Make My Day
GOOD THING HIS NAME'S NOT JOHN SMITH
by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
SYRACU.S.E, Ind. -- When I was growing up, I thought I was the only Erik Deckers on Earth (my friends and family hoped for the same).
But a few years ago, while Internet "ego surfing" (looking for one's name on search engines), I made a startling discovery: I'm the only Erik Deckers in America, but I'm not the only one on the planet. As far as I know, there's only one other - a 49-year-old real estate agent in Brussels, Belgium.
I've emailed my namesake a few times, and we've exchanged pleasantries, family history, and I've promised to stop using his credit card at Amazon.com.
Belgian Erik and I also realize it's not uncommon for two people with unique names like ours to share them, and we've had a good laugh about it. But we also drew up some ground rules: he promised not to write any humor columns, and I promised not to sell any houses in Belgium.
However, Belgian Erik used to be a journalist, and I've had a few people ask about this great little fixer-upper outside Brussels, so we may have to reconsider our options.
But other people aren't so fortunate. In 1998, former basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took issue with the name choice of Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the Miami Dolphins' running back. So Kareem sued Karim, claiming he took the name without permission, even though both men changed their names as required by their Muslim faith.
In April 1998, the two Abdul-Jabbars settled the suit, and agreed that Kareem held the commercial and merchandising trademark rights to the name, while Karim would be known simply as "Abdul" for the same reason. He later changed his name to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, but he's not playing football anymore, so it doesn't matter.
But what if someone demands that you stop using your name altogether, even though it was your name to begin with?
Bill Wyman, music reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is being threatened with a lawsuit by Bill Wyman, former bassist for the Rolling Stones.
Why? Because English musician Bill Wyman doesn't want to be confused with American writer Bill Wyman.
"I must ask that you immediately cease and desist from authorizing or permitting any such use of our client's name," said Howard Siegel, English Bill Wyman's attorney, in a recent letter to American Bill Wyman.
But something makes me think that despite his indignation, Siegel isn't as concerned about this as he wants everyone to think. He doesn't seem to care whether there are other Howard Siegels in the world. Or if he is, he apparently hasn't threatened them with legal action.
Not that any of them could be confused with Howard Siegel the New York lawyer. Not Rabbi Howard Siegel of Bellaire, Tex. Not Howard Siegel, the realtor from Vernon Hills, Ill. Not even Howard Siegel, the Canadian regional theater actor/director.
There was also no indication whether English Bill Wyman is going after other Bill Wymans either, like the Salon.com editor, or the ones who live in Dallas, Denver, or Oshkosh, Wis.
American Bill Wyman recently wrote about this ordeal in a Journal-Constitution article, and the story has received worldwide attention, nearly all of it in American Bill Wyman's favor.
In his column, American Bill Wyman reported that Siegel would allow him to use his own name "if I could prove that I had come by it legally."
No problem. American Bill Wyman was born on January 11, 1961. English Bill Wyman didn't change his name until 1964.
American Bill Wyman 1, English Bill Wyman 0.
Siegel also said that American Bill Wyman could continue to use his own name if he added a disclaimer to everything he wrote "clearly indicating that (you are) not the same Bill Wyman who was a member of the Rolling Stones."
If I were American Bill Wyman I would require the same disclaimer of my English counterpart, especially when it comes to any Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings album.
What makes this demand so funny is that English Bill Wyman changed HIS name. He was originally William George Perks. I would need an overinflated sense of self-importance to demand that someone give up their real name when mine was originally just a stage name.
With all the negative press coverage I've seen on this story, I think English Bill Wyman should just quit while he's ahead. He may even want to consider changing his name.
English Erik Deckers has a nice ring to it.