By Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn.–Three out of four (74 percent) Americans say parents should be able to give their child religious names – including Messiah – according to a survey from Nashville-based Lifeway Research. A similar number (75 percent) say a judge should not be allowed to change a child’s name for religious reasons.
The name “Messiah” made headlines in the summer of 2013 after East Tennessee judge Lu Ann Ballew ordered Jaleesa Martin to change her son’s name from “Messiah” to “Martin.”
Martin and the baby’s father, Jawaan McCullough, had been in court because they disagreed about the child’s last name.
“Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew said at the time.
Ballew’s ruling was later overturned. She now faces a possible citation for her ruling, and according to published reports, has until January 6 to respond to a complaint filed with a state judicial board.
At the time of her ruling, the judge expressed concern the child would be teased because of his name. But it turns out that “Messiah” is a surprisingly common name.
“Messiah” was the 387th most popular boys name in the United States for 2012, just after “Scott” and right before “Jay,” according to the Social Security Administration. That’s up from 904th place in 2005.
When asked if parents should be able to name their child “Messiah” or “Christ,” 53 percent of Americans strongly agree and another 21 percent somewhat agree.
Only one in five (21 percent) disagree, with 10 percent strongly disagreeing, and 11 percent somewhat disagreeing.
Researchers also asked Americans to respond to this statement: “Judges should be allowed to change the name parents give their children if there are religious implications to those names that some people might find offensive.”
Sixty-one percent strongly disagreed, while another 15 percent somewhat agreed.
About one in five agreed with 8 percent strongly agreeing and another 11 percent who somewhat disagree.
“This is a case where a parent’s rights, child advocacy, and a judge’s religious convictions meet,” said Scott McConnell, vice-president of Lifeway Research. “Despite the fact that the majority of Americans consider themselves Christians and that the judge voiced an orthodox Christian position of there being only one person who earned the title Messiah, three out of four Americans put a parent’s right to name their child above considerations about religious offense or the beliefs of their own religion.”
“Personally, I am partial to the name Scott,” McConnell added.
Methodology: The telephone survey of 1,001 adult Americans was conducted September 6-10, 2013. Interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish. Both listed and unlisted numbers were called and approximately 20 percent of the sample was reached by cell phone. Responses were weighted by age, gender, education, race/Hispanic ethnicity, region and CBSA market size to more accurately reflect the population.) The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.