The baby’s first name posed no issue: ZalyKha. Georgia law could handle that.
Her parents had to stack the next two components of ZalyKha’s name on top of each other to fit them on the government’s paternity form: “Graceful Lorraina.”
But the middle name wasn’t the issue, either.
It was the girl’s fourth and last given name, Allah, that state officials balked at — which has now led the American Civil Liberties Union to file suit in hopes of getting ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah a birth certificate, at the age of nearly 2.
And that lawsuit, at least one expert on the arcane legalities of birth certificates says, could lead to far-reaching changes in the United States’ hodgepodge of state rules that determine who is allowed to call their baby what.
ZalyKha was born in Atlanta to an unmarried couple in May 2015.
She had an older brother, Masterful Mosirah Aly Allah, whose name was never questioned by government authorities, the couple wrote in their lawsuit against Georgia, filed Thursday with the civil rights group’s help.
But when Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk filled out a form to legally name ZalyKha a year after she was born, they ran afoul of a nine-point section in Georgia’s administrative code.
Last names must be either the same as the father’s, the mother’s or some combination thereof, say the rules.
Or “in accordance with a bona fide cultural naming convention.”
Also: no numbers, symbols “or term that constitutes an obscenity in any language” — though that’s presumably not a problem in ZalyKha’s case.
But Allah is. Application denied.
Walk, the father, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the name is not meant to be religious. The parents liked it because it sounded “noble,” meaning God in Arabic.
But without a birth certificate, they can’t enroll their daughter in school, or apply for medicaid or food stamps, and have “a well-founded fear that their daughter’s identity as a United States citizen may be questioned,” the lawsuit argues.
The couple enlisted the ACLU to press their case last year, but Georgia health officials wouldn’t bend, citing “the best interests of the child.”
“The requirement that the naming convention be bona fide was not intended to increase the burden of proof on the parents,” a lawyer for the state’s health department wrote in December. “But to distinguish between names chosen according to the cultural traditions of the parents’ nation of origin and names chosen on the basis of whimsy, or worse.”
Without rules, the state argued, naming chaos would follow.
In an extended footnote, the state listed a horror show of baby names given in other states and countries: Acne Fountain, Legend Belch, Number 16 Bus Shelter “and the seemingly ever-popular Adolf Hitler.”
The state cited two research papers on the legal complexities of baby naming — though the author of one of them told The Washington Post that “they didn’t seem to have read it very carefully.”
University of California at Davis law professor Carlton Larson thinks baby Allah’s parents will win their case — and may inspire nationwide reforms if it’s pressed to the Supreme Court.
In his 2011 paper, Larson explored “the bizarre legal universe governing the naming of babies,” and concluded that many state rules would likely be found unconstitutional if challenged.
That included the rule keeping “ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah” off a birth certificate, Larson told The Post.
“It seems like a dumb name to me, but it’s probably well within their legal rights to choose,” he said. “It’s a First Amendment issue — an expressive act of naming your child. And it’s a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment, due process.”
Georgia health officials declined to comment on a pending lawsuit. The state’s rules fall somewhere in between other states Larson examined in 2011 — from Kentucky, where anything goes, to the ultra-restrictive Louisiana, where only the husband’s last name was acceptable.
The ACLU “probably see it as good a test case as any,” Larson said.
And a welcome one, for him. The professor cited a California rule prohibiting accent marks in names, which once condemned a San Francisco Chronicle writer’s newborn daughter to a life of official mispronunciation.
A state lawmaker tried to change the rule, Larson said, but the bill died amid claims that it would cost millions of dollars to allow accented names.
In the new case, Larson thought Georgia would have a better argument if the baby’s chosen name was offensive, or likely to cause her harm.
But even then, his paper noted, it’s hard for the government to fairly decide what constitutes an offensive or ridiculous name.
In its letter defending its rules, the Georgia attorney cited “successful and unsuccessful attempts to bestow names such as Dracula” upon the young in other places.
And yet, another famous vampire inspired a flood of newborn namesakes several years ago, according to the New York Times.
They were named Cullen, from the movie “Twilight.” And the Social Security Administration blessed them all.