You know the one, the giant clock tower smack-dab in the middle of London that you’re pretty sure nobody uses to actually check the time anymore. At the very least, people probably weren’t using it for reminders that the hour has changed for the last like… five years. That’s okay, because Big Ben has a pretty nice function of “telling people your film takes place in London.” Anyway, why did people decide one day they were going to call the giant tower Big Ben?
The Tower Isn’t Actually Named Big Ben
You probably knew this already, but the clock tower isn’t actually named “Big Ben.” It was named the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 because Queen Elizabeth II had a big party to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee–a celebration held on the 60th anniversary of a significant event in a significant person’s life (normally ascension to a throne), or the founding of some important institution.
Here’s a fun fact: Queen Victoria is the only other Queen who has gotten a Diamond Jubilee. Humans don’t normally live long enough to start pushing these kinds of numbers.
But anyway, what was Elizabeth Tower called before it was renamed?
Well it was straight up just called the “Clock Tower.” With that in mind, you can probably see why people wanted to give Big Ben a more specific name, considering the UK has like 12 clock towers. London itself has five.
Big Ben first started construction in 1843 as part of a new design for the Palace of Westminster. Mostly because it kind of burned down in 1834.
Big Ben has been named incorrectly. Twice.
There was a brief period of time when Big Ben was informally called St. Stephen’s Tower, particularly by journalists, and really only while Queen Victoria was in power. The key is the informal part, because St. Stephen’s Tower refers to another tower at the palace. It’s a smaller one.
While Big Ben (well the Clock Tower) was being renamed to the Elizabeth Tower, it went through a bit of a transition period. During that time, Big Ben was called “The east tower,” which sounds a little better than just “the Clock Tower” as an interim name.
Except Big Ben is located at the northern end of the Westminster Palace complex.
So “Big Ben” has little to do with the clock tower itself. You’ve probably heard that the name refers to the bell inside the clock tower. Which is… only kind of true. The official name of the bell inside Big Ben isn’t Big Ben. It’s just called the Great Bell.
Also, Big Ben apparently cracked within two months of service. So how great is the Great Bell really?
So how did the Great Bell become Big Ben? Well, nobody really knows for sure. Many attribute the name to Sir Benjamin Hall, because he oversaw the installation of Big Ben. He gave a long speech on the Great Bell–specifically about how the bell should be named. Afterwards he allegedly said “”why not call him Big Ben and be done with it?” and the name just kind of stuck.
Others attribute the nickname to a guy named Ben Caunt. He was a champion bare-knuckle boxer nicknamed “Big Ben.” Probably because he was 6 feet tall and 250 pounds.
See if you know some other Big Bens here.