          Guy: Long.
          Girl: What’s your middle name?
          Guy: Duk.

      • wmdkitty

        My last name is Burt.

        I got waaay too many cracks along the lines of, “Hey Bert, where’s Ernie?”

        Wish I’d had the spoons to punch that kid. Woulda been worth it, he was a chibi-douche.

        • m6wg4bxw

          I was expecting Burt Reynolds. But, yeah, that shit can wear a person down.

          One day, in junior high, I was wearing a Panama Jack shirt. During the entire lunch period, a guy sitting behind me was making jack-off jokes. He called me Panama Jackoff one too many times, and I snapped. I stood, turned around, and hit him in the face. That was the only time I ever punched a person. But he stopped.

        • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

          Seriously, I’d trade you. My maiden name was “Bullwinkel”. Try going through school (and the military, for good measure) with that one.

          • allein

            I went to school with a girl whose last name was “Hussey.”
            I grew up being called “alien”…

      • baal

        Isn’t “m6wg4bxw” pronounced “squash”?

        • m6wg4bxw

          Only when it’s part of authentic glossolalia.

    • Peter_FairMarket

      No pun intended.

    • Jim Balter

      It seems silly to provincial xenophobes.

    • smrnda

      And totally, my grandparents should have changed their funny sounding foreign names when they got here so I’d have a name like “Jennifer Smith,” not hard to spell, pronounce and harder to make fun of.

      If kids make fun of someone because of their name, the problem is that the kids are being assholes.

      • FTP_LTR

        Greg Davies on kids and names, from “Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog”:‎

        Kids will make fun of someone because of anything that crosses their minds.

        It is, was, and e’er shall be the way of kids.

        • WallofSleep

          Different strokes. I feel like if you’re not talking shit or poking fun at me on a regular basis, it’s because you don’t like me. But not everyone likes to take a good natured ribbing, and that’s cool too.

          • FTP_LTR


  • Golfie98

    It will an interesting one to watch to see which one cries persecution of their religious freedom first.

  • Stev84

    Letting her ruling stand would have done the child a favor though.

    • Artor

      Meh. I don’t see why. It’s just another name. Now, the parents who named their kid Adolph Hitler are assholes. That kid is facing a life of trouble, even if he changes his name soon.

      • badgerchild

        I can only recall the anecdote about a fellow whose name was also Hitler, just after WWII. Evidently most other people named Hitler changed theirs. The old man said, in essence, “I’m not the one who disgraced the name, he was. Let him change his, I’m keeping mine.”

        • m6wg4bxw

          I saw a story not long ago about a grandson of Charles Manson. He was going on about how he wanted to take the name back, instead of being shamed by it. It’s ridiculous that people would fear a surname merely because one person made it notorious.

        • WallofSleep

          My surname (I’ll keep that to myself, thank you) is the german equivalent of “Smith” or “Jones”. It’s a good thing that rat bastard wasn’t born “Adolf ofSleep”, otherwise a fuck-ton of people would be flooding the courts for a name change. With the possible exception of my branch of the family tree, most of them would keep the name just to start a fight.

    • Sven2547

      That’s just speculation, and frankly not the judge’s choice to make.

  • Jeff See

    She really should have gone on a mission after making that statement, and spent her time lobbying Congress to enact laws protecting the title, ‘Messiah’. That way she wouldn’t have been on the bench, making important decisions.

  • Rain

    Like I said before, since when do babies have to “earn” something? I thought judges were supposed to study up on fallacies in fallacy school or something.

  • Ylf_Aneko

    It’s still an idiotic name.

  • more compost

    Funniest part of it to me is the large number of men who were wondering around that part of the world who called themselves “messiah” back in those days. And they ALL got crucified. That was the standard Roman punishment for sedition.

    Calling yourself “messiah” was sedition by definition, because it meant that you planned to overthrow Roman rule. That was what “messiah” meant. And Jesus did NOT “earn” the right to be called “messiah,” because he utterly failed to overthrow Roman rule.

    So this kid will have EXACTLY as much right to be called “messiah” as Jesus did.

    • WallofSleep

      A friend of mine is currently reading a book that suggests the Romans made up the story of Jesus out of whole cloth in an effort to convince the Jews that their messiah had come to earth, and thus they could go ahead and stop murdering Roman citizens and committing acts of terrorism against them.

      • Jim Balter

        Yeah, well, that book, “Caesar’s Messiah”, is BS … see

        • WallofSleep

          That could be it, but I don’t recall the title. However the impression my friend gave me was that he was reading something published more recently.

          At any rate, I did ask him if the author had any evidence to back this claim, but he had just started reading it so he couldn’t say.

          EDIT: And thank you for the link. Reading that now.

          • Jim Balter

            Perhaps that impression is because Atwill has been in news recently:

            You’re welcome. It’s funny that someone would downvote my comment, when the link is to a piece by Richard Carrier, an atheist who himself believes that Jesus didn’t exist but is critical of Atwill’s poor research and reasoning.

            • WallofSleep

              Who knows what motivates someone to downvote something, especially when they decline to comment. Hey, it could have even been a fat finger mistake.

              For my part, if someone truly were my friend, I would expect them to tell me when I’ve got my facts wrong, when I’m being stupid/foolish, and when I’m being a dick.

      • Joey Tranchina

        The claim that Jesus was a myth invent as a plot by Romans, is probably even less true than the actual facts of the life of Jesus as portrayed by the hustlers who hijacked them (at least 75 years after his death) to start a revolutionary religious revival within the Roman Empire.

        What those facts were is extremely hard to determine. The best scholarship begins with documents that were written more than 300 years after the life of Jesus ended. You tell me what that’s worth in real terms.

        However for purposes of this article, judges who base decisions on fairy-tales, rather than law, should be removed from the bench then added to the cast of SNL.

        • Fred Bailey

          Pretty much has to be a legend, it seems to me. A real person whose stories inflated out of recognition. People who debunk the miracle tales that became attached to him miss the point, really. Many fanciful dynastic histories were made in that era and the ones previous. They’d typically derive the king’s ancestors from the gods somehow, and tell stories of miracle portents of his birth and whatnot. The miracle stories are pretty standard, too. Calming storms by telling them to lay off, resurrecting people and curing illnesses, cursing things which then proceed to wither.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “A Tennessee judge who ordered a baby’s name changed from Messiah to Martin…”

    “The magistrate instead threw out the child’s birth name and ordered the boy renamed Martin DeShawn McCullough.”

    Wait….. Not only did the Judge feel entitled to reject the name, she had the gall to rename the child herself? Oh fer Fucks sake. I hope the sanctions make an example of Ballew, she abused her authority and failed to live up to the unbiased role expected of one in her position. I wonder if her past judgements will now need to be evaluated.

    • Michael

      … and she named him after a pagan god. How special.

    • Baby_Raptor

      They need to throw her off the court. She’s proven she can’t be trusted to make unbiased decisions. Zod only knows how many other people she’s inflicted her personal views on.

    • indorri

      Abuse of authority is one of those things I despise the most. I truly hope she gets the book thrown at her, and hard.

  • Fentwin

    Based on my experience with my cousins kids (a.k.a. the spawn of Satan), I would name every kid Genghis Khan, at least until they are civilized enough and ready for society, then give them whatever name they prefer. :P

  • busterggi

    Kid’s nickname is going to be “Messy”. Could be worse.

  • David

    When your naming a kid you have to determine how their name will be shortened. “Mess”

  • JD5DAD

    I’m changing one of my kids name to Deity LOL J/K

  • Steve Caldwell

    “He’s not the Messiah … he’s a very naughty boy.”

    • WallofSleep

      Two upvotes for thinking of that. One downvote, out of jealousy for not having thought of it first myself.

      • starskeptic


  • Carl Miller

    About time stupid Christians are held responsible for their disrespectful conduct. It’s amazing that an idiot like this could become a judge.

    • WallofSleep

      Anyone with an average intellect can get a degree and a career like that if they just apply themselves. This world is full of degreed idiots.

      Please do not take this to mean that I think all lawyers, judges, or any other educated professionals are idiots, or that I mean higher education is for idiots, or that I am making an argument for the superiority of “street smarts” over “book smarts”. I hold no such positions.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        All it takes to theoretically become a judge where I am is to wait for one to retire, then put out more “Elect Me!” signs than anyone else.

        I come from Gerald Hege Country. We’ve got another one brewing. A couple of years ago, this judge was asked to give an address at a graduation ceremony for fifth-graders, and she spent the time talking about how tough she was and threatening them.

        • WallofSleep

          “… she spent the time talking about how tough she was and threatening them.”

          Ah yes, the “Scared Straight” method. Works every time. Except for the metric fuck-tons of times it doesn’t.

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Oh NO, this wasn’t anything as purposeful and helpful as “Scared Straight”! She was asked to, you know, be inspiring and shit to a bunch of eleven year-olds, and what she came up with was a RonMar Lite rant about herself. Presumably she does this a lot.

  • Dan Weeks


  • Baby_Raptor

    Is she crying persecution yet?

  • Ashley Nasello

    When I first read this story, I was hoping that she would be disciplined. I am glad that even in a religiously overt state like TN (I lived there for a few years so no slams please) that logic and the law are being used to fix the mess this judge made. I just hope no actual criminals go free due to her using her religion in her rulings.

  • wmdkitty

    I still think “Messiah” is a fucking stupid-ass name, and the kid is probably going to wind up being a colossal asshat.

    • FTP_LTR

      Colour me judgemental, but I think any parent willing to choose the name Messiah has a good chance of raising a colossal asshat – even if the name doesn’t stick.

      I foresee in years to come, Messiah will call himself “Messiah-*sigh*-yeah-I-know” or similar.

  • Robster

    Do we need even more Messiahs? Look at the mess the others have left, even those that may have really existed. I suppose any alternate Messiahs would need to whip up a holy book of some sort, or given today’s technology perhaps a Holy book mini series on Blu-ray, in HD and 3D. We’ll be in even more god-bother if they ALL do it.

  • JustBecause

    I’m naming my kid ctrlaltdel

  • Lincoln

    How does one shorten that? “Messy”? “Sy”?

  • Eldergothfather

    Well deserved smack-a-roo!

  • texasfan

    WISE MAN #2: Ooh, but… he is the son of God, our Messiah.
    WISE MAN #1: King of the Jews.
    MANDY: And that’s Capricorn, is it?
    WISE MAN #2: Uh, no, no, no. That’s just him.
    MANDY: Ohh, I was going to say, ‘Otherwise, there’d be a lot of them.’ [sniff]
    WISE MAN #1: By what name are you calling him?
    MANDY: Uh, ‘Brian’.
    WISE MEN: We worship you, O Brian, who are Lord over us all. Praise unto you, Brian, and to the Lord, our Father. Amen.

  • Mammoth

    If I have a kid, I want to name him ‘Andy Christ’, that way he will be ‘Andy Christ Lucifer Mammon (the third)’.

    I can’t see him having any problems with that.