the strange case of my name in the North

My name is not Bill.

However, probably a dozen people – first in Chicago, now here in Boston – have “heard” me introduce myself as Bill on this Road Trip. Plenty of others are altogether flummoxed by the name I use – Ben, the most simple name in the whole world – and have to ask again. And again.

This happened last night – twice – and some CFCF students and I dissected the problem a bit at Qdoba. Just another random adventure that’s a rather interesting part of this glorious Road Trip. (I’m sure someday I’ll come up with a spiritual metaphor here. Right now, it’s just for fun.)

Because I am from Texas, my name – Ben – is pronounced Bin. Straight-up, as though there was an “I” in there. Rhymes with “thin.” I’ve always known there were alternate pronunciations – at least from the moment my first grade teacher tried to correct it to a “short e” sound, as in “red.” I can’t give you a “rhymes with” for that pronounciation, because I don’t think I say any word ending in “n” like that. Ken, pen, den, ten… All rhyme with “thin” for me.

Yes, I know that’s southern. But I’ve never, ever had a problem with it ’til this trip. I’m sure there are non-accented or other-accented people who have said my name differently than I do in the course of my life, but I don’t often notice that. It doesn’t sound “weird” to me when my name is said up here, even though, when I think about it, they are clearly short-e-ing it. And maybe there have been a few people who’ve mis-heard my name in the past, but I didn’t much notice.

But Bill? Like I said, two different students last night thought I intro’d myself as Bill, and they’re by no means the first on this Road Trip. I recognize, because we talked about it in Greek class a long time ago, that both “L” and “N” are “labials” and really aren’t as far off as we would first think. (Go ahead, make the letters with your tongue. See how close they are?) But I still can’t imagine someone hearing “Bill.” But they do.

And “introduction time” is not the point at which you want the encroachment of awkwardness, nor is it the place to launch into a discussion of the problem.

So all this difficulty means I have to change the way I say my name up here, which… Your first name is kind of a big deal, right? But obviously, I’ve gotta make the change, not try to force my (apparently) offbeat pronunciation. Only that poses a difficulty, too, because I sound to myself like an idiot when I say “Ben” (short-e), and I get really self-conscious about over-pronunciation, which could make me sound awful pretentious. Arg!

It was suggested last night that I introduce myself as Benjamin, only that’s not my name at all. I certainly could say Benson, I guess.

But then I’ll probably just get, “Billson?”


  1. Jessica

    so my official diagnosis of this problem…assuming that you are actually saying “ben” and not “bill” has to do with nasality. You’re so right that “n” and “l” are similar sounds, in fact, one of the major differences is nasality and up north, the dialect is more nasal……so they are probably hearing an “l” for your nasal “n” and then when the vowel issue…well you might just want to be “bill” for a bit” unless “benny” works for ya!

  2. When in Rome…. I’m an Aussie and I felt I had to put on a US accent in lots of places to be understood, even though English is my first language (well, the Queens English!).
    Ever thought of trying to pronounce your name the way the locals do? Especially if you are just passing through!

  3. Pingback: reflections on road trips « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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