Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. You read that correctly ― Martin Luther King Jr. was originally named after his father, Michael King Sr. Six years later, the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr., inspired by the 16th-century Augustinian monk and theologian, Martin Luther, proclaimed to his congregation that from that point forward they were to refer to him as Martin Luther King and to his son as Martin Luther King Jr. Although MLK Jr. never legally changed his name, it is this revised appellation that is carved into historical memory. Let’s look at the particulars of the Civil Rights leader’s name and see what we find.
The name Martin is of Latin origin stemming from the name Martius, a late derived form of the Roman god of fertility and war, Mars. Mars was the most prominent of various war-related gods in the Roman pantheon. The month of March and the Red Planet are his namesake. Another notable Martin is Saint Martin of Tour, a 4th-century bishop who, according to legend, ripped his cloak in two and gave half of it to a beggar he saw in the middle of winter; he later became the patron saint of France. The name Martin was also borne by five popes.
Luther is of German and Hebrew origin combining luit, which means “people,” and heri, which means “army” or “warrior.” The name’s Biblical usage suggests that Luther derived from strong Hebrew influence. The Lutheran church, a branch of Western Christianity, was named after the German reformer Martin Luther, whose translation of the Bible from Latin into German not only was a huge factor in the Protestant Reformation but also influenced the evolution of the modern German language.
The name King is of English, Scottish, and Irish origin. It derives from the Old English cyning, “tribal leader,” and the Gaelic ceann, “head” or “leader.” Throughout the Middle Ages, the name King was used to refer to someone who conducted himself in a kingly manner or one who attended to the king.
Junior, or the abbreviated Jr., stems from the Latin juvenis, “young man, youth.” Beginning in the late 1700s, the meaning of the word evolved from “of lesser standing, more recent” to “younger people, of smaller size.”
Do you think the historical meanings of MLK Jr.’s name reflect his qualities and accomplishments? Share your thoughts.