The Real Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Name
Every school child in America knows the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership in the civil rights movement. But what most of us don't know is the story of King's name. On the day he was born, January 15, 1929, King was not named Martin.
According to his birth certificate, he was named Michael King, Jr. In 1957, King's father told the New York Post that the error on son's birth certificate stemmed from confusion over his own name. The story goes that until he was in his early twenties, the senior King was known as Mike. When he was twenty-two his father told him that his actual name was Martin Luther King after the German priest who initiated the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. Mike was apparently just the nickname that his mother preferred.
But, since neither of the senior King's parents could read or write and had no birth certificate for their son, there was no way to know the truth. Nonetheless, he embraced the name Martin Luther and eagerly bestowed the name on his son. Years later it was revealed that the doctor who delivered the baby King had put Michael on his birth certificate as he believed that was the name of the senior King and that the baby was to be named after his father.
Further muddling the facts, there are conflicting reports as to whether or not Martin Luther King, Jr's name was ever officially changed or if his legal name remained Michael until his tragic death in 1968.
Three years before King's assination, the comedian Martin Lawrence was born, and his father named him after the civil rights leader. Lawrence's middle name is Fitzgerald, which was given to him in honor of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
The name Michael comes from the Hebrew for Who is like God; Michael is cloest to God and responsible for carrying out God's judgements. Martin, on the other hand, comes from the Latin for Mars and is the name of the Roman mythological god of war. The name was borne by St. Martin of Tours who is remembered for splitting his cloak in two and giving half to a beggar.
Martin has also popped up as a middle name for some celebrity babies; actress Cate Blanchett named her son Ignatius Martin, and the actor Daniel Goddard is father to Ford Martin Goddard (another baby Ford!)
What do you think of the confusion surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s name? Has something similar ever happened in your family?