The Founding Fathers, Deconstructed: Benjamin Franklin

Happy Independence Day! Before you watch the fireworks and dump your enemy’s tea into the nearest body of water, let’s round out our three-part series on name history with a Founding Father known for his love of language. A northerner, while we’re at it (sorry Thomas Jefferson, or rather “Twin Son-of-Jeffery”) with a particular etymological connection to a cherished modern Fourth of July tradition:

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin is derived from a Hebrew name meaning “son of the south” or “son of the right hand”; its progenitor, the youngest son of Jacob, is a figure in the Bible, Quran and Torah. The first syllable ben literally means “son of”, and its modern variations (such as “ben”, “bin” and “ibn”) are commonly used in Semitic surnames. The rest of the name stems from yamin, which means both “south” and “right hand”. We don’t have too many English words from this root, but a quick map check will confirm that the southernmost Arab state is, well, Yemen.

Franklin is also etymologically related to an Old World country, this time the more obvious France. Both the name and the nation are rooted in the Franks, an ancient Germanic horde known for their incredible might (unlike those other, not-mighty Germanic hordes). Their many descendants included the Normans, who kept up the family tradition by conquering England in 1066 (thanks high school!) and subjugating the locals for a few centuries. It got to the point where the Middle English directly referred to the Franks in its term for a free landholder, frankelin; Modern English eventually expunged the extraneous e. This means two things for America:

-Benjamin Franklin’s obsession with freedom is echoed in his name, and more importantly

Freedom has a concrete linguistic link with hot dogs, as the original term ‘frankfurter’ stems from the German city of Frankfurt, which literally means “Ford of the Franks”.

So fire up those grills, and whether it’s halal, kosher, tofu or pork, know that you’re eating the delicious food of liberty.


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