Dr. King

Here’s a photo of a column in La Vanguardia from a few weeks back:

Luther King

To be clear…

First name: Martin
Middle name: Luther
Surname: King
Suffix: Jr.

So this is a case of the Spanish “one name / two surnames” model being inappropriately applied to a name from another culture.

I’ve been sitting on this item for awhile, and I almost didn’t post it after a trusted British colleague told me he didn’t find the error especially egregious. I can accept that people from other countries (even English-speaking ones) were not raised around constant references to “Dr. King”; some confusion about the status of “Luther” in MLK’s complex name is only natural.

But I couldn’t shake it, because to my American ear “Luther King” sounds like unforgivable cultural illiteracy. I did a little research, and I was shocked to discover just how common it is for the Spanish media to refer to MLK as “Luther King.” When a mistake is reproduced often enough, does it eventually become acceptable? Or even “correct”? To put it another way, would it actually be worse for a Spanish writer to take the rather unusual step of using MLK’s names correctly? I am sincerely not sure, and would welcome comments about this.

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2 thoughts on “Dr. King

  1. My quick take would be that it’s a matter of their applying the Spanish-style dual surname approach to his name. Mutual ignorance of these divergent systems of nomenclature, I suspect, is mostly to blame. Then there’s the question of desire to overcome such ignorance… Ciao!

  2. Definitely, Dan, that’s the origen of this blooper. And my stickler self is naturally inclined to take them to task for it. But this case has got me second-guessing. Is any harm really done by “Luther King” (besides pissing off a handful of nerds like us)? At least it conveys additional information that “King” alone does not: the reader immediately knows who we’re talking about. Anyway, just trying to see it from all sides — never a bad thing in this business!

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