Battle Over the Barrier Island Name
Sam Lopez, president of United Third Bridge, a Hispanic Civil Rights organization, is spearheading a campaign to name Brevard's barrier island "Ponce de Leon Island."
Armed with a recent theory that the Spanish conquistador first landed in Melbourne Beach (and not St. Augustine) Lopez's website decries, "Juan Ponce de Leon Landing -- where history is rewritten."
Last August, Lopez induced the County Commission to formally support the name change.
Mary Bolin, the only commissioner to oppose Lopez's proposal, had reservations about christening the island without first considering the opinion of its people.
Lopez assured her that the approval of local municipalities was not a requisite. He had, at the time, already garnered the support of Melbourne Beach, Melbourne, and Indialantic. Cocoa Beach would approve the name in September.
But in January, the tides shifted.
A group of Cocoa Beach residents spoke out against the naming, appalled that their home island could be named after a slave trader, profiteer and known perpetrator of genocide (per Yale University's Genocide Studies Program).
Rick Piper, a local artist, said that the name would be especially inappropriate considering the historical significance of the barrier island's native people -- the Ais.
"The Ais were an ancient tribe of fisher-gatherer watermen who lived on this island for 3,000 years," Piper said. "Their culture pre-dates the Aztecs, and the pottery from this region is the oldest in all of North America. That is our island's proven cultural history, and we should celebrate it."
In a royal Spanish map drafted in 1602, this island already had a name. It was "Land of Ais."
In light of these facts -- and amid mounting opposition -- Cocoa Beach's city commission unanimously rescinded its support for "Ponce de Leon Island."
Indialantic soon followed suit.
Currently, just two of eight barrier island communities support the name.
In response to the public outcry, the US Board of Geographical Names has sent a questionnaire to beachside municipalities. It offers three choices: Ponce de Leon Island, Ais Island, or No Name.
Trudie Infantini, one of the County commissioners to originally support Lopez's proposal, has stated, "I hope this comes back before the Board for consideration. I agree it should not be named after Ponce de Leon."
Given Infantini's change of heart, Ponce de Leon opponents need only convince one more county commissioner to sway the vote. If the county rescinds its decision, it will join the super-majority of barrier island communities already against the naming.
Names are important. Ponce De Leon's has already been gilded up the coast to St. Augustine. Does it enrich our island to name it after him? Are we even certain he landed here?
If you live on the barrier island, and if you put any weight into names and history, attend your next city commission meeting, or send an email to your county commissioner:
Let your voice be heard.
As Benjamin Disraeli once said -- "History is made by those who show up."