What do the current pope, an infamous traitor, and my favorite breakfast food have in common? They all share the name Benedict, of course!
Before you think I’m crazy for suggesting you name your child after a poached egg dish, keep reading…
Benedict’s meaning is about as positive a one as you can get, coming from the Latin word for “blessed.” The name certainly has strong Catholic overtones, having been worn by six saints and fifteen popes. The most notable of these is the 5th century St. Benedict of Nursia, the patron saint of Europe and the founder of the very first Western monasteries. (Depending on your religious persuasions, you may see these links as advantageous or disadvantageous.)
Non-Catholics perhaps think more immediately of Benedict Arnold. While he certainly doesn’t get any points for loyalty, he’s not as bad a guy as the history books make him out to be. He was actually a very brave and accomplished general, and some historians speculate that without his early victories on behalf of the United States, we may not have won the American Revolution. He and Ethan Allen co-led the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, and he was primarily responsible for the victory at the Battle of Saratoga. However, other generals frequently took the credit for his victories, so he became bitter and decided to join forces with the British instead. Not very loyal, but somewhat understandable.
While the name has never been popular, it was in the U.S. top 1000 nearly every year from 1880-1968. The highest rank it achieved was slot #446 in 1914 — when you compare the percentages, that’s about as common as Deacon, Atticus, and Matteo are today. Not widespread, but definitely in use.
The name has spawned several notable variants. There’s the Middle English Bennett, whose snappy vibe and modern surnamey feel make it the most popular form in the U.S., currently ranked #372. Parents with a literary bent may appreciate the link to the Bennet family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
There’s also the Spanish and Italian Benito, which surprisingly ranked in the top 1000 up until 2003. Despite its associations with the inventor of fascism, its popularity fluctuated very little from the 1920’s through the 1970’s. In my imagining at least, if Benito can overcome associations with Mussolini, Benedict should be able to overcome associations with Arnold.
We can’t forget Beatrice and Benedick, of course, perhaps two of the best-loved Shakespearean lovers. Their witty banter is the main appeal of Much Ado About Nothing, the play which incidentally inspired the name of this blog. According to Nameberry, Benedick is the Dutch form of Benedict. Shakespeare fan that I am, I can’t help but feel this name has an unfortunate final syllable and that English-speaking parents would be best off retaining the final T.
Other potentially usable international variants include the French Benoit (ben-WAH), the Danish Bendt, the Portuguese Benedito, and the English surname Benson.
All in all, Benedict seems like a good choice for parents looking for something historical and distinctive but still familiar. It shortens easily to the very wearable nickname Ben should a son find his full name a bit too much to live up to. Parents wishing to avoid top-50 names might use it as a way to honor a friend or relative named Benjamin. And for those not quite daring enough to use it as a first name, Benedict’s three syllables make it a rhythmically pleasing candidate for the middle slot.
So what do you think? Is this one best relegated to history books and diner menus, or could it jump off of their pages and onto our playgrounds?