A U.S. civil rights group is suing Georgia after the state refused to give a couple’s daughter a birth certificate because her surname is “Allah.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk. The couple welcomed their daughter in May 2015 and named her ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah.
While the state had no issues with the girl’s unique first or middle names, they did have a problem with her surname. According to state officials at the Department of Public Health, Georgia law states that the child’s surname should either be the same as the mother’s, the father’s, or a combination of the two.
The unmarried parents told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they chose the last name Allah instead because it was “noble,” since it means God in Arabic. Interestingly, it is the same last name Handy and Walk gave to their first child, three-year-old Masterful Mosirah Aly Allah, but the state did not question his surname at the time of his birth.
University of California law professor Carlton F.W. Larson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Naming your child is an expressive action. And the idea that you get to name your child, and not the state, is a fundamental right. The state would need to have a compelling reason for rejecting a name, and I don’t see it. I would hope that (Handy and Walk) would win this case.”
The ACLU has deemed the case not only a government overstep, but a violation of the First and 14th Amendments.
“Government has no business telling parents what they can and cannot name their children,” said Andrea Young, Georgia executive director of ACLU. “The department’s actions interfere with the couple’s right to raise their child and are a clear violation of the right to freedom of speech and the right to equal protection under the law.”
Without a birth certificate, Handy and Walk’s two-year-old daughter will not be able to obtain a social security number. The parents fear this will lead to future problems, specifically when it comes to health care, school and travel.
Additionally, Handy is currently six months pregnant with their third child and the couple does not want to experience another legal battle.
“We don’t want to go through that process again,” Handy said. “We are still in the process of coming up with a name, and we don’t even know if it will be a girl or a boy. But the child will definitely have a noble title. Something to live up to.”
In the U.S., rules around baby names vary drastically by state. Tennessee, for instance, has old-fashioned standards where the baby must take the father’s surname or a combination of the father and mother’s surname. In Massachusetts, names must not be longer than a combined total of 40 characters. And in states like Maryland and Delaware, there are absolutely no baby name laws!
Read more about U.S. baby name laws here, or flip through the slideshow below to see which countries have the strictest naming rules.