The Importance of a Name

How important is a name?

In Poultney, Vermont, there is a historic marker for a remarkable man. The sign calls him: African, Revolutionary Veteran(a person who served as a soldier during the Revolutionary War), Author, Abolitionist(a person who fights to end slavery). It also lists two of his names: Boyrereau Brinch and Jeffrey Brace. Some historic records identify him as Jeffery Stiles. Why did one person have so many names? What name should we call him today?

Boyrereau Brinch was born in West Africa around 1742. Slave traders kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. Captain Isaac Miles enslaved him and changed his name. “The captain gave me the honorable nick-name of Jeffrey. I say honorable(deserving respect), as I was named after Sir Jeffrey Amherst,” a famous British soldier. He used the nick-name Jeffrey for the rest of his life.

During the Revolutionary War, Jeffrey Brace joined the American army in Connecticut. The army called him Jeffery Stiles because Benjamin Stiles owned him. He served as a soldier for five years and gained his freedom after the war.

Many years later, the government said there was no record of Jeffrey Brace in the army. He had to prove that Jeffrey Brace and Jeffery Stiles were the same person. A neighbor testified(to give evidence, like in court), “I was informed by Jeffery that he had altered his name to Jeffery Brace… After he obtained his freedom [he] took the name of his father – Brace.” The name Brace sounds similar to the name Brinch.

We know about Jeffrey Brace because he told the story of his life in a book. The memoir(an autobiography or the story of a person’s life) is called The Blind African Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nick-Named Jeffrey Brace.

What name should we use today to remember this remarkable man?

Thinking About History

Historians ask questions to think deeply about history.

Historians have to make choices when they write about people in history. Calvin Coolidge’s first name was John, but he used Calvin, his middle name. Grace Goodhue took the name Grace Coolidge after she married. What name should historians use to write about a person in history? Their birth name? Married name? Nick-name? Chosen name?

Copy and paste this citation to show where you did your research.

Vermont Historical Society. "The Importance of a Name." Vermont History Explorer. Accessed December 7, 2022. https://vermonthistoryexplorer.org/the-importance-of-a-name

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