A rose by any other name, or a Ben by any other name

whats-in-a-nameWhat’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Last week I decided to organize my son’s box of childhood art and schoolwork. In the mix of macaroni art and paintings of his family, I found this story:

“My name is Ben and I would like to change it. Ben is enormously common. Also, I didn’t get to choose it. . . . I would like to change it to a big, strong, muscular sounding name like Bill.”

Poor Ben. He didn’t get to choose his name, and in elementary school when he wrote this story, there were four Bens in his grade. (No Bills, apparently, although there were plenty of those in my day. Flash back 40 years, and it might have been someone named Bill writing a story like that.)

When I posted a comment about this on Facebook, I got two kinds of responses. Some people sympathized with Ben. They, too, had been given an enormously popular name, and they resented always being one of a huge crowd. Other people had been given unusual names and longed for a run-of-the-mill moniker.

The grass is always greener . . .

My first name, Arlene, is not common, but it’s regular enough. My maiden name was more unusual. Before I married, if I gave my full name to someone for the first time, they noticed and remembered the more unusual name, my last name, and then they had to ask, “What was your first name again?”

I married a Smith. Do you know the name Smith is invisible? It is so common, people don’t notice it at all. It’s like the wallpaper on your computer screen. So now when I meet someone for the first time, they notice my first name—focus on it—and then they have to ask, “What was your last name again?”

When women marry, they choose to keep their maiden name, or change it to something different. I chose to take my husband’s name, which some women see as a form of subjugation. I want you to know that I am more “Arlene” now than I was before I married.

It doesn’t really have much to do with my name, though. Our names don’t define us. Like Shakespeare’s rose, it’s the essence of our beings that matters. It’s about our characters and our choices. It’s about our life experiences and adventures. It’s about what we do to make the world a better place, and how people feel when they think of us.

If we help people. If we make others smile, or laugh, or think, then names aren’t important.

And Ben Smith—he of the enormously popular name—he’s working on some life adventures of his own. He helps me. He makes me smile, laugh, and think, so I guess he’s on the right track..


4 thoughts on “A rose by any other name, or a Ben by any other name

  1. Mike D'Eon

    Love this post. I think back on it often. Surprisingly, I don’t know very many “Ben”s but your Ben is the one by which I measure all other Bens.

    Mike (aka “Mr.”) D’Eon

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Oh, how good to hear from you! We have fond memories of you. You wouldn’t recognize Ben now. He’s 6′ 4″ tall – a very large presence in our house. His name hasn’t changed but he’s a “big, strong, muscular” guy. He still has a heart of gold too.


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