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A judge in Tennessee, my very own state, has decreed—from the bench—that, henceforth and forthwith, Messiah DeShawn McCullough shall be known as “Martin.” The legal proceeding began with a dispute between the baby’s mother and father over a surname, but ended in Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew assigning the child a new first name by judicial fiat 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.”
Parents, go up in your attics and pull out your files. It turns out that in the United States of America, you cannot use titles as names for your children. So, you need to go through your records to be sure you’ve identified all your children and affirmed their names as non-titles before the feds show up at your door with a warrant and a copy of “Baby Names Made Easy.”
You have some time, of course, before the authorities come to arrest your clever, meaningful, or simply whimsical names. The G-men will be busy with the celebrities for awhile. The first on the Federal New-American-Moniker-Endorsement-and-Licensing-Edict-for-States List (also known as the NAMELESs List) is Michael Jackson’s son Prince, who, everyone knows, bears as his first name a title which has been earned by only one person and that one person is the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The government of the land of the free will force Sylvester Stallone to change the name of his daughter from Sage to Sally, because Sage is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Durvasas. She’ll have company when the judiciary forces Isaiah Washington’s daughter to lose the name Thyme. And Gwyneth Paltrow will face prison if she doesn’t change her daughter’s name “Apple” to “Amy.” Apple’s not really a title, but it does infringe on a registered trademark.
Diane Keaton’s sone Duke will be parted, judiciously, from his name—maybe “Darren” or “Darrel” will do—since “Duke” is a title that has only been earned by Gene Chandler.
There’s some dispute as to whether Grace Slick’s daughter was named “god” on paper or only in the Jefferson Airplane singer’s head, but, in any case, she’ll have to lose that name, because, obviously, only Robert Plant has earned that title. Though I suppose there could be some extended legal wrangling over whether or not Plant’s title is necessarily “Golden God” and the legal extent to which god Slick’s lower-case “g” matters.
Speaking of “golden,” Mike Myers’s son Spike will have to give up his name, obviously, since only one metal stake has earned this title and that one metal stake is in the Cantor Museum at Stanford.
Alicia Keys will have to change her son’s name from “Egypt” to “Ernie,” since Egypt is a title that has only been earned by one country and that country is… well… Egypt.
Actor Armand Hammer: I don’t know what that guy’s going to do.
In a moment of inspiration 14 years ago, I named my son Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Since titles are out, I guess I’ll just change his name to “Junior.”
Judge Ballew justifies her order by explaining that the name Messiah “could put [Martin] at odds with a lot of people.” The visionary judge had Cocke County’s predominantly Christian population in mind, of course, and it’s a good thing she was thinking about the boy’s social future. We know how ferociously Christians attack people who so flagrantly profane the name of their deity. Don’t try to tell me that the dog poop my friend Jesus Martinez found in his front yard last week is just a coincidence.
And don’t worry about the good judge’s own social standing for declaring from the bench that Jesus has earned the title “Messiah.” There aren’t a lot of Jewish people in Cocke County.
It occurs to me that Barbara Hershey’s and David Carradine’s son “Free” will soon be “Frank.” Free is a title that has only been earned by one people, and that people used to be U.S. citizens.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” He is currently writing a biography of Brigham Young for Routledge. Follow him on Twitter.