Arts

Origin story of Breaking Benjamin’s name unique, one of a kind

Breaking Benjamin performs live in 2015 with Burnley pictured signing and playing guitar in the center. Image By: Courtesy of YouTube

What’s in a band’s name?

As a musician (or some attempt at being one) that has formed bands in the past, I can tell you it is hard to come up with a clever and catchy title that doesn’t sound stupid.

Some of the greatest titles in the history of music have deep or hidden meanings while others are simply a performers name or the city the band resides from.

But some band names are forged from the substance of a great story. For Benjamin “Ben” Burnley, the lead singer and all-around mastermind behind hard rock royalty Breaking Benjamin, that is exactly how he came up with the title of the now two decades old band.

The history of the band name has a unique, real world story behind it. I have been a fan of Breaking Benjamin since day one but had never become aware of how Burnley settled on the name. The explanation was a comical and entertaining one, yet unusual and dare I say legendary. 

“This was like a long, long time ago – way before Breaking Benjamin… way before any, any success whatsoever. I used to play at coffeehouses and at open mic nights. I used to do that – just me and an acoustic guitar – and I would be Benjamin. That’s it: just Benjamin,” Burnley said.

A young Ben Burnley of Breaking Benjamin with his acoustic guitar circa 2001.

Regularly attending one specific open mic night, Burnley described his troubles with the host, who was paid to set up their personal equipment for others to play.

“I would go to this bar every week, every Thursday – it was called Gooseberry in a little Podunk town in Pennsylvania that nobody ever heard of. But the guy didn’t like me for some reason. I don’t know why, but he didn’t like me. Probably because I would play a long time because people would want me to, and he didn’t like that and wanted to play more, I guess. So, he didn’t like me from the get-go,” Burnley said.

Burnley would perform various Nirvana covers often, praising the iconic grunge group as the main reason he got into music in the first place. One night, it proved to be too much for the disgruntled host.

“…Like Kurt Cobain, I’d take the guitar and I’d knock the mic stand over, but I’d never smash everything on stage: I’d just do that. I did that, and he had this microphone and the shell part – the mesh part – it just fell off, but it snaps back on,” he said.

After a few more acts and at the conclusion of a long night, the host got back up on stage and grabbed the mic, preparing to finish off the evening with a salute to those that came out to play and watch.

“Anyways, at the end of the night, he was thanking everybody for coming up and playing – like everyone on the list that signed up to play – and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I’d like to thank Benjamin for breaking my f***ing microphone…’, and that’s where Breaking Benjamin came from,” Burnley said.

And thus, it was. Ben Burnley had his catchy name and after six successful studio albums, it is clear he has had the last laugh over the disgruntled open mic host. Hopefully, his mic is still functioning. Ben’s certainly does.


John Everman is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here. 

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