Big Ben: The Tower With Five Names

By M@ Last edited 67 months ago

Last Updated 14 November 2018

Big Ben: The Tower With Five Names
'Big Ben' in it's scaffolding-free days.

In 2012, the tower commonly called Big Ben was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen. It is the most recent twist in a long history of confusing names and nicknames. This latest appellation just adds to the glorious complexity. 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. 'Big Ben is the name of the bell,' they'll say. Not quite. Big Ben is the name of the largest bell (of five), and is itself only a nickname for the Great Bell of Westminster.

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 tower never officially held this name, but many think it did.

The Clock Tower: a term long used within the Palace and its communications. Pros: it was once the official name, but has since been supplanted by the Elizabeth Tower. 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 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 don't like it, and everyone will still call it Big Ben anyway.

The east tower: a description of Big Ben seen all over the press during the name change to the Elizabeth Tower, presumably pasted in from the same media release. Pros: avoids the whole name problem by using a geographic term. Cons: it's the wrong geographic term. The tower 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.