You Can't Actually Give Your Baby Any Name You Want

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Forget your plans to name your child Wind Chime Butter Sorting Hat, because most places in the world actually have pretty specific rules regarding the creation of new surnames.


Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk are a couple in Georgia whose name for their newborn girl was rejected by the state. According to the BBC, the parents wanted to name their kid ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah. The state’s response was that they could name the baby Handy, they could name her Walk or Handy-Walk or Walk-Handy; but there’s no way they can name this baby Allah.

The Handy-Walk-Allah family and the ACLU have filed a case against Georgia, saying they fear that without a birth certificate they will be unable to obtain a social security number and the child’s citizenship will be questioned throughout her life. The couple has the opportunity to select a name considered appropriate by officials, receive a certificate and then petition for a name change, but they don’t want to do that. They also already have a son named Masterful Mosirah Aly Allah, so maybe these rules are flexible depending on who is approving the paperwork.

The case led the BBC to do some followup research on who is allowed to name who what and where. There actually aren’t a lot of places where you can casually create new surnames for your baby, in the United States or abroad:

In Georgia, parents have the right to give the child either of their surnames, or a combination of the two. They cannot be given a brand new name on their first birth certificate, although it can later be changed.

In Louisiana, the law stipulates that the mother’s maiden name must be used if unmarried, or the father’s surname if they are - unless both parties agree to change it.

Some, like Arizona and Washington, restrict the number of characters a surname can be, while others, like Texas, restrict the use of accents and umlauts.

Alabama lets you do whatever you want, and though New Jersey bans parents from using obscenities in names, they did notoriously allow someone to name their kid Adolf Hitler. Around the world, France has the same rules as Georgia, and in Japan a woman must take her husband’s surname, before we even get into the offspring issue (it’s always the dad’s last name, married or no, surprise). In Iceland you could get either parent’s surname, but that name is then followed by “son” or “daughter of.” Confusing. Let’s just call all children “The Baby” until they’re old enough to decide for themselves.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin



I once had a college course with a guy named “Bean Bag”. Legal name since birth.

Please name your children responsibly.