Why Martin Luther King Jr.’s father changed their names

What You Need To Know Martin Luther King Jr.

A trip to Germany played a prominent role in the Atlanta minister’s decision to adopt the name of the man at the center of the Protestant Reformation

When he was born Jan. 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was Michael. It’s the name originally on his birth certificate.

He was named after his father, the Rev. Michael King, who was senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

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In 1934, Ebenezer sent "Daddy King" to Europe for a Baptist World Alliance meeting. Although the meeting was in Berlin, King "traveled to Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, Jerusalem and Bethlehem" first, the Washington Post reported.

While in Berlin, the senior King witnessed the beginnings of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler had become chancellor the year before King’s arrival.

"This Congress deplores and condemns as a violation of the law of God the Heavenly Father, all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world," the Baptists responded.

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King toured much of Germany, the country that is the birthplace of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which led to a split with the Catholic Church.

When he returned to Atlanta, the senior King decided to change his name and his son's from Michael to Martin Luther, after the German Protestant leader, according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford.

"Thus we can see that Berlin was partly responsible for Martin Luther King, Jr., becoming the man we celebrate today," King Institute director Clayborne Carson said.

That is why King Jr.’s birth certificate — filed with the Georgia Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics — was altered on July 23, 1957, when he was 28. “Michael” is crossed out, and “Martin Luther Jr.” is printed next to it.

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