History of my name

A lot of people ask me if Buster is my real name. Here's the answer.

I have a pretty weird story to share about my name.

I was born with the name Erik Keith Benson.

My parents told me that Erik is a Norse/Swedish name meaning king or something, loosely hand-waving to my father’s side of the family that is from there (though we have no known family that’s still over there). My mom said that the “k” was also convenient because it maps to the hard “k” sounds in Japanese. My first name in Hiragana is:


And is pronounced eh-ri–ku.

Keith was my father’s middle name and my grandfather’s middle name, and my grandfather went by Keith. Another call out to that side of the family, but I don’t know if it had any significance past that. Looking it up on family search, none of my grandfather’s other 12 (!) siblings had the middle name Keith, and I don’t see it showing up in generations previous to that either. I remember some kid making fun of my middle name when I was super young… he said it was a nerdy or otherwise awkward name, and I often made fun of my own middle name for years, probably as a self-defense mechanism to that. It’s weird how that is still attached to my relationship with that name.

And Benson also comes from my father’s side. I wish I had some connection to my mom in my name… that K at the end of Erik isn’t really a whole lot to go on. Benson was given to Sven “Swanty” Johan Bengtsson when he immigrated to the US on September 27th, 1875, having been converted by Mormon missionaries (I think).

Now for the fun part.

In 2006 I was feeling a little crazy and one night drunkenly decided to change my name for a year. As a vacation from my identity. I was feeling a bit stagnant, I guess, and needed to shake things up. So I asked a bunch of people to help me choose a new name to use for a year, and also tried to recruit friends to do it with me.

It was fun to ask:

What would it be like to be John for a year? Or a Timothy?

I was part of a startup that helped build goals called 43things.com at the time (it’s gone now), and I posted this question to everyone.

What’s the point of changing my name? Well, now that the goal’s on my list, the point is to cross it off my list. Everything on your list has a point – that’s the magic.

And on September 6th, 2006 I drove to city hall with a polar bear (someone I had met at a show who also wanted to change her name, but who always wore a polar bear costume and went by the name Vladmir the Polar Bear) and flipped a coin in the courtroom to choose between the two final contestants for my last name: Butterfield and McLeod. It landed on McLeod, so I made Butterfield my middle name, and also changed my first name to Buster which had come to me in a dream. In the dream I had opened a cafe called Buster’s Cafe, and that seemed as legit a reason to use that name as any other I would ever come up with.

After a few questions from the judge, who found the whole endeavor rather silly, my legal name became Buster Butterfield McLeod. And a few months later another friend who also changed her last name to McLeod started a bar and art gallery in Seattle named McLeod Residence. That’s a whole separate story, but when I got married to Kellianne a few years later neither of us wanted to use our current last names for various reasons and we decided to to back to Benson. And I changed my middle name back to Keith, but kept the first name.

The name I have today, Buster Keith Benson, is partially from my parents and partially from a dream. There’s a whole lot more to this story as well, but it’s best told over a beer.

· In these piles: self-reflection, family