Here’s a photo of a column in La Vanguardia from a few weeks back:
To be clear…
First name: Martin
Middle name: Luther
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.