Stephen Lapeyrouse – special correspondent to September First
NEW YORK – In the New York 13th District Court on Monday, American descendants of Amerigo Vespucci (from whose name “America” was derived) filed a class action law suit, on behalf of the recently-formed, non-profit corporation Society of Amerigo Vespucci Enterprises (SAVE) against the US government for unauthorized use of their family name, beginning with their distant relative (which recent national surveys show that only 18% of graduating high school seniors in the USA can name as the source of the name “America”).
At a press conference last week held in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, American representatives and lawyers of SAVE stated that they were suing the US government for damages and compensation for the “explicit, unauthorized use” of their family name in “United States of America”. President of SAVE, Carlos Amendos, stated that this was only the beginning of their legal efforts to register the name “America” as the property of SAVE (on behalf of all officially-registered descendants of Amerigo – approximately 2,743 members worldwide – with certified relations to the Italian explorer of the “new world”, Latin Mundus Novus, based on the internationally accepted rules of the Transnational Genealogical Institute). It was reported also that soon they would file suit against all US corporations (“Made in America”), businesses, publishers and booksellers for past and current “unauthorized use” of their legal family name.
Law experts contacted at the Columbia School of International Law stated that while the case is certainly unprecedented, it is not unusual, “in the heavily litigious climate of recent decades in the USA, ‘native American Indian tribes’ are now regularly awarded huge financial settlements by juries [for their prior ownership of real estate properties of North America taken from them without compensation, or proper legal transfer of deed of ownership]. They weren’t so concerned in those days with the legal aspects as we are today,” said Professor Jonas Diversive. “This is, potentially, a really tremendous court case – and I might perhaps add, that it is very intellectually creative as well ... and quite possibly very lucrative. Imagine if this organization, SAVE,” he continued, “were to be able to register the name “America®” – like Coca-Cola®, IBM®, Snickers®, or songs that the Girls Scouts want to sing! This is potentially a very big bucks case!”
“We are not in this for the money,” defended President of SAVE Amendos (estimated in the thousands of billions of dollars), “we only want to defend the legal rights and name of our great ancestor Amerigo; and get what is rightfully his, and ours [as his descendants]” he said. “We formed SAVE for this purpose. We welcome all corporations to apply to our NY offices for use of our family name in their advertising – cigarette companies regularly write “Made in America®”, and pay us nothing for the privilege. We recognize that this is an unusual court case. But we felt that in the current US legal climate, we just might win it. We even have an Internet address of possible clients: SAVEAMERICA®@aol.com”.
In a related court case, filed last year in San Francisco, California, the Committee for the Defense of Christopher Columbus (CDCC) – made up mostly of members of the American Branch of the Great Columbus Society (registered descendants of Cristoforo Columbus, 1451–1506) is suing recent book and magazine publishers, and authors, for their 1992 slandering of the name and person of Columbus during the 500th year anniversary of his “discovery” of “America”. Reached by phone, a spokesman for CDCC, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Our great ancestor Columbus was a great man; and he did not do all of those mean, nasty and horrible things that were said of him by all of those liberal, politically-correct ‘Columbus-bashers’ [during the fifth centenary]. They publicly and in writing, said false and slanderous things about our ancestor, for example, about how he promoted genocide, rape, pillage, murder, plunder, oppression of women, etc. How can Christopher Columbus defend himself against these accusations? The CDCC has one mission,” the anonymous spokesman continued, “to defend the honor and dignity of our great relative.”
“We will be closely watching the New York [court] case brought by SAVE. “Perhaps you know that there has been a great feud for centuries in Italy between the Vespuccis and the Columbuses [about the naming of “America”] – there have even been mysterious, unsolved crimes, and arson, ... We have long argued that it should be called the United States of Christophera, or Columbus.” [Note, there is an intra-CDCC dispute, as to whether to use the first or last, family name.] “It is, after all, America; not the United States of Vespucci!”
Lawyers for both SAVE and CDCC stated that they are not seriously worried about the “undocumented claims” of those who want to rename it the “United States of Eriksona”. Leif Ericson (circa 975–1020), was an Icelandic explorer alleged to have been one of the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil. “They’re just not going to be able to prove that one; the proof they have will never get them past a Circuit Court of Appeals,” said SAVE President Amendos.
“We are confident that we will eventually win our [New York] case in the US Court system. This is a great country; and we will take it to the United States Supreme Court if we must – and even the World Court if necessary.” “We are not crazy radicals; we do not,” he said further, “want to insist on the changing of all printed materials to the United States of Columbia, or even Ericksona. We just want the legal rights to our ancestor’s name properly honored, which means legally recognized. After all, it is not such a difficult process to add a ® sign to all current and future use of “United States of America®”.
The court case with appeals is not expected to be concluded for ten to fifteen years. Said Columbia Law expert – himself a skeptic of the claimants’ case: “Imagine if all people can register their family names, would we have Michelangelo, Newton, Einstein, Muhammad registered? Maybe the names Moses and Jesus could be claimed. Of course, this is against legal tradition; that is why this America vs America® court case is so disturbing!”
First published in the magazine English, #13, April 1997, p. 13.