From an Old Testament patriarch to a Founding Father, a friendly bear, and a famous rabbit, there are plenty of Bens to inspire parents.
Thanks to Ashlie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Let’s start with the Old Testament.
Benjamin is the youngest son of Jacob’s dozen boys, and hence, the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name means either “son of the right hand,” “son of my days,” or possibly “son of the south.”
There’s more to his story, but as a name, the tale is a familiar one. Benjamin was overlooked by Christian families until after the Reformation, when we see a rise in the name’s use.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin started out as a printer and newspaper editor. He became a widely respected writer and civic leader. While Franklin eventually served as Ambassador to France, we remember him more as a scientist and inventor. Franklin also established many civic organizations, including the city of Philadelphia’s first fire department. He also played a key role in establishing the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s hard to say just how common the name was in Colonial America. Franklin was the fifteenth of seventeen children, so family names might have been exhausted by the time of his birth.
Like many Old Testament names, it became more common following the Protestant Reformation. Franklin’s siblings included Ebenezer and Lydia, and his parents were Abiah and Josiah, so even if the name wasn’t common, the style would have been familiar.
EIGHTEENTH and NINETEENTH CENTURY BENJAMINS
Benjamin Banneker authored almanacs and worked as a surveyor in Baltimore in the late 1700s. The son of a former slave, he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, famously taking him to task for continuing to own slaves.
Sir Benjamin Hall oversaw the installation of the Great Bell in Augustus Pugin’s neo-Gothic Clock Tower near Parliament on the River Thames in London. That’s one possible reason the bell was long been called Big Ben. But at the time, heavyweight boxing champ Ben Caunt was known as Big Ben, so it’s possible that’s how the landmark got its name.
British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli served in the 1860s and 1870s, during the reign of Queen Victoria.
In the US, Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States in 1889, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, 9th President William Henry Harrison. Benjamin was a family name. The first Harrison to arrive in the New World was Benjamin Harrison, who came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1630.
Wealthy businessman Benjamin Guggenheim was born in 1865, and lost his life on the Titanic in 1912.
Brothers Robert and Benjamin Moore founded a paint company in Brooklyn in the 1880s. It’s still around today.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Benjamin ranked in the US Top 100 from 1880 into the 1920s, so it’s not surprising to find plenty of nineteenth and early twentieth century notables.
The name fits with classics like John and Henry. never leaving the US Top 200.
By 1968, the baby name Benjamin was back in the Top 100 again.
It entered the US Top Ten in 2015, and stands at #7 as of 2020.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
Notable bearers of the name include:
- Actors Kingsley, Stiller, Bratt, Platt, Affleck, and McKenzie.
- NFL quarterback Roethlisberger, along with plenty of other athletes.
- Musicians Madden – usually known as Benji – and Folds.
Fiction gives us plenty of Bens, too:
- It’s the little brother on 80s sitcom favorite Growing Pains, the real first name of Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H., and a bad(ish) guy on Lost, and many others.
- Benjamin Tennyson was the main character in Cartoon Network’s Ben 10.
- A 1972 horror movie gave Michael Jackson his first solo #1 hit: “Ben,” nominated for an Oscar and winner of a Golden Globe.
- In 2008, Brad Pitt starred in an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The baby name Benjamin has become a go-to, every-guy name. It feels solid, reliable, just plain nice.
BUNNY, BEAR and BENJI
While plenty of Bens grow up to be men of accomplishment, the name feels cuddly, too. Maybe that’s because so many famous fictional Bens have had paws, including:
- Benjamin Bunny was a cousin to Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s stories.
- Gentle Ben, a children’s story and television series about a boy and a friendly brown bear.
- From 1974 through the early 2000s, Benji was a lovable stray dog who saved the day.
The current US Top 1000 includes other Ben names, too. As wildly popular as the baby name Benjamin has become, Ben is also short for Bennett and Bentley. And other possibilities, like Benedict and Benicio, are heard, too.
The baby name Benjamin feels reliable. It’s a solid choice for a son, a handsome name worn by men of accomplishment. But it’s sweet for a child, a friendly and approachable name that never grows old.
What do you think of the baby name Benjamin?
First published on March 25, 2015, this post was revised substantially and re-published on September 15, 2021.