Aside from two kindly older women in our church with the surname Martin, the only other person I can think of with that moniker is Mary Martin who played Peter Pan on television when I was a child. Aside from humans named Martin, there are the beautiful purple birds that inhabit the lofty multi-holed houses on the diamond in nearby Somerset and the giant aerospace company for which my son worked after graduating college, Lockheed-Martin. I’m sure that there are other familiar uses of the name, such as guitars and boats, and I’ll list some famous personages below, but the purpose of this essay is to provide a brief introduction to one of many old English surnames associated with our Pearce family. A genealogist would have to go back nearly 300 years to find our connection to the Martin tree, when a different Mary Martin was born to Henry and Mary Payne Martin in Sussex County, UK. The earliest Grandfather Martin there that I could find was Michael, born in 1637. Sussex is on the southeastern-most coast of England, known for its chalky cliffs and Brighton Beach, not the Neil Simon-American one of Broadway fame. This Sussex was named for a legendary king of 477 AD. For this piece, we want you to know that our Mary Martin travelled just north into Kent County to marry our Thomas Austen, probably a cousin to noted author Jane Austen, also from Kent. The rest, they say, is family history: Mary and Thomas produced Ambrose Austen, who produced Susan Austen, who married my great-great grandfather Richard Pearce.
The name Martin is a derivative of the Roman war and fertility god Mars, for whom the red planet is named. In its present form, Martin is both diminutive, or indicating a smaller form, and patronymic, or based on the name of a father. Naturally, the Roman Catholics have a famous and beloved saint named Martin. Born in 316 AD in France, he left the military to serve his faith, supposedly using his sword to cut his cloak in half to give to a beggar. He is known for opposing the often violent persecution of non-believers of the day. One of the most beautiful cathedrals and oldest congregations in London is St. Martin in the Fields, known for its inspiring musical programs. Other cities, like Philadelphia, also have churches of the same name and tradition.
After the French St. Martin came early namesakes like Walter Martin, who appeared in the “Book of the Exchequer,” or Treasury, in 1166, and William, son of Martin, who was recorded in the “Hundred Rolls,” or census records, in 1273. A more thorough search on your part of the Martin name in England will reveal some rather impressive public servants, including a Mayor of London. In more recent history, some of the more famous Martins are:
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) – Priest and theologian who inspired the Protestant Church movement in Germany and has a denomination named after him, Lutheranism.
- Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) – the 8th President of the United States.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) – American Baptist preacher and civil rights leader who has a History Center named for him in Atlanta and a national holiday.
- Martin Sheen (b. 1940) – an American actor.
- Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) – an American director.
- Martin Mull (b. 1943) – an American comedian.
- Martin Short (b. 1950) – an American actor and comedian.
- Billy Martin (1928-1989) – Manager of the New York Yankees.
- Dean Martin (1917-1995) – American singer and actor, part of the “Rat Pack.”
- Steve Martin (b. 1945) – American musician, actor, and comedian.
Can you think of any others? Other spellings of our Martin surname include: Matin, Mattin, Martyn. The original Gaelic form of Martin was Mac Giolla Mhartain. This name denotes a devotee of St. Martin. Probably the first family to settle in the New World was headed by John in 1606 Virginia. Christopher and wife Mary landed on the “Mayflower” in 1620. Giles arrived just three years later. We suggest searching the Martin name online or in your local library to read about the dozens of other namesakes from around the world. Meanwhile, my family research continues on the many genealogical research services available.
Last revised 12/21/18