Baby Name Laws

Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

What’s in a name? A lot, actually.

Studies have shown that people’s initial opinions of each other are often subtly shaped by names without them even knowing it. From making friends on the playground to impressing job interviewers, you’re going to get a different reaction if your name is Steve versus Apple.

Using this logic, the governments of most states have crafted legislation regulating what parents can name their children.

These regulations have sparked numerous legal debates — most recently in Georgia, where parents were denied a birth certificate for a daughter they wanted to name “Allah.”

When Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk had a baby girl in May 2015, they were excited to call her ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah.

But the state of Georgia turned them down, arguing that the child’s surname must match at least one of the parents’ or be a combination of the two. The thing is, though, the parents had already given the last name Allah (which means “God” in Arabic) to their son, Masterful. And Mr. Walk had also given the name to another of his sons. The state hadn’t argued in either case.

Thus the parents filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, which will likely go to trial in April.

For now, though, ZalyKha is a two-year-old without a birth certificate — which makes her unable to be registered for prekindergarten or leave the country.

The state’s health department has told the family that they are welcome to register ZalyKha with one of the parents’ last names so that she can have the documentation, and then petition a Superior Court to change it later.

The general council to the Department of Health wrote a letter to the ACLU saying that, while there is nothing wrong with the name Allah, there are some instances when the chosen name for a child would have a clearly harmful effect on his or her future.

Real examples given in this letter were reported by the New York Times: “Snappy Fishsuit; Acne Fountain; Sex Fruit; Loser; Fat Meat; Stud Duck; Ghoul Nipple; Number 16 Bus Shelter; Yeah Detroit; Tula Does The Hula In Hawaii; Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine The Hulk And The Flash Combined; and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116.”

Most states don’t let parents include numerals or symbols or choose a name with a crazy amount of letters. But there is no clear practical or psychological reason why a child should have the same last name as one of their parents — as Georgia is arguing — and a lot of states don’t require it.

Maybe the family should move to Hollywood where celebrity children like Diva Muffin, Sage Moonblood and Fifi Trixibelle have gotten birth certificates no problem. The California baby people wouldn’t even pause at little Allah.


Next, check out our list of the 20 craziest laws in the United States. Then, learn how a criminal ring of nuns in Spain stole hundreds of thousands of babies.

Annie Garau
Annie is a NYC-based writer. For tips, write to annie@pbh-network.com.
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