The Names of the Children

by Jeff Oaks

At the Provincetown Monument last week, I read the list of the Mayflower Pilgrim names. I love some of the old names people had–Humility Cooper, Oceanus Hopkins, Peregrine White. One name that grabbed me was Wrestling Brewster, who was age 6 when the Mayflower found harbor in Massachusetts. So many of the fundamentalist’s children were named for virtues, and it struck me odd that wrestling would be a virtue, as opposed to the more settled and placid virtues of Humility, Remember, or Patience.

Imagine what your life would be like if you’d been named Struggling, Restless, or Complicated. Or Football.

At least a couple of the Brewster children seem to have been named after what their parents thought they were being born into–his sister Fear during “the height of the Puritan Persecution,” says Wikipedia, and then Love, a boy (the early 17th century version of a Boy named Sue?), and then Wrestling. Were the Brewsters wrestling with the idea of leaving for the New World then? Or where to find rest at all? Or did they expect their youngest child’s life to be full of turbulence? Was he particularly active in the womb? None of these questions pop up around his oldest brother, Jonathan, whose name seems by contrast to be without any emotional content at all.

What does Wrest mean again, I asked myself? Where does it come from? So I’m just pasteing here some Wikipedia definitions of the word Wrest as it’s come down to us. I like of course that it is the homophonic but reversed-meaning twin of Rest.

Old English wrǣstan ‘twist, tighten,’ of Germanic origin; related to Danish vriste, also to wrist.

Verb: wrest;
3rd person present: wrests;
past tense: wrested;
past participle: wrested;
gerund or present participle: wresting

To forcibly pull (something) from a person’s grasp.
“Leila tried to wrest her arm from his hold”
synonyms: wrench, snatch, seize, grab, pry, pluck, tug, pull, jerk, dislodge, remove

To take (something, especially power or control) from someone or something else after considerable effort or difficulty.
“they wanted to allow people to wrest control of their lives from impersonal bureaucracies”


To distort the meaning or interpretation of (something) to suit one’s own interests or views.
“you appear convinced of my guilt, and wrest every reply I have made”

Noun: wrest;
plural noun: wrests

a key for tuning a harp or piano.


Wrestling Brewster, by the way, died unmarried some time before 1644, when his father, William Brewster’s estate was settled. His sisters Patience and Fear pre-deceased him. His brothers Love and Jonathan survived him.