What's in a name?
There are more than two Philadelphias in the world. There is more than one Camden, too. Within three hours, it is possible to drive from Levittown, P.A. to Levittown, N.Y.
But there is only one Bensalem.
Often mispronounced as Ben’s Alem, Ben Sailing, or Ben Shalom, Bensalem Township has a name that is both unique and mysterious. But what does “Bensalem” mean? Where did it come from?
“I never really thought about the name. I mean, I never heard of any other places named Bensalem, but I didn’t think the name held any meaning. Maybe it was called Bensalem after the person who founded the town; I don’t know,” said Jared Krum, a former Bensalem resident now living in Atlantic City.
And interestingly enough, “I don’t know” is a pretty common response -- even from the experts. According to Bensalem Township’s official website, the name Salem was attached to the area through surveys and grants and “Ben-” was not added to the name until 1701. Another theory suggests that the name means “hill of peace” or “peaceful mount.”
Still another theory puts forth that Bensalem means “son of peace,” a phrase attributed to William Penn by Joseph Growden when he received land from Penn and named it “The Manor of Bensalem.”
There is, however, another theory. It is one that is not in the historical documents, not on the township’s website and the connection seems to have been missed completely.
In the mid-1620s, Sir Francis Bacon published his famous novel New Atlantis. In the story, a crew of European sailors get lost at sea and stumble upon the utopian island of Bensalem. The governor of the island approaches the sailors and explains to them how the “Bensalemites” live. Bacon’s work was so popular that it later inspired Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
But what do the Bensalemites think of this development?
“Bensalem’s pretty nice, but I wouldn’t call it a utopia,” said Krum. “The only other thing I’d call Bensalem is what everyone calls it on Facebook: ‘B-Town.’”