“Benjamin’s Name,” Friend, July 2008, 14–16
Benjamin lay back on his bed and put his feet up on the wall. He always did that when he had to think. Today’s problem was the essay Miss Hardgrave had assigned in language arts. He was supposed to write about why his parents had named him Benjamin and share it with the class.
He knew, of course. There was the picture hanging right above his feet: King Benjamin on top of the tower with everyone in tents looking up at him. Benjamin nudged the frame with his toe, and the picture tilted to one side. Usually he liked knowing he was named for a righteous king in the Book of Mormon. But nobody in his school class was going to know who King Benjamin was. Or what the Book of Mormon was, for that matter. One more thing to have to explain.
Lately it seemed like he was always explaining things: why he didn’t play in soccer games on Sunday, why he wouldn’t watch some of the most popular movies, why he hadn’t joined the same Cub Scout den everyone at school belonged to. He kicked the wall, and his door rattled.
Dad opened the door a crack and peeked in. “Aren’t you asleep yet?” he asked.
“Still doing homework.”
Dad came in and sat on the edge of the bed. “Anything I can help you with?”
“What do you know about Benjamin Franklin?”
“Hmm. United States patriot, flew a kite in a thunderstorm, and he was bald.” Dad rubbed his own bald head and smiled. “How’s that? Are you writing a report on him?”
“Well, not exactly,” Benjamin admitted. He looked down and twisted one of the quilt’s yarn ties around his finger. “I have to write about my name.” Benjamin wasn’t looking at Dad, but he felt his steady gaze.
Dad cleared his throat. “I admire Benjamin Franklin, but that’s not who we named you for.” He leaned over and straightened the picture of King Benjamin until the tower was standing straight again. “We named you after King Benjamin because we hoped you’d be like him—bold and fearless and righteous.”
“But, Dad,” Benjamin protested, “I can’t just stand up in front of my class and say I’m named after a Book of Mormon prophet.”
Dad looked surprised. “Why not?”
“This is for school. You’re not supposed to talk about religion in school. It’s illegal.”
Dad smiled. “Maybe it would be illegal for your teacher to preach to you in class, but we’re talking about answering the question she asked. There’s nothing illegal about that.”
“I bet nobody else even goes to church,” Benjamin said.
“You’d be surprised, I think. Besides, remember what King Benjamin said?” Dad pointed to the words printed below the painting. “Mosiah 5:15. ‘Be steadfast and immovable.’ That means you shouldn’t let other people decide who you are. Even at school.”
Dad stood up and kissed Benjamin on the forehead. “You’d better go to sleep soon. It’s late.”
Benjamin went to his desk and pulled out a sheet of paper. Above his bed, King Benjamin looked calm and confident. His arm was raised in a grand gesture, and the people were peering out of their tents, all their eyes fastened on him. Benjamin thought about what a hard time his teacher had getting everyone to pay attention sometimes. “I bet even King Benjamin would’ve been nervous in front of my class,” he muttered.
The paper on the desk seemed to stare up at him, still blank. Benjamin could hear his clock ticking. Finally, too tired to think anymore, he started to write. “My name is Benjamin. You’ve all heard of Benjamin Franklin. …” He didn’t have to actually say he was named for Benjamin Franklin. He’d let them draw their own conclusions.
The next morning, Benjamin yawned as he waited with Yusuf and Max for the bell to ring.
“That language arts assignment,” Max complained. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“Why?” Yusuf asked.
“My mom got my name from a TV show!” Max leaned against the wall of the school and groaned. “She thought this character named Maximilian was really handsome. She watched the show every day, and when I was born that was the first name that popped into her head.”
“Are you going to tell everyone your name is from a TV show?” Benjamin asked. Explaining you were named for a TV star would be much harder than explaining you were named for someone in the scriptures.
“No.” Max pulled his essay out of the front pocket of his backpack and smoothed out the wrinkles. “I wrote that my mom had heard the name somewhere and liked it. Where did you guys get your names?”
Benjamin leaned over and fidgeted with the zipper on his backpack. He felt uncomfortable. He couldn’t tell his two best friends that he was named for Benjamin Franklin.
Yusuf said, “My name comes from the Koran.”
“What’s the Koran?” Max wanted to know.
“It’s my book of scripture. Like your Bible. There’s a person named Yusuf in it. My parents were going to name me for my grandfather, but he told them to name me Yusuf instead.”
“You’re lucky,” Max said as the bell rang.
Right after taking roll, Miss Hardgrave called on Patricia to read her essay. Her parents had found her name in a name book and liked it because it meant “noble.” Then Maria said that her name was Spanish for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and that her mother had the same name. Yong’s name meant “courageous,” and Jasmine’s parents had liked the way her name sounded.
Now it was Benjamin’s turn. He carried his essay to the front of the room. He was always nervous when he had to speak in front of the class, but today his hands seemed extra sweaty. He leaned against the chalkboard tray and read the first line of his essay to the class: “My name is Benjamin. You’ve all heard of Benjamin Franklin. …” He looked at the rest of what he had written and then looked up at the class. Max was looking at him. Yusuf smiled and nodded. Benjamin wondered if King Benjamin’s hands had gotten sweaty up there on that tower.
He took a deep breath and folded up his paper. “But I’m not really named for Benjamin Franklin. I’m named for a king in the Book of Mormon, one of my books of scripture.” He imagined his friends peering out of tents at him, and he talked a little louder. “Let me tell you about him.”