The Next Generation of Bens

October 29, 2011 § 11 Comments

Michael Jackson's best friend, Ben. The name's popularity has sprouted refreshing alternatives to common Benjamin.

Benjamin is one of the oldest, most well-used names in the world. It’s currently the 66th most popular name in the United States, and still the most popular origin of Ben by a long shot. Inspirational Bens are everywhere, from 18th Century American revolutionary Benjamin Frankin, who discovered electricity, to jazz musician Benny Goodman and Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” Michael Jackson’s hit song “Ben,” and even actor-directors Ben Affleck and Ben Stiller. In the Bible, Benjamin is the youngest and most beloved son of Jacob and his wife, Rachel. After a difficult childbirth, Rachel knew she was dying, and named her son Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” After her death, Jacob changed his son’s name to Binyamin, the traditional spelling of Hebrew Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand; son of the south; son of my old age.” Benjamin was regarded in the Bible as a righteous child, who stayed with Jacob as his older brothers plotted against the eldest, and Jacob’s heir, Joseph.

Ben will always be around – simply, it’s Hebrew for “son,” it’s emblematic. And the number of other choices availing themselves lately, like Bentley, Bennett, even Benno and Benton is a sure sign that “Ben” isn’t going anywhere. Even a renewed interested in Reuben (Hebrew for “see, a son!”) could help it.

Bentley is jumping massively, on the tails of popular country musician Dierks Bentley, and 16 and Pregnant‘s Maci Bookout, who had a son Bentley in 2007. Actor Bentley Mitchum is the grandson of legendary American actor Robert Mitchum, but he was born in 1967 as Christopher Robert Bentley. His father was Christopher, his grandfather was Robert – so he went by the only name left! It’s also a type of luxury car, a status symbol and aspiration. The name is just outside the US Top 500 now, after jumping more than 400 places since entering in 2007. Bentley is an Old English term meaning “bent grass meadow,” from bent (bent) + lea (grass, meadow). With origins like that, it’s easy to see this name picking up speed as a girls name in the near future, but it might always skew male, thanks to the nickname Ben – which has never been particularly female.

Ealier this year, 30 Rock‘s Jane Krakowski welcomed son Bennett Robert, with designer Robert Godley. “It’s an English name on my fiancé’s side. We went through all the names on both sides. He came out and he looked like a Bennett! It suited him,” Krakowski explained. It was also the name selected by Canadian country musician Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who welcomed Bennett Derwin in 2010.

It sounds so literal, like Beckett. It’s of French and Latin origin, the medieval form of Benedict. Latin for “blessed,” Benedict scores low or high sometimes depending who you ask – it’s the name of the current, controversial Pope of the Catholic Church. Primarily used by Roman Catholics and the name of 16 popes, Saint Benedict formed the Christian monastic order, the Benedictines. It’s the full name of Canadian TV host Ben Mulroney, which might actually make the name less popular here, if that fact were widely known. He hosted Canadian Idol and currently hosts a celeb gossip show, but he’s also the privileged son of a conservative former Prime Minister. Shakespeare’s Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing is a self-assured, witty bachelor, possibly the inspiration for 20th Century British actor Alan Bates’ son Benedick (twin of brother Tristan), born in 1971. French Benoit, a variation of Benedict, has been in use before but isn’t trending lately. Italian version, Benito, feels DOA thanks to Benito Mussolini. (Variations on the feminine Benedicte are more popular of late.)

Benton and Benson are further selections to add to the developing Urban Cowboy trend – unearthed recently, it includes names like Boone, Weston, and Colt. Benson started as an Old English surname for “son of Ben,” was the name of a wisecracking butler in ’70s sitcom Soap and his own ’80s spinoff, Benson, and is less known now than ever for being the name of a popular cigarette brand – at least in Canada, where Benson & Hedges is not available. Benton is an Old English place name surname meaning “town in the bent grass,” and it’s popularity peaked in the 19th Century as a first name. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys had a son named Carl Benton in 1972, honouring Dennis’ brother and bandmate, Carl Wilson, and American country singer Suzy Bogguss had son Benton Charles in 1995.

Benno is German for “bear,” a variation on bern, perhaps even a descriptive, meaning “brave like a bear.” Bear has seen a rise in popularity – why wouldn’t a name with the same meaning, that can sound as common as Ben, do the same? I knew a Benno growing up, and think it’s not a bad name at all, even if he did get teased for his name as a kid! German former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich named his son Benno this year, born to wife Sara on January 18th. Italian-American celebrity chef Mario Batali selected Benno for his son in 1996. Benji, a diminutive of Benjamin, peaked in the US Top 1000 at 621 in 1975. It’s another that could see a rise among quirkier parents, but to most it’s still a dog’s name. Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler had son Benji in 1987, and legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona’s daughter Giannina, with current football star Sergio “Kun” Aguero had son Benjamin in 2009, but they call him Benji. Benny Goodman even named his daughter, born in 1946, Benjie after himself. The jury is still way out on the Hebrew name, one letter off from Benji, that means “excellent son” – Benzi. It almost looks femine and could get lost because of it.

One I particularly like for a middle name is Benvenuto – Italian for “welcome,” it’s often joyfully bestowed upon a long-awaited first child. But Spanish Benicio (as in Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro), meaning “the benevolent one” is likely to catch on first, if either would.

Are there any other “Ben” names you like or think have a future?

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§ 11 Responses to The Next Generation of Bens

  • Reuben! Love the name, and I do believe that the strikingly similar Rubin is the German word for Ruby.

  • […] how ’bout Beau for Benjamin?  Photoquilty mentioned it on the AppMtn Facebook page.  Name Must Stay has a list of Benjamin-substitutes that might be worth a look, […]

  • countrylizb says:

    Some others that I like are Benaiah and Eben or Ebenezer

    • I wonder about the vocabulary word “benison” which means blessing. I mean, it starts with Ben and ends with son, and unlike Benson, it doesn’t have the flavour of tobacco on it! (Benson and Hedges is what my dad smoked until he gave up).

      Any takers for the name Benison? Or is it too much like venison with a B?

    • namemuststay says:

      Those are great! And it almost feels, with Ebenezer, that Ben is an obvious nickname these days. The name is a lot of syllables, and one nasty Dickens character too heavy for me personally, which makes it an ideal nickname candidate for me! And I love Eben! Thanks for coming by my site, Liz, hope you’ll come back!

  • Livlife says:

    Two things.

    1) There was an early 90s tv series called Due South. Big in America and Canada. The main character was a Canadian mountie (living in Chicago) named Benton Fraser. Just for another Benton reference.

    2) I once met a boy named Benner. Went by Ben or Benny.

    • namemuststay says:

      I forgot about Due South! I never watched it – I was pretty young when it aired.

      I kept running Benner over and over in my head when I was writing the post – I know a guy whose last name is Benner and he goes by the surname often, casually. With boy names ending in ‘er so often these days, Benner seems inevitable!

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