Blame Bennifer: Celeb Uni-Names Multiply

It's official — Brad and Angelina, whether they're dating or not, are now "Brangelina" (search).

And what, you may wonder, spawned this hideous uni-name?

Just blame it on Bennifer.

"Bennifer," (search) the tabloid nickname for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, was a hit with the media and the public. Then along came “Bennifer II,” “BenJen,” and "Garfleck" for Affleck and his second Jen, Jennifer Garner; “Brangelina,” for Brad and Angelina; "Romber" (search) for "Survivor" stars Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich and "TomKat" (search) for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

At this point, stargazers are all wondering the same thing: When will the celebrity-name-fusion confusion come to an end?

“I did like Bennifer, but I think that was the only one,” said Danielle Stein, associate editor of Radar magazine. “When it started, it was tongue-in-cheek, but it’s gotten really irritating. I hope it stops really soon.”

It’s no secret that high-profile celebrity pairings are increasingly dominating water-cooler talk, and that they’re also the meat that celebrity magazines, gossip columnists and an entire thriving wing of the media feasts upon.

But the naming trend might not be as new as everyone may think. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz named themselves Desilu (search), as well as their production company. And "Billary" (search) — as in Bill and Hillary Clinton — was a mainstay in talk radio, although it never caught on in the mainstream and dwindled after Clinton’s first years in the White House.

Then, in late 2002 or early 2003, a revolutionary event occurred in the entertainment-news industry: the actor Ben Affleck and the multimedia sensation Jennifer Lopez began dating, and the phrase “Bennifer” was coined, seemingly encapsulating everything the public felt toward the duo: awe, envy, over-familiarity, even disdain.

For what seemed like an eternity, there was pretty much no avoiding the couple. Lopez was at the top of her game, while Affleck, who always seems to be more famous for the women he dated than any actual acting ability, had long been favored fodder for the tabloids. The pair split, but the name remained — and so did the trend.

“It’s as if with those celebrities their celebrity-couple names are the first offspring,” said Bob Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. “Ben and Jennifer didn’t leave any children, but they did leave us Bennifer, something they were completely unable to control. It was an unruly child they’d like to have locked up in the attic, but they could never quite catch it.”

Of course, it was Affleck’s misfortune that his current squeeze (and reportedly the mother-to-be of his child) has the same first name as Lopez, and now the Garner-Affleck duo has spawned “Bennifer II,” “Garfleck” and “BenJen,” depending on whom you ask.

Even C-list names are horning in on the action, with a reality-television couple turning the names Rob and Amber into the execrable “Romber.”

“Rob and Amber aren’t the most familiar names, but in that one brief moment when we had this larger-than-life combining of the names while they were selling bazillions of dollars, it was kind of funny and made sense,” Stein said.

Some say the name within a name is a sign that a celebrity couple has “made it.”

“In a celebrity-crazed culture, it’s just yet another way for people to put labels in their head and create a hierarchy,” said Jessica Blatt, entertainment editor for CosmoGIRL. “It’s like in high school we all had names for the ‘it’ couple, even it was just calling them the ‘it’ couple.”

And it’s telling that Affleck, who can’t seem to avoid the name-pairing whether he likes it or not, was immune to the trend in the period between Jennifers, when he was dating a non-celebrity.

“He was going out with a regular person, and you just felt this sense of malaise, of sadness, when they were reporting it,” Parade magazine entertainment writer Robert Moritz said. “A, it doesn’t help sell as many magazines, and B, shouldn’t Ben Affleck be with someone famous?”

But even certain high-powered couples, whether through respect, lack of euphony or other reasons, have managed to avoid the name game (i.e. there was no such thing as "Bradiston").

“Brad (Pitt) and Jennifer (Aniston) weren’t as in-our-face,” Blatt said. “They didn’t seek out our attention, and you didn’t see them running off to Africa to hide or do extra press about the relationship or non-relationship.”

Another explanation for the fad: Some celebrity names have always seemed unnatural when not immediately followed by the celebrity’s partner's name — Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Sonny and Cher and Liz and Dick are just a few examples.

“We don’t really care about Mary-Kate, period, or Ashley, period,” Moritz said. “We didn’t care about Lucy or Desi as much as we did about Desilu. It makes us feel like all is good in the world, like thing were meant to be. By putting the names together, they can’t ever break up — they’re BenJen now.”

There’s a sociological underpinning to the trend, too, according to Fay Halberstam, a linguistics expert and Ph.D. candidate at the City University of New York.

From cockney rhyming slang to the confusing acronyms and jargon bandied around by any specialized profession, groups have always created their own cant to separate outsiders from insiders.

Celebrity-name fusion is simply another example, one that someone who isn’t current on pop culture just won’t get.

“The sociolinguistic reason is that the people speaking are trying to make a connection with the listeners with insider information,” Halberstam said. “It you get the reference, you feel smart and informed.”

No matter what the reasons behind it, Thompson said Americans ought to be prepared to hear celebrity couples’ names smashed together for a long time to come.

“I don’t remember any reference to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor as a combination of those two, but 'Dick and Liz,' 'Liz and Dick' (search) was almost elided into one thing,” he said. “We’ve had celebrity romances from the time we first had celebrities, and as long as we have celebrity romances, this will absolutely not go away.”