It sounds like Big Ben is to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen, after a majority of MPs backed the proposal. We’ve no beef with this — the tower has long had a history of confusing names and nicknames and this latest appelation just adds to the glorious complexity…especially when the press start also referring to it using non-sensical geographic terms (see below). So here’s our guide to a London treasure that’s held more names than the back of the Chelsea manager’s chair:
Big Ben: the universal, popular name for the tower, repeated throughout the world. Pros: everyone knows what you’re talking about, and it has a nice ring (pun sort-of intended). Cons: purists don’t like it because Big Ben is strictly the name of the bell.
St Stephen’s Tower: regularly used in newspapers, guide books and by ‘that bloke down the pub who likes correcting people’. Pros: sounds more official than Big Ben. Cons: it’s completely incorrect. St Stephen’s is another (smaller) tower over the main public entrance.
The Clock Tower: a term used within the Palace and its communications. Pros: it’s the official name. Cons: it’s too ambiguous a term to gain popular currency — there are many clock towers in London let alone the world, and calling it the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster is too much of a mouthful.
The Elizabeth Tower: the proposed new name to tie in with the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Pros: there’s a certain harmony in nominally pairing the edifice with the Victoria Tower at the southern end of the building. Cons: republicans will be irked, and everyone will still call it Big Ben anyway.
The east tower: a description of Big Ben seen all over the press today, presumably pasted in from the same media release. Pros: avoids the whole name problem by using a geographic term. Cons: it’s rather confusing considering Big Ben is at the northern end of the complex, not the east, and there are a few smaller towers more easterly than Big Ben.
In conclusion: ever the diplomats, we propose the tower henceforth be called St Elizabeth Stephen’s Big East Clock Ben. But we’ll still call it Big Ben.