Dan and I had an incredibly difficult time trying to choose a name for Benjamin before he was born. Picking a name for a child is an incredibly big deal. People make pre-judgements about you based on a name. A name can be an easy or complicated introduction to a social or professional setting. It can be a pleasant moniker that grows and changes with you, or it can be overly cutesy as an adult or overly clunky as a kid.
We gave it a lot of thought. Dan dislikes most names (I’m not exaggerating) for one reason or another. I came up with dozens of possibilities, most of which he immediately dismissed. I was picky, too — my biggest issue was that I didn’t want to choose a name that I liked if it had a nickname I disliked. Once the name is attached to a child, the parent loses control (and eventually, any influence) over what he’s called. As a mom, I reserve the right to call my kids whatever I like for as long as I live, but they’ll get to decide what everyone else calls them. I didn’t want to be stuck cringing every time someone called my house and asked for my kid.
Benjamin didn’t actually have a name until he was 3 days old. Dan and I each had a favorite (which the other one actually didn’t hate) and, ironically, when Benjamin was born and presented to us in the delivery room, we simultaneously, and unbeknownst to the other, switched our preference (I wanted to use the name Dan had been advocating, and he suddenly thought my favorite would be perfect).
So, we debated for a few days, and I finally got to choose (which means that I actually chose the name Dan had been advocating for months, which fit him just right) and he ended up as Benjamin.
We’ve always called him Benjamin. Various friends and family call him Ben, and when he was first learning to talk, he called himself “Benjin” (which has kind of stuck, too). He’s even been “Benji” a few times. He’s never commented on the difference, and has happily responded to all options. But mostly, he’s been Benjamin . . . until we moved to Austria. Here, he’s Ben, almost exclusively. I don’t know if Benjamin is uncommon here, or if nicknames are more common, but almost every person we’ve introduced him to (as Benjamin) calls him Ben. He’s never minded, and I’m happy to have him called anything that makes him happy, so he’s been Ben, especially at school (where I’ve actually never heard them call him anything else).
About a week ago, though, on the way to school, he told me that he was angry at one of his friends at school for calling him Ben. I explained to him that everyone at school called him Ben, and that if he wanted to be called something else, he was going to have to tell them. So, he asked me for help, and when we got to school that morning, we explained to the teachers that he’d like to be called Benjamin now. They were happy to oblige, and started immediately. When one of his friends approached him and said, “Morgen, Ben!” he responded with “Nicht Ben. Benjamin!” and his friend said, without missing a beat, “Morgen, Benjamin!”
Now he’s spreading the message. On Skype today with my dad, step-mother and two of my sisters, they called him Ben, and he responded with, “Nicht Ben. Benjamin!” (in an Austrian accent, too, which is extra cute). They, also, are happy to call him whatever he’d like, so now he’ll be Benjamin to them all the time, too.
There’s something about this assertion of his preference that impresses me and makes me very happy. It’s amazing to me to see him grow up and express his opinions so clearly — he’s not throwing a fit, screaming or pouting. He’s simply declaring his wish. And I love that he’s confident enough to have and share his opinion. He isn’t worried about what anyone else thinks — it’s his name, and he can be called what he likes (which is exactly right, to me).
And I’m really glad he’s got such a great name — we really can’t go wrong. (Yes, I’ve even made my peace with the possibility of “Benji” becoming a fixture one day in the future. But Benjamin is my favorite option. I like “Benjin”, too.)