According to recent studies, parents are choosing less common names for their children. The Georgia Department of Public Health refused to issue a birth certificate to a couple who chose a unique surname for their daughter.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is suing the Georgia Department of Public Health on behalf of Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk of Fulton County. Handy and Walk were denied a birth certificate for choosing to name their 22-month-old daughter “ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah.”
The chosen last name is preventing the couple from getting a birth certificate.
Handy and Walk are not married. Georgia Administrative Code states that if the mother is not married to the father either at the time of conception or at the time of birth, then the name of the father will be entered on the birth certificate only if he and the mother have signed a written consent.
Parents can choose a surname that is not the legal surname of the mother or father if that surname is chosen in accordance with a bonafide cultural naming convention practiced in the nation of origin of one or both of them
“Government has no business telling parents what they can and cannot name their children,” said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director, Andrea Young in a news release.
ACLU of Georgia and the cooperating counsel Emmet Bondurant and Michael Baumrind of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP, filed a Writ of Mandamus against Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Ms. Donna L. Moore, in her capacity as the State Registrar and Director of the State Office of Vital Records.
They are also asking the court to compel government officials to comply with their mandatory legal duties under O.C.G.A. § 31-10-9(e)(5) to issue a birth certificate to Handy and Walk’s daughter with the surname the couple selected.
Without a birth certificate, Handy and Walk have not been able to acquire a Social Security number for their daughter. They also have not been able to receive medical coverage under Medicaid and food stamps through SNAP.
“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,” Young said. “The department has also caused real harm, preventing this couple and their child from receiving the benefits they need and deserve.”
General counsel Sidney Barrett wrote that the child’s last name can be changed through a petition to a superior court after the initial birth certificate is made.
Since ZalyKha's birth on May 25, 2015, the couple has been trying to solve the issue surrounding ZalyKha’s last name. In April of 2016, Handy and Walk executed an Acknowledgment of Paternity as required by the state and designated the name of their daughter, ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah, to be recorded on her birth certificate.
“Elizabeth and Bilal jumped through every bureaucratic hoop that’s required to obtain a birth certificate for their daughter, but officials at the Department of Public Health refused to record the birth certificate with the name of their choice,” said Young.
The couple told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the name “Allah” has nothing to do with religion and they chose it because it was “noble.” Handy and Walk have a 3-year-old son, Masterful Mosirah Aly Allah, and they received a birth certificate for him without any issues. Handy is six months pregnant with their third child.
The couple is hoping to get the issue resolved quickly.