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Georgia couple sues the state to give their daughter an unusual last name

A couple in Georgia is suing the state to give their child an unusual last name. The couple is working with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a lawsuit on their behalf. (Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple is suing the state of Georgia after being denied the right to give their 22-month-old child the last name of "Allah."

State officials with the Department of Public Health told Georgia residents Bilal Walk and Elizabeth Handy that giving their baby a different surname does not fit their naming conventions in place by state law, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. According to the DPH, in order to fit the criteria, the child's name cannot be what the couple originally proposed — ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah — but instead must end in either "Walk" or "Handy" or a combination of the two surnames.

The state even proposed a solution: pick a surname for purposes of the initial birth record and then once the couple has the birth certificate, they could petition a higher court to change the baby's surname.

The couple, who has battled the state for almost two years since their daughter was born, is working with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a lawsuit on their behalf. They said that they still do not have a birth certificate because of the dispute and had to cancel their planned trip to Mexico since they could not travel without it.

"We have to make sure that the state isn’t overstepping their boundaries,” Walk told the Journal. “It is just plainly unfair and a violation of our rights."

The ACLU maintains that this case is a prime example of overreach of government and a first amendment violation.

"There are numbers of parents who have selected a name for their children,” ACLU attorney Michael Baumrind said. “The state has no business determining if a name is satisfactory. The parents get to decide the name of the child. Not the state. It is an easy case.”

In the meantime, the couple is unable to get Medicaid coverage or food stamps for their daughter because she does not yet have a birth certificate.

"Simply put, we have a personal understanding that we exercise in regards to the names,” Walk said. “It is nothing that we want to go into detail about, because it is not important. What is important is the language of the statute and our rights as parents."

The couple already has a 3-year-old son named "Masterful Allah," and Handy is now six months pregnant with another child. She said the couple doesn't want a repeat episode of their current 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."

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