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.
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) March 28, 2017
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.
In Iceland, parents must choose a baby name from a list of 1,853 female names and 1,712 male names. If they do not, they must seek permission from a special committee. Monikers must meet certain grammar restrictions and must contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet. The names are also required to be gender specific and cannot be an embarrassment to the child. Banned: Harriet (cannot be conjugated in Icelandic) and Duncan (the letter “c” is not recognized in the Icelandic alphabet) Approved: Bambi, Elvis
All baby names in New Zealand must be approved by the government. According to CNN, they “must not cause offense to a reasonable person, not be unreasonably long and should not resemble an official title and rank.” Banned: Lucifer, King, Anal, 4Real, Messiah Approved: Benson, Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence
Swedish law requires the government to approve all baby names. The law states: “First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.” Banned: Superman, Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced “Albin”) Approved: Lego, Google (as a middle name)
Local authorities can reject a name if they deem it inappropriate. Babies are also only allowed one given name and one surname. Banned: Akuma (meaning “devil”)
Denmark has extremely strict rules for naming children. Parents must choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved boy and girl names. If couples want to choose a name that’s not on the list, they must first get special permission from their church and then the name is reviewed by government officials. Baby names must reflect gender and cannot be unusual. Surnames cannot be first names and generally, creative spelling of common monikers are often rejected. Banned: Anus, Pluto, Monkey Approved: Benji, Jiminico, Fee
German names must be gender obvious and cannot cause future embarrassment or ridicule for the child. Surnames, names of object or products cannot be used as first names. If the name a couple chooses is rejected by the government, parents can appeal. However, if the parents lose the appeal, they must choose a different moniker. Banned: Osama Bin Laden, Matti (sex of baby is not obvious), Schroeder, Kohl Approved: Legolas, Nemo
Parents have freedom to choose any name they wish unless the moniker interferes with the child’s best interests. After parents register their child's birth certificate, the registrar will notify legal officials of any questionable names. The family may be taken to court and ordered to change the child's name. Banned: Nutella, Strawberry Approved: Fraisine
Chinese parents are required to choose names with characters that computer scanners can read. This makes it easy for scanners to read national identification cards. Additionally, numbers and non-Chinese symbols and characters are not allowed. Banned: “@” (@ is pronounced “ai-ta” in Chinese, which is close to the phrase that means “love him.” The parents liked the meaning of this symbol)
Portuguese parents must choose a moniker from a list of approved baby names. These monikers were chosen by the Institute of Registration. Banned: Mona Lisa, Aaron Approved: Abdénago, Noel
Mexico bans names that are considered “derogatory, pejorative, discriminatory or lacking in meaning.” Their goal is to protect children from being bullied in the future. Banned: Lady Di, Circumcision, Rolling Stone