Dear Bruce: What Do You Think of Religious Names Like Messiah?

I’ve written two posts in the last week about a Judge in Tennessee who prevented a mother from naming her baby boy Messiah and a judge in New York who prevented a family from changing their family name to ChristIsKing and naming their boy JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and their girl Rejoice ChristIsKing.

The main focus of the articles was on the legal rationales for preventing parents from using those names. So I’m happy to respond to the question.

There are several problems with the name Messiah. In fact, a boy named Messiah is neither The Messiah nor is he a messiah–any more than naming your child King or Prince would make him a real king or a real prince. So the name is misleading. It may mislead the child into thinking he is something he isn’t. And it will create the impression that the mother thinks her son is The Messiah or a messiah. (When interviewed, Messiah’s mother thought the name went well with the child’s siblings names–which began with the letter “M”).

And because the name is misleading, it makes a silly or ridiculous
impression to others and to the child. People who believe they are The Messiah or a messiah are sent to psychiatrists for treatment. They are deemed not to be in touch with reality. How can a name like Messiah be healthy for a child or an adult? (Likewise, how can a name like King, Queen, Prince, Princess–or IAmTheGreatest! be healthy for a child?)

There are several problems with the names JesusIsLord (as a given name) and ChristIsKing (as a family name). Both “names” are statements of the parents’ religious faith. They are similar in nature to the statements on signs outside churches announcing the title of a Sunday sermon and to bumper stickers pasted on the back fenders of cars. In the same way that Ypsilanti is the name of a town in Michigan, but doesn’t come across as attractive or appropriate as the name for a child (in comparison, say, to Paris or Siena or Madison), statements of belief neither sound like names nor function like names.

And think about what it would be like to have a name that comes across as a “bumper sticker” for a religious belief–which the parents may hold but the baby is in no position to affirm or abandon until he or she is an adult. Many people doubt the faith of their parents and ultimately pick their own religious or spiritual path through life. It seems highly disrespectful of parents to stick a bumper-sticker name like that on a young child. It’s a little like naming a child Liberal or Conservative or Monarchist or Anarchist–names that reflect political or philosophical positions that the baby has no way to understand or affirm until adulthood.

I haven’t mentioned either the embarrassment problem or the teasing and bullying problem that the parents of Messiah and JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and Rejoice ChristIsKing would have caused to rain down on their children every day of their lives–if those names had remained in effect. These names are more than embarrassing; they would put children in a position to suffer hostile words and, possibly “sticks and stones” from people their children know and people their children don’t know.

One final point: I don’t think Rejoice is as objectional a given name as either JesusIsLord or Messiah. Rejoice suggests the parents were happy she was born (like the names Glory or Gloria). Although it doesn’t sound much like a name, it’s more awkward than awful. But when anyone speaks the child’s full name: Rejoice ChristIsKing you’ve got a bumper sticker that would be a tremendous burden for any child to bear.

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