Ed Stetzer, writing in Christianity Today, offered evidence (in the form of survey results) to support the following claims:
-“Three out of four (74%) of Americans say parents should be able to give their child religious names – including Messiah.”
– “A similar number (75 percent) say a judge should not be allowed to change a child’s name for religious reasons.”
– “53 percent of Americans strongly agree and another 21 percent somewhat agree” [that] ”parents should be able to name their child Messiah or Christ.”
This research was conducted by Lifeway Research, of Nashville Tennessee, to demonstrate that Americans opposed the ruling of Tennessee judge, Lu Ann Ballew who held that parents could not name their son Messiah because “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.”
Unfortunately, Stetzer’s article did not provide any information about the sample surveyed, so it isn’t clear whether the “Americans” surveyed were a broad sample representative of American adults or were limited to Christians of certain denominations living in certain counties of the south (which are commonly referred to as “the bible belt”).
I have no doubt most Americans support the idea that parents should be able to name their child whatever they like, including spiritual names like Faith or Grace and biblical names like Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Abraham and Rebecca. Having a spiritual or biblical name is a daily reminder of the importance of caring about spiritual and religious values. I’ve conducted research that suggests spiritual and religious names create a positive impression for the people who bear them—because people with those names are expected to have a strong values.
As you may know, Judge Ballew’s ruling was reversed, so the right of parents in Tennessee to name their children Messiah or Christ is not, currently a burning issue. But I doubt most Americans would think it’s a good idea for parents to name their children Messiah or Christ (even if they support the parents’ right to make those choices). To be clear, this new question wasn’t included in the survey conducted by Lifeway research.
Permit me to state the new question clearly: Should parents be encouraged to name their children Messiah or Christ? Or, should they be advised against it? I think most psychologists would argue against giving children names that might encourage them to believe (and act as though) they really were a messiah or a savior. Many Americans are treated for this confusing psychological condition—usually with a combination of drugs and therapy. And, with the name Messiah currently ranked as the 387th most popular boys’ name in America, we can expect a lot more boys to struggle with this confusing condition.
This isn’t a religious issue, per se. It’s a practical and psychological issue. It doesn’t make any more (or less) sense to name children King, Queen, Prince, Princess or Perfect than it does to name them Christ or Messiah. Since the children aren’t, in fact, royalty, charismatic religious figures or perfect human beings, having names that foster those illusions is a questionable practice because:
– The names don’t reflect the truth. They aren’t realistic.
– The names foster unrealistic self-images and are likely to promote unrealistic, unhealthy behavior.
I’d be very interested in seeing research conducted on a large representative survey sample to find out what Americans think about this new question. If asked to speculate about what such research would find, I’d expect most Americans to question the practice of giving children names that could foster unrealistic illusions and lead to unhealthy behavior. But, again, I’d expect most Americans to support parents’ right to pick any names they like–except names that can be demonstrated to be harmful to the child.