Several years ago in New Jersey, the parents of a 3-year-old they had named Adolph Hitler Campbell, sued a bakery for refusing to write that name on the boy's birthday cake. While the bakery won the suit, the state of New Jersey did not have the authority to have little Adolph Hitler re-named.
If you can name an innocent child Adolph Hitler, you can pretty much name a kid anything you want. There are, however, a few limitations to this right. In most states a name cannot be an Arabic number, an obscenity, or a symbol. Names that are extremely long are also forbidden. So, could a mother lawfully name her girl Promiscuous, or her son Fecal? Probably.
Jaleesa Martin, a resident of Newport, Tennessee, a town of 7,000 in the rural foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, gave birth to a boy in January 2013. The boy's father, a man named McCullough, wanted his son to have his last name. The mother wanted to give the child her last name. The couple did agree, however, on the baby's first name--Messiah.
To settle this domestic dispute, Jaleesa Martin, in the summer of 2013, asked child support magistrate Lu Anna Ballew to approve the name Messiah DeShawn Martin. Following the hearing in August 2013, Magistrate Ballew ordered the parents to name their child Martin DeShawn McCullough.
The magistrate said she disapproved of the child's first name because "the word 'messiah' is a title and it's a title that has been earned by one person and that person is Jesus Christ." Moreover, Ballew reasoned, that first name "could put him [the boy] at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he had no choice in what his name was. (What kid does have a choice in this matter?)
In announcing that she was appealing the magistrate's decision, Jaleesa Martin told reporters that "I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God, and I didn't think a judge could make me change my boy's name because of her religious beliefs." (The mother could have pointed out that in 2012, more babies were named Messiah than Donald, Philip, Bruce, or Gary.)
On September 18, 2013, Judge Telford Forgety overturned the magistrate's ruling. Pursuant to an agreement reached by the parents, the kid's name was changed to Messiah DeShawn McCullough. (The boy had siblings named Micah and Mason.)
While Judge Forgety's ruling was a good day for the First Amendment, I'm not sure it was a good day for little Messiah.