Sometimes Allah is just a name
Georgia tried to crack down on playing games on a birth certificate
The star-cross’d Juliet, thinking she loved only a man named Montague and not the entire Montague clan, innocently asked Romeo, “what’s in a name?”
If she lived in Georgia, the answer is, “a lot.” That which we call a rose doesn’t always smell so sweet to a government clerk.
A case percolated for months in the Georgia courts about whether the state has the authority, and when, to overrule parents when they want to give their progeny an unusual or even comic name.
When a Georgia couple applied to name their daughter ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina, the state said so far, so good, but when they wanted to give her a fourth name, Allah, the state said no. The selfindulgent parents had named an older brother Masterful Mosirah Aly Allah and the state did not object.
But this time the clerk cited a nine-point section in the Georgia administrative code that guides the naming of children, such as requiring that surnames must be that of the mother or father or a combination of those names, and given (or Christian) names can’t include numbers, symbols or “a term that constitutes an obscenity in any language.”
The parents, Bilal Walk and Elizabeth Handy, who are not married, contended in a law suit filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, that the name Allah, which is Arabic for God, was not meant to be religious. They just liked it, they told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, because it sounds “noble.”
Until they got a proper birth certificate, which the state insisted it wouldn’t issue, they couldn’t enroll the little girl, now 2, in school, or apply for Medicaid or food stamps. They held “a wellfounded fear that their daughter’s identity as a United States citizen may be questioned.”
The state of Georgia, which like several other states regulates naming of babies, said it was acting only “in the best interests of the child.” The requirement, said a lawyer for the state health department, “is not intended to increase the burden of proof on the parents, 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.”
“Or worse” in some places includes vulgarities and cruel whimsy. In an extended footnote, the state cited several baby names given to babies in other jurisdictions, including Acne Fountain, Legend Belch, Number 16 Bus Shelter “and the seemingly ever-popular Adolf Hitler.”
Lawyers predicted that baby Allah’s parents would prevail at the U.S. Supreme Court. But all’s well that ends well. Georgia relented and the baby got a name. She can always change it later if, as may be, she doesn’t like it.