By Linda Rosenkrantz
There’s a new biblical boy on this year’s Top 10 list and his name is Benjamin—actually the only new boy to enter that hot spot. An Old Testament name that has had a continuous presence on the list through time, but had never before reached this level of popularity, now joins Noah and Jacob.
In 2015, more than 13,000 parents chose Benjamin for their sons. And why? First, for its combination of heritage and history—the bible story of Jacob’s youngest son, who became a symbol of a son adored by his father. Then there’s its appealing sound, with the jaunty j in the midde, plus its accessible nicknames from gentle Ben to cute Benji to retro Benny
So let’s salute some of the many notable Benjamins across time.
Probably the most famous Benjamin of all, Franklin had a staggering inventory of achievements: a Founding Father, author, printer, scientist, astronomer, inventor, surveyor, naturalist and diplomat, founder of the first public library. Benjamin Harrison was the one presidential Benjamin.
Born in 1731, the son of an ex-slave, he was called “the first Negro man of science” and “The Sable Astronomer” for his multiplicity of accomplishments, including publishing an almanac, predicting future eclipses of the sun and moon and challenging Thomas Jefferson to promote racial equality.
A painter of the Revolutionary War period, he was known for historical, mythological and religious subjects, as well as portraits and, when living in England, was a founder of the Royal Academy. A later American artist: Ben Shahn.
One of the major dramatists, essayists and lyric poets of the 17th century, a contemporary and competitor of Shakespeare: in fact his first box office success, Every Man in his Humour, featured Shakespeare in the cast. Later successful and enduring plays include Volpone and The Alchemist.
(Edward) Benjamin Britten was an important modern British classical composer, conductor and pianist. He wrote large-scale and chamber operas, as well as choral, chamber and film music and the acclaimed ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.’ Other musical Benjamins: pop singer Ben E. King, actor/dancer Ben Vereen and singer-spngwriter Ben Harper.
Known as the King of Swing, Benjamin David Goodman—clarinetist and bandleader– was a towering figure in the 1930s and forties worlds of jazz and swing, even concertizing at Carnegie Hall. Other Bennys include raunchy British comedian Benny Hill.
If you’re looking for a sports hero Ben, you can’t do better than (William) Ben Hogan, considered one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game, famous for his swing and winner of numerous awards, including the AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1953.
Benjamin Crowinshield Bradlee, who, in his position as editor of The Washington Post, published the Pentagon Papers and oversaw the historic Woodward and Bernstein investigation of the Watergate scandal.
The name Benjamin got a big bounce via the character of Benjamin Braddock, Dustin Hoffman’s breakthrough role in the 1967 film The Graduate. Some other fictional Benjamins are Benjamin Bunny, Benjamin Button and Dr. Ben Casey.
Born Krishna Bhanji, British actor Kingsley became a Ben by choice. He won a Best Actor Academy Award for his portray of Mohandas Gandhi and was knighted in 2002. He took his stage name from his father’s nickname of Benji and his grandfather’s nickname King Cloves. Younger actors include Brits Ben Chaplin and Ben Whitshaw.
Probably the most high profile Ben on the entertainment scene today, Benjamin Geza Affleck won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting along with childhood friend Matt Damon and claimed many awards for directing Argo. He is also a familiar figure on the gossip pages.
A French dancer and choreographer, this balletic Benjamin was a member of the New York City ballet and then founded the L.A. Dance Project, was featured in the movie Black Swan, married co-star Natalie Portman, and is the father of their son Aleph.
Baby Benjamin was born to Kelly Preston and John Travolta in 2010. Other parents with sons named Ben include Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Lisa Marie Presley, Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady, Alison Sweeney, and Rowan Atkinson.
This is the lovable golden mixed-breed dog that starred in a series of five eponymous films, starting in 1974, and did a lot to popularize the nickname. (Not to be confused with Gentle Ben, a black bear that featured in his own TV show in the late 1960s, which was based on a children’s novel of the same name.) One human Benji is B. Madden, the Good Charlotte guitarist.