Students participate in essay contest in hopes to change offensive name of Branford buoy and reef

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BRANFORD --  Creativity and sensitivity, the primary goals of an essay contest designed to change the name of a landmark in Long Island Sound that has offended many for a long time.

For over 100 years, about a mile from Branford, a long reef of rocks, marked by a buoy, has been named "Negro Heads."

"This is an antiquated name and it's offensive to me and many other people in Branford," said State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr.

Kennedy and other town leaders orchestrated the essay contest to rename the rocks.

"It just shows like discrimination and a lot of like bias, like racial bias," said Branford High School freshman Samanatha Esposito, a runner up in the essay contest.

"I thought it was offensive and I'm disgusted by it," said Viktoria Sinanai, a junior, who was the other runner up. "And, I wanted to make a change happen."

The runner ups will split $500.

"When I was researching, I just got really like passionate about it," said Kelly Tiernan, a sophomore, who won the contest.

She won the $500 first prize, suggesting a name change to Sowheag Rocks, named after a Native American chieftain of the Middletown based Mattabesset Tribe.

"They ended up selling the land that is Branford to the Dutch when they first came," said Tiernan.

Kennedy said he never realized a name change like this was even possible, until former President Obama orchestrated one in 2015.

"President Obama renamed Mount McKinley to Mount Dinali late in his presidency," said Kennedy

Kennedy said he will submit the proposed new name to the state geologist.

"It fulfills every criteria that she needs to formally submit the name to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names," said Kennedy.

"I never thought I'd be able to do something that made a big impact or a big presence," said Tiernan.

Kennedy said he expects the name change to be fast tracked.