The vernacular has a powerful way of overriding what governments want things to be called. This can be particularly potent with national landmarks. A couple of tourists get confused and all of a sudden we’re all calling things by completely wrong names. Here are three landmarks whose names you’ve gotten wrong.
Big Ben is Inside Elizabeth Tower
It’s always weird when a feature of a building ends up being more famous than the building itself, which is exactly what happened with Big Ben. Now, we also recognize that sentence makes it sound like Big Ben is actually the clock in the famous clock tower, but that’s also wrong. Big Ben is actually the bell inside the tower. The tower’s real name is Elizabeth Tower.
There isn’t a solid reason for the confusion, though we can speculate. Native Londoners probably know the difference, so they’d say something along the lines of listening for Big Ben to signal the hours. You wouldn’t listen for Elizabeth Tower because the tower can’t make any noise, but foreigners would equate the two. Big Ben’s also more fun to say, so it’s no wonder it’s the name that stuck. Still, if you want to be technical about it, you’re looking at Elizabeth Tower and listening for Big Ben.
London Bridge is Actually Tower Bridge
Let’s stay in London for another entry, since it seems like no one knows the real names for the city’s abundance of iconic landmarks. It should be a safe assumption that the London’s most famous bridge is called London Bridge. It’s been immortalized in everyone’s vacation photography, a million postcards and a child’s song about its impending destruction. But once again, it’s one of those things everyone knows that’s just plain wrong.
The bridge you’re thinking of is actually called Tower Bridge. It opened in 1894, is a perfect example of Victorian architecture and is designed to look older than it really is. That design is what gets all the attention when it comes to crossing the River Thames and what causes at least part of the confusion.
The real London Bridge is the next bridge upriver from Tower Bridge. The reason you know its name is because there’s been some kind of London Bridge for 2,000 years, making it the site for the oldest crossings of the River Thames. The one you see today was built in 1973 and is much less ornamental than its companion.
The Ha’penny Bridge is Officially Known at the Liffey Bridge
It’s entirely possible that people simply don’t pay attention to the official names of river crossings. Dublin’s most famous is the Ha’penny Bridge. It always has been, it always will be, and Dubliners aren’t going to be shaken from two centuries of tradition because a few nerdy bureaucrats shoved a government record in their face. Still, the name on the books is Liffey Bridge.
The Ha’penny name comes from the toll placed on the bridge when it was originally built. In 1816, William Walsh replaced his ferry service with the cast iron bridge. To repay himself for the expense, he charged a halfpenny toll for a hundred years. The renaming came in 1922 and was probably part of the recently established Irish government’s effort to ditch names associated with the British occupation of Ireland. But by 1922, the Ha’penny name was so well established that even the Gaelic Revival couldn’t shake it. Even the Dublin city website doesn’t explicitly call out the official name.