BRANFORD, CT—Branford High School Student Kelly Tiernan was named winner of the Branford student essay contest to suggest a new name for “Negro Heads” buoy and rocks, a reef located off Branford’s shoreline. Samantha Esposito and Viktoria Sinani, two runners up, were also recognized for their essays.
The buoy and the geologic formation it marks have been identified on United States nautical maps as “Negro Heads” for roughly 100 years. This reef of rocks can be a hazard to boats traveling the nearby waters, and is marked with a lighted U.S. navigational buoy to warn of the hazard. The landmark is regularly used by people navigating their vessels around Branford.
Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford) and Branford Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez launched an essay contest that would serve to rename the rocks.
“The goal of this contest was to tap into the creativity of Branford High School students, giving them an opportunity to research the history of their town and take ownership of its future,” said Senator Kennedy. “The essays were read and evaluated by a group of Branford community leaders, and the winning essay will now be formally proposed to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. I want to thank the members of the committee for all their work on this process, and of course all of the students who participated for their thoughtful, well-researched essays.”
“The essay contest provided an authentic opportunity to engage in a meaningful civic action. Congratulations to everyone involved in this important contest, and special congratulations to the winner,” said Branford Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez.
Kelly Tiernan’s winning essay suggested that the name be changed to Sowheag Rocks “because of the historical influence that Sowheag, a Native American chieftain, had on our town and region.” Samantha Esposito placed second in the contest, suggesting that the name be changed to “Totokett Settlers’ Rocks” because “the name Totokett was the original town name of Branford during the first permanent settlement.” Victoria Sinani placed third, suggesting the rocks be renamed to “Robin’s Nest” because “the landmark physically resembles eggs and our state bird is the Robin.”
All three students will receive scholarships that were generously donated by the Branford Community Foundation and Dr. Roger Lowlicht, a Branford resident. Tiernan will receive a $500 scholarship, and the runners up will each receive $250 scholarships.
This name will be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the organization capable of officially changing the offensive buoy name on all government maps. After the new name is submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the State Geographic Names Authority will be tasked with reviewing the submission and contacting local stakeholders to ensure the new name is appropriate for the community. The committee that chose the winning essays consists of many of these stakeholders, which should accelerate the review process.
The winning essays were chosen by a committee consisting of Branford Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez, Town Historian Jane Bouley, Blackstone Library Director Karen Jensen, Branford High School Principal Lee Panagoulias, Branford Community Foundation President Stephanie Farber, and Branford Fire Chief Tom Mahoney. Margaret Thomas, Connecticut’s State Geologist and Chair of the State Geographic Names Authority, provided guidance on U.S. Geographic Names policy to the committee.