Editor’s Note: Today’s post was originally published on October 6, 2008, and revised and updated on January 16, 2012, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
If you came of age in the 80s, today’s choice might conjure up DeLoreans and mad scientists. But it would be a mistake to think of this time-traveling name as hopelessly stuck in the past.
Thanks to Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Martin.
Michael J. Fox is best known for two roles: Alex P. Keaton on television’s Family Ties and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy. While Alex and company gained during the 80s and 90s to become one of the most popular names for boys in the US today, Martin quietly faded. He’d been a regular member of the Top 100 from 1880 to 1970. In 1985, when the original Back to the Future debuted, he stood at a respectable #132. Today he’s #258 – far from unknown, but certainly not trendy.
Does that make Martin an overlooked gem? Maybe. Martin comes from Mars, the Roman god of war. He may have evolved from an earlier Etruscan deity called Maris, but Maris was more about plowshares than swords.
As the Roman Empire expanded, the name Martinus was in use; in fact, a Roman soldier wore the name. He had been baptized as a Christian earlier, but his life changed forever when he met a poorly-clad beggar by the roadside. The day was cold, so Martinus removed his cloak, cut it in half, and gave one part to the beggar. That night Martinus dreamed that the beggar had been Christ himself, and took it as a signal to leave the army for a life of service to the church.
Saint Martin of Tours would become one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. The site of his grave attracted so many pilgrims that the record includes multiple expansions of the cathedral. The Kings of France were devotees of Martin, too.
The name entered widespread use in honor of the saint. In French-speaking countries, you’ll hear the emphasis on the second syllable – mar TAN. In English, MAR tin is the accepted pronunciation.
Notables have worn this name all over the Western world, including:
- Several additional saints and popes.
- Medieval rulers of Sicily and Aragon.
- Philosopher Martin Heidegger.
- Religious reformer and founder of the Lutheran church, Martin Luther.
- Civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King, Jr.
- American president Martin Van Buren.
- Filmmaker Martin Scorcese.
It’s also a common surname. He picks up quite a bit of style as the last name of Rat Pack actor and crooner Dean Martin, and maybe even a hint of cultural currency thanks to pop sensation Ricky Martin and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
But between St. Martin and Martin Luther King, Jr., this name has serious, smart overtones.
Name your son Martin today and he can confidently study abroad nearly anywhere in Europe or South America without fear that his name will be misunderstood. Martin is a chart-topper in modern Norway and and Chile. He also ranks in the Top 100 in Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Spain.
While Martin might not have quite the throwback cool vibe of Henry or Oliver, he’s an undeniable classic with a long history of use, one that might follow other forgotten classics like Frederick and George back into use. If Tristan can rank in the Top 100, why not Martin?
This is my bf’s name, but with the Spanish pronounciation. Mar-teen. I’ve always preferred that pronounciation, personally. We call him Marty though, so I don’t even get to enjoy the pretty sound of it! haha!
I really like Martin, but then Oliver, Henry and George are also right up my alley. I had an old neighbor named Marten and I always liked the way the Dutch form is also the name of an animal. Although Martin can also a nature name since martins are also a type of bird.
I like Martin, but would probably go for Marvin before Martin. I seriously like Marvin. But then I did use 2 of the 5 names you mention in the final paragraph for my kid’s first and middle, so Martin is up right my alley, I guess.
I used to be iffy on the name Martin but then I played Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and the hero-character Martin Septim made me love the name <3
This is not an unfamiliar name to me. I actually have an uncle with the given name Marty (born in the mid-50s). He legally changed it as an adult to Martin so that he could have a more professional image. My cousin is named after him, so in our family we have Uncle Marty and little Marty. I wouldn’t be opposed to the name except that half the males in our family already have one of two names, and my parents basically forbade me from naming children after my uncles. 🙂
I picture a Martin to be a computer programmer (or something similar) who is incredibly intelligent but unattractive and socially awkward. Martin Prince from The Simpsons doesn’t do much for the name’s image, either.
I could see Martin in with a bunch of Henry’s, Olivers and Jaspers.
I do have to say I like Frederick and George better, but Martin has possibilities. It is fun but classic. I can see it on a baby and an adult.
I like Martin’s historical connections as well! The fh and I have a mutual good friend named Mart
My grandfather was Martin, went by Mart. You may know him as the creator of Green Lantern is you are a comic fan. I think Martin is a classic name that deserves a comeback!
We have a Martyn (the welsh spelling after our favorite pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and it seemed less surname-y to me) and we’ve never met another little one. He certainly fits his name meaning of warlike! We do not call him Marty (yuck, sorry) but we will call him by his initials, MAC, or nicknames acquired over time that pretty much have nothing to do with his name. 🙂
Martin/Martyn is handsome, but I tend to agree that Marty is one that I can’t warm up to!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones is the reason the name’s on my list as well! We’re presbyterians and use his work in our bible study sessions often, he’s an admirable man.
I stumbled across another Martyn a while ago, Christina Applegate (I think?)’s fiance, Martyn LeNoble. I think he’s a musician, so that just goes to show that the name’s a versatile one, not limited to the geek stereotype it often gets.
Anyhow, Martin/Martyn is a great name all around!
I do agree! There was a missionary by the name of Henry Martyn as well. I wanted Henry… Hubby wanted Martyn and Martyn he was. 🙂
Martin’s been a favorite since I was a kid. Thanks to Mom’s obsession with Dean Martin (She said she married Dad because he looked like him [and he did, really!]) both Dean & Martin are two favorites. (I hadn’t even thought Marty McFly)! They’re both off the working list because of people we’ve both known but Martin remains a favorite. If I had a Martin, I’d call him Tino. 😉 There’s a jazzy nickname possibility for you all!
I actually think he does have a bit of throwback charm, actually. Martin feels sort of 30’s to me, what was the term for the oddball then,; Beatniks? Yeah, Martin feels like a beatnik to me. Anybody ever watch the cartoon flick “Iron Giant”? The guy in the junkyard.. he looks like a Martin to me, funnily enough, he’s a Dean! 😀 Yep, Martin’s a firm favorite, I’d LOVE seeing more of them!
Emmy Jo says
I like Martin a lot! I may have to see what the husband thinks of it. I’m afraid he’s thrown out my top three boys’ names. He’s just not loving the ends-in-s names (Julius and Miles), and we’ve decided Gideon sounds funny with our last name (as it starts with G and has a prominent N sound). Knowing my luck, he probably knew someone awful with this name. I’m beginning to hope we have all girls. 🙂
I adore the name Martin, it feels very strong and upstanding, but also very cute. I think of all the great namesakes named Martin, such as Martin Luther King Jr and Saint Martin of Tours. I dislike Marty as a nickname though…
Thanks for the history lesson. I like that the name has a Roman connection without the -us ending. I think this is a geek-chic name – but one I might be willing to use. Of course, being the HUGE Back to the Future fans that hubby and I are, there’s a chance it’s high up on both our lists…for our future son. We are not pregnant. At all. TG. 🙂