Elizabeth Tower? Renaming Big Ben for a Diamond Jubilee

by JoHarrington

London's most famous landmark could be renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, if Members of Parliament get their way.

On September 12th 2012, Britain's prime minister David Cameron announced a name change for one of London's most iconic buildings.

People from all over the world come to have their photograph taken in front of the clock tower. Inside is the famous Big Ben bell, those chimes are heard booming across the capital and at the start of the evening news.

That clock tower is now called Elizabeth Tower to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Landmark Name Change in Honor of Queen Elizabeth II

MPs are debating a motion in the House of Commons, which could see their clock tower called Elizabeth Tower.

Some of the biggest names in British politics are backing calls to rename Big Ben in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy PM Nick Clegg, Labour's Opposition Leader Ed Miliband and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are all in agreement for once.

If plans go ahead, then the House of Commons clock tower will be officially known as Elizabeth Tower.

David Cameron commented, "It's a really great idea and would be a fitting tribute."

The London landmark is instantly recognizable across the world. It's often used in games, shows or other forms of entertainment to symbolize Britain as a whole.

For the British people, it's often the sound of Big Ben that's more familiar. The dulcet tones of its hourly chimes are used to signal the start of the Six O'Clock News. It is the moment when everyone starts paying attention, while they eat their tea.

The name change plans have come from the Conservative MP for Bournemouth East Tobias Ellwood. On March 23rd 2012, it was announced that there will be time given in the House of Commons for debating his motion. As the tribute has cross-party support, it is highly likely to succeed.

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Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Two Westminster Clock Towers

Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating sixty years on the throne during 2012. It is this momentous occasion, which could spark a name-change for the famous monument.

At just over 150 years old, the clock tower was constructed during the reign of the only other British monarch to achieve such longevity, Queen Victoria. Another historical fact linking the two queens is that the tower on the other side of the building was renamed Victoria Tower in 1860. It had previously been known as King's Tower.

The whole Palace of Westminster, of which Big Ben is just a part, was constructed in 1859, following a fire which destroyed its previous incarnation in 1834.

However, the plan to change the name could hit a cultural road-block, at home and abroad.

More Articles on Britain's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years on the throne, Diamond Jubilee merchandise presents a unique opportunity to own a keepsake.
Until 2012, the only British monarch ever to have reigned for 60 years was Queen Victoria. Celebrations were held by a fifth of the world population.
On February 6th 1952, George VI died suddenly in his sleep. 60 years on, his daughter Elizabeth is Britain's oldest reigning monarch.

The Clock Tower isn't Called Big Ben Now

Will changing the name make that much difference? We already ignore its present name!

Ask your average London tourist to point to St Stephen's Tower on a map and the likelihood is that they'll falter.

For that matter, ask the average Briton to do the same and there will be a few apologetic grimaces. I know this for a fact, because I did it once. With my back to the Boadicea statue and a crowd of people around me all happily snapping away at the monument looming over us.

I asked loudly if anyone knew where I could find St Stephen's Tower. Nobody could. They were all photographing it and not one person told me that. (Though the lady on the crepe stall was onto me. She winked and flicked a glance towards it.)

Yes, Big Ben is the huge bell inside the tower. The 11 storey landmark itself is St Stephen's clock tower. Shortly to become Elizabeth Tower.

Based on this precedent, I find it highly unlikely that anyone will even notice that there has been a name change; let alone stop calling it Big Ben.

Update! The comments to this article revealed precisely how British people get confused over the real name of this clock tower.  The wonderful Wizzley author TerriRexson alerted me to the fact that it's not officially called St Stephen's Tower at all.  That's a different tower in the Palace of Westminster.

This surprised me, so I looked it up. She was half-right. It's not officially called that at all.  But neither is any other tower.

It seems that St Stephen's Hall was where Members of Parliament sat, in the original building, that was destroyed by fire in 1834.  Victorian journalists would talk about 'news from St Stephen's', but not in a nice way. The term was used as a way of NOT saying the House of Commons, so it was downright derogatory to those within it.

It was a press insult which fixed the tower, in the public view, as St Stephen's Tower. It was what they used when they wanted to insult the politicians behind it. But as the memory of the Hall faded, the term lost its sting and fell out of favor. All that remains now is a folk knowledge that that is the real name of the tower enclosing Big Ben, which is precisely what I thought I knew.

The real name of the tower?  *drum roll*  It's Clock Tower.  That's it.  Clock Tower. No wonder we all call it Big Ben!

Books about Big Ben and its History

Buy these books and guides to learn more about the circumstances which led to the building of this Victorian landmark monument.
Big Ben: The Great Clock and the Bell...Big Ben: The Bell, the Clock and the ...Big Ben and the Westminster Clock Tow...
Updated: 05/31/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 03/30/2012

Clock Tower? I don't know. I was apathetic before. Now I'm apathetic bordering upon, 'Yeah, go on and name it after her.' We're all going to still call the whole tower Big Ben anyway.

Calanon on 03/30/2012

Silly to change the name of something with a perfectly fine name.

JoHarrington on 03/25/2012

Wow! Me, you and Terri are totally demonstrating British ignorance on this one! *goes to look up the bell* Yes, you're right. Big Ben is the bell, not the clock. I'll edit my article again, thanks!

JoHarrington on 03/25/2012

LOL! I've just looked it up.

Right now, you and I are a case in point for British people not even knowing what that tower is really called. Time to edit that final section, I think. Incidentally, we're both half-right.

TerriRexson on 03/25/2012

I think it would be daft to rename Big Ben. Are you sure about the St Stephen's tower thing? I thought that was a different tower at Westminster.

JoHarrington on 03/24/2012

The fact that Parliamentary time has been lost debating this is irritating (though given some of their bad decisions recently, maybe we're dodging a bullet letting MPs concentrate on fripperies).

In real terms though, I can't see this having much of an impact on real life. Everyone will go on calling it Big Ben. The MPs involved will probably be well in the Queen's good books, and perhaps get a title out of it. Meanwhile the world goes on turning.

Awww! All of the Americans that I've met over here have been very good at finding London. It was seeing the rest of the country that proved more problematic, though I did drag my friends into my own home region. Win!

Thanks for commenting, Tripp.

Tripp on 03/24/2012

I think it's a bit stupid of an idea. Why would you waste precious governing time thinking about changing the name of something. Also, don't worry about the Britons not being able to point out where the tower is. I'd guess a hefty 60 per cent of the American population doesn't even know where their capital is; let alone St. Stephens tower.

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