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RIP, Ben: A Mom Mourns Her Once-Favorite Name

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BENJAMINLaura Dunphy and her husband, Mike, are mourning the loss of the name Benjamin, which was terminated from their Baby Name List on Friday May 21, 2010, after a long and debilitating ailment.

Almost 11 years ago, Benjamin – as they called him, Ben – was the very first boy’s name borne onto their List.  Laura and Mike came to a nearly immediate agreement that Ben held so many attractive qualities: it was classic without being blah, it flowed nicely with Mike’s challenging last name, and it had the delightful fringe benefit of honoring Laura’s beloved former professor, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

A year into Ben’s tenure at the top of the List, signs of trouble emerged.  Laura’s friend Kate knew about Ben’s number one spot and also that Sophie was Ben’s top-ranking companion on the girls’ side.  One day Kate called Laura to say that a VP at her investment bank just named his baby daughter Sophie, and he happened to have an older son named Ben.  “That’s funny,” Laura said.

Two years later, Laura and Mike’s friend Ann reported that she was sitting in the office of an editor at her magazine, and the woman started telling a story about her kids, Sophie and Ben.  “That’s weird,” Laura said.

And then it started happening.  Dedications in books to Sophie and Ben, mentions in magazines (“So-and-so travels everywhere with her ferrets, Sophie and Ben”), moms running after kids in grocery stores (“Sophie, don’t you dare throw that watermelon at Ben!”).  It was an epidemic.

Some people might have taken these incidents as evidence that they’d cultivated a good match.  Laura and Mike, however, felt unsettled.  That the world found the combination of Sophie and Ben so appealing made Laura and Mike feel dull, original, uninspired.  They knew the name Ben was somewhat common and that Sophie was rising in popularity, but the number of times they encountered that exact pairing seemed statistically impossible.  They simply felt less enthusiastic about keeping both names in the top slot.

Eight years after Laura and Mike created their List, the universe decided which name would become a permanent part of the equation.  They had a baby girl.  They named her Sophie.  They still weren’t sure whether they’d consider naming her potential future brother Ben.

Within a year of Sophie’s birth, The Land of Nod catalog dealt Ben a near-fatal blow.  On a page of personalized items, there they were, two little signs right next to each other:  S is for Sophie.  B is for Ben.  “That SUCKS!” Laura cried.

After much discussion, Ben was officially moved to a backup position, with no candidate to take his place at Number One.  Laura and Mike secretly hoped Ben might even regain the first ranking someday.  If only they could get over their hesitations about committing to the mundane pairing of Sophie and Ben!

“I guess maybe if we had three boys, I’d consider Ben,” Mike said. “We should keep it on the List.”

“It’s more likely that I will get hit by a tap-dancing meteor than have three more children,” Laura replied.
“But I’m not ready to say goodbye to Ben yet either.”

May 24, 2010 changed that.  Laura was compelled to visit the birth announcements for the London Telegraph.  On the very first page, Laura read that on May 14 in Paris, Oliver and Sara (nee Critchley) Jenkins had a daughter, Sophie Jean, a baby sister for their son Benjamin.

Laura and Mike pulled the plug.

They had only this statement:  “Ben, we loved you.  We still do, in many ways.  Unfortunately, Kate’s VP, Ann’s editor, The Land of Nod, the Jenkins of Paris (formerly of London), and countless others killed you for us.  We couldn’t let your dignity – or our egos – take another blow.  Rest in peace, Ben.”


Writer Laura Dunphy is currently mourning in the privacy of the Manhattan apartment she shares with her husband, daughter and dog. In lieu of flowers, please send cocktails.

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