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Renault gets green light to call its car 'Zoe'

It could be the French version of "A Boy Named Sue" — a car named Zoe.

A judge ruled Wednesday that the automaker Renault can call its new electric car Zoe, much to the chagrin of some French women and girls with that first name.

Parents of two children named Zoe Renault (pronounced ZOH-eh ruh-NO) had argued in court that their children could end up enduring a lifetime of teasing and annoyance — just like the fictional youth named Sue in the famous Johnny Cash song.

The families, who are not related to the car company, wanted Renault to choose another name for the model.

"There's a line between living things and inanimate objects, and that line is defined by the first name," lawyer David Koubbi told The Associated Press in an interview. "We're telling Renault one very simple thing: First names are for humans."

But a judge found against Koubbi's clients in a fast-track proceeding, ruling that the parents would only have a case it they could prove that naming the car "Zoe" would cause the children "certain, direct and current harm."

Koubbi said he would appeal the decision.

He insisted that while it's clear the Zoe Renaults of the world would be most affected by the release of the car — slated for 2012 — all of France's estimated 35,000 Zoes would feel the sting.

"Can you imagine what little Zoes would have to endure on the playground, and even worse, when they get a little bit older and someone comes up to them in a bar and says, 'Can I see your airbags?' or 'Can I shine your bumper?'" Koubbi said.

The lawyer said Renault named it the Zoe ZE because of the electric-powered auto's zero emissions.

Renault, one of France's two main carmakers, has already given several of its cars female first names — including its compact hatchback Megane and its mini Clio. Both are popular girls' names in France, but there was no organized opposition to either name.

The fight over Zoe, which means "life" in Greek, has gotten considerable media attention in France, where a petition on a Facebook page called "Zoe's not a car name" has garnered more than 6,000 signatures.

First names are a serious matter in France, which formerly restricted parents' choices to a specific list of traditional names. The rules have since been loosened, but even today officials can oppose parents' choices on the grounds that ridiculous names can hurt their future.

In June, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said he was aware of the issue and wanted to avoid any controversy that could potentially hurt the car's sales.

"We don't want our car to come on the market with a name which is a handicap," he told Europe-1 radio.

Still, a Renault official emphasized that there's no plan to change the car's name.

"We ordered several studies that showed that it's not a handicap for the car, so there's no reason to make any changes," said the official, who declined to give his name in accordance with company policy. "We're very happy with the judge's decision."

Attorney Koubbi said the two Zoes at the heart of the case are 2 and 8 years old and their parents were not seeking any damages.

Koubbi, who has represented French celebrity clients, took the case on a pro bono basis.

Why?

Because his stepdaughter's name is Zoe.

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Associated Press writer Pierre-Antoine Souchard in Paris contributed to this report.