What's it like being called Messiah?

A Tennessee court has banned a couple from naming their son Messiah, saying that only Jesus Christ "earned" that name. So what's it like being called Messiah, asks Tom Geoghegan.

When the judge in Cocke County ordered the parents of seven-month-old Messiah DeShawn Martin to rename him Martin DeShawn McCullough, she argued it would put him "at odds with a lot of people" in a very Christian county.

That's not the experience of Messiah Rhodes, a 26-year-old documentary maker who was raised by his Methodist grandparents in Queens, New York.

"I went to church, not just on Sunday but also on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I ran a Bible study group when I was 10 or 11. So the ironic thing here is that I grew up in a religious background but no-one was hostile to my name.

Image caption Rhodes is one of thousands of Messiahs in the US, but there are only three on the UK electoral roll

"I wasn't treated special, I was like any other kid. And I really didn't think my name was a big deal until I heard the news from Tennessee. How can you force your faith or belief on somebody else? In Tennessee, the church and state are too close together."

Rhodes, who has a half-sister called Emma, says he doesn't know why his parents chose that name. There were moments when he wished they hadn't, but the jokes about being the "Chosen One" were usually good natured.

His Jewish dentist greets him with the words: "The Messiah is here and needs his cavities taken out." There was just one unpleasant incident, when a stranger launched a venomous rant on the subway, screaming at him that he wasn't the Messiah.

There were 762 American baby boys named Messiah last year, and that figure is growing. The Social Security Administration ranks it the fourth fastest-growing name for baby boys - it leapt from 633rd in 2011 to 387th in 2012. And it's not just a boy's name or a first name.

What makes this judge's intervention more surprising is that, unlike many other countries, the US does not have a list of banned baby names.

Indeed, some parents may regard an unconventional name as an important expression of their freedom of speech, enshrined in the US constitution, and off-beat names like Mustard, Post Office and Enamel have never troubled the authorities.

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