“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”

When I was four and had just mastered the art of writing without error my name—Ben—my world turned upside down.

"Ben?" my mom said to me as I was practicing my penmanship—err, crayonmanship—at the kitchen table.


"You know how sometimes you hear me and Dad call your brother Sam 'Samuel'?"

Yeah, but only when you catch him stealing from the cookie jar. Or from my plate of cookies. Or from my Halloween candy. Or sneaking out of bed to play LEGOs past bedtime. Come to think of it, I forgot his name was also innocent Sam. I knew him only as guilty Samuel.

"Yeah, I know [only too well…Halloween Candy Bucket 1996, you will not be forgotten]."

"Well, your name is also short for something. Your full name is Benjamin."


I was shook.

This to me sounded like something a magician would say before pulling a rabbit out of his hat: "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Benjamin! Alakazam!"

This to me was not a name. Certainly not my name.

"But I'm Ben!" I pleaded.

"You are! And you'll always be! But if you ever want to, you can go by Benjamin. But if you don't, if you ever hear someone call you Benjamin—"

—don't think they're calling me names?

"—just tell them politely that you'd like to be called Ben."

I wish I could have told you that before you wrote the birth certificate!

Here I was, all ready to move on to mastering sophisticated words like "cow" and "pig". But now, now that this bombshell was dropped on me, I was back to square one: learning my own name.

Eventually I did learn how to spell it. Need proof? Benjamin. There. I did it.

But I never did grow into my unabridged appellation. I've always elected to be called Ben. Sometimes, though, I go by Benjamin just to see if people pronounce it right. I always get a kick out of it when someone adds an "r":

You'd be surprised by the number of people who have pronounced it "Ben-German". But I don't blame them. There was a time when even I had trouble saying it. Albeit, I was four, but I can still relate.