Tennessee, can lay claim to an impressive list of people who, if not literally native to, at least did spend the majority of their lives in "The Volunteer State." Included in this list are such notables as:
- Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), "Old Hickory," the nation's 7th president;
- Davey Crockett (1786-1835): congressman and "King of the Wild Frontier";
- Jack Daniel (1850-1911): Originator of "Jack Daniels Distillery";
- Adolph Ochs (1858-1935), longtime publisher and owner of the New York Times;
- Hattie Caraway (1878-1950): the first woman elected to the United States Senate;
- Sgt. Alvin York (1887-1964): the most decorated hero of World War I;
- Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989): 3-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and poet;
- Morgan Freeman (1937- ): Movie star par excellence;
- Oscar Robertson (1938- ): Before Michael Jordan, there was "The Big O";
- Tina Turner (1939- ): one of the greatest singers of all time, and
- Quentin Tarantino (1963- ): Oscar-winning director/screenwriter.
And, as of the other day, perhaps the list should be expanded to include Lu Ann Ballew. "And who is Ballew?" you may well ask. She's the Tennessee Child Support Magistrate who unilate rally decided to rename a seven-month old baby "Martin" because she objected to the parents' selection of "Messiah." Her reasoning? In her ruling she explained that "The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that person is Jesus Christ." Further, the magistrate added, "It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has no choice in what his name is." I guess she's not a baseball fan; otherwise she would have been familiar with Jesus, one of the three Alou brothers, who were the San Franciso Giants' outfield back in the early 1960s. Then too, what about the millions upon millions of Muslim men named "Mohammed?" I am not aware of a single Muslim qadi -- judge -- ruling that the use of the prophet's name was impermissible.
For those who think that Magistrate Ballew's ruling is just about the dumbest, most inane thing they've ever heard, it's good to remember that Tennessee is the state which enacted the "Butler Act," which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school. (This infamous act, which led to the Scopes Monkey Trial, was passed by the Sixty-Fourth General Assembly in 1925; the state didn't get around to repealing it until 1967.)
While few -- if indeed, any -- readers of this blog might consider naming a child "Messiah," I doubt any of us would deny that right to someone else. "Democracy," an anonymous wag once noted, "is the inalienable right of everyone to act like a fool." And yet, as alien as the name might seem to many of us, the Social Security Administration's annual report of popular baby names shows that in 2012, "Messiah" was number four among the fastest-rising baby names. It is also listed as a perfectly accepted Hebrew name -- משי--- (pronounced "Mah-shee-akh") -- in Alfred J. Kolatch's authoritative The Name Dictionary: Modern English and Hebrew Names.
As a rabbi, I have officiated at probably 350-400 baby namings over the past 35 years. I can tell you that names go in cycles; at one point Jason, Adam, Jessica and Ashley were about as popular as you could get. Today, its more like Aiden, Jayden, Bryce and Grayson. Among Jewish people, changing or Americanizing one's name is as common as putting milk in your tea. Dear old dad used to tell the joke, "I met a man named Chayim Schitzpetzel. When I asked him what kind of a name that was, he told me he was thinking of changing it. 'To what?' I asked him. 'To Jacob Schitzpetzel . . .'" Heck, the four of us family went to court and became "legally Stoned" back in 1957. I wonder what would have happened if Lu Ann Ballew had been sitting on the bench; might she have denied our request?
The Bobbies, Johnnies, Billies, Suzies and Janes of yesterday have been traded in. Why just in the sports pages of this morning's Sun Sentinel, I came across the following:
- Devonta Freeman: running back, Florida State University;
- Adarius Glanton: linebacker, Florida Atlantic University;
- Drico Johnson: defensive back, University of Central Florida;
- Cre'von LeBlanc: nickleback, Florida Atlantic University;
- Demetruce McNeal, safety, Auburn University; and
- Barkevious Mingo, linebacker, Cleveland Browns.
Lu Ann Ballew's objection to naming a baby "Messiah" had nothing to do with aural aesthetics; it was a decision based solely on her personal religious druthers . . . and a callous, blinkered disregard for the Constitution. In Hebrew, one would say that she's committed -- מ- ש-" ---וצפ-" מו---לטת -- "An act of utter gall." Never mind that her ruling will eventually be overturned; its the mere fact that there are people out there -- and in positions of legal authority -- who see no problem or issue in taking a machete to our First Amendment rights when their religious scruples come into play. Ironically, Lu Ann Ballew, who is likely against government involvement in the lives of all Americans, is herself, a great example of that species known as judex activist -- "judicial activist." In reality, the term has lost all meaning. For of late, branding someone an "activist judge" says next to nothing about judicial philosophy. If you agree with a judge, he/she is a "strict constructionist." If you disagree, he/she is a "judicial activist."
Admittedly, there have been times when judges have denied plaintiffs the right to legally change their name to such inane cognomens as "F**k Censorship," "Steffi Owned Slave,' and "Rejoice ChristIsKing," In the latter case, the judge argued that allowing certain names could infringe on the religious liberties of others, and he offered the example of a court employee forced to call out a name with a religious message -- such as "Rejoice ChristIsKing." Of course, this ruling -- which comes from a New York Court, is not binding on Tennessee. They have their own brand of mishagoss.
Parents have been saddling newborns with memorable, ofttimes wacky names for a long long time. Frank Zappa named his children "Dweezil," "Moon Unit," "Diva Thin Muffin," and "Ahmet." Sylvester Stallone named his son "Sage Moonblood." Irish singer/songwriter Bob Geldhof named his daughter "Fifi Trixibelle," magician Penn Gillette named his kid "Moxie Crimefighter," and my favorite, actor Rob Morrow, who named his daughter "Tu" -- "Tu Morrow" got it? Then again, how many of us went to school with someone named "Candy Cane," "Mary Christmas" or "Crystal Ball?"
Remember, Democracy is the inalienable right to make a fool or yourself -- or to saddle kids with moronic names that will no doubt earn them their share of jibes, pinches and snubs. But no one -- least of all a Child Support Magistrate -- has the right to tell anyone what they may -- or may not -- name that child.
Gee, I wonder if Judge Ballew has a child named "Cat . . .?"
-2013 Kurt F. Stone