What kind of man was Mark Twain? Did he have a family? Who married Mark Twain, and did he have children? Where did his name come from, and why did he change his name from Sam Clemens, to Mark Twain? We would like to answer the question about his name. It really does seem to fit in with our website, so here is the answer to why is Mark Twain called Mark Twain, and not his given name of Sam Clemens?
Mark Twain the Name
The King of the Humorists. Yes, that is Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, on November 30, 1835, in the small village of Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. There were many humorists during his lifetime in America, but Mark Twain was by far the best known and the most loved.
I know this is a humor website, but you have to know why the man born Sam Clemens is more widely known as Mark Twain. There is a story behind the name, and it really isn’t humorous. Just interesting, and worth knowing about.
So if you don’t already know why Samuel Clemens is known as Mark Twain, it has to do with his love of the Mississippi River, and his time as a pilot of the beautiful and functional steamboats of the time. Mark twain was an old term used on the river. It meant two fathoms or twelve feet, which indicated safe water. It was like hearing music to the pilot and captain because it meant that the steamboat could make safe passage on the river at that point. Sam Clemens would have been very familiar with the term, as he was a riverboat pilot.
Sam Clemens had first heard the term used for a signature on writings, from another pilot, an old, rather opinionated man that liked to tell the younger pilots of his knowledge of the Mississippi River. His name was Isaiah Sellers. He also liked to send bits of advice, knowledge and opinion to local newspapers, and he signed them Mark Twain.
It was the year 1861. Since Captain Sellers was a character that many other pilots knew of, it followed that Sam would write up a very funny skit about the man, involving a trip that Sellers never could have made, almost 100 years earlier in 1763! It was for Sam’s own amusement and for that of the others in his profession.
However, a man named Bart Bowen gave the piece to one of the New Orleans newspapers. He and others thought the piece hilarious. Captain Sellers saw and read the piece, and was deeply hurt by it. He never published again, and Sam Clemens felt awful about the part he played in that, however innocent he was of the piece being published.
A few years later, 1863, Sam was out west, in Carson City. He heard of the passing of Isaiah Sellers, and decided he would use the retired name of Mark Twain for his signature on his works.
It became not only a signature but a new identity for him. He started to become known as Mark Twain. He adapted the name to himself, and soon became known as Mark Twain, on paper and in real life. He must have loved it!
In fact he so loved to be a steamboat pilot, that he never considered any other profession (another interesting but-not-humorous-fact). He was convinced that he would be on the river all of his days. The Civil War changed that. Sitting in the pilot’s house on top of a steamboat during fighting times did not appeal to him. When he was on his way home to Missouri on the steamer the Uncle Sam, that boat was the last to make the journey on the Mississippi, from New Orleans to St. Louis. And because of the Civil War, the use of riverboats all but stopped. It was Samuel Clemens last trip having anything to do with his life as a steamboat pilot. He “loved the profession far better than any I have followed since, and I took a measureless pride in it.” This he said many years later in his life. Hard to believe the man who wrote such wonderful stories and was so successful and loved, at that time had never even thought of being an author. And even more astonishing is that after his success as a writer, he still would have preferred the life of a riverboat captain.