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Today is Remembrance Day, when we remember all those in the armed forces who have laid down their lives in the line of duty. It marks the end of hostilities of World War I, when by the terms of an armistice, fighting formally ceased at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day takes place on same day as the feast of Saint Martin, a patron of soldiers, so it seemed like a good opportunity to look at the name connected with this day.
If you would like to see the Anzac Cenotaph in Sydney honouring those who fell in World War I, you must go to Martin Place in the heart of the city, named for three-times New South Wales Premier and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sir James Martin. It is here that Anzac Day parades and commemorations are traditionally held in Sydney.
The reason this spot was chosen for the Cenotaph was because conscription rallies were held here during World War I, and it was at the old General Post Office across from the Cenotaph that so many soldiers enlisted. As the GPO’s telegraph office was where important news first arrived, people gathered here to learn of significant events, and where the Cenotaph now stands, crowds formed waiting for the end of World War I to be announced.
The General Post Office was really the beginning of Martin Place, its Victorian-era neo-classical grandeur making it the largest building in Sydney when it was first built, and its granite and sandstone arcade providing a link between George and Pitt Streets. It demanded a public space around it, and by the 1970s Martin Place had become a major pedestrian mall.
Martin Place is the centre of the city’s business and finance sector, with the head offices of major banks and insurance corporations, and the Reserve Bank. Still a centre for news distribution, it is where Channel Seven’s Sydney news station is located.
Crowds continue to gather in Martin Place, for the annual Christmas tree concert, for festivals and performances, for major sporting events shown on huge screens, for political protests such as the Occupy Sydney movement, and as a backdrop in television programs and films, including The Matrix series.
Its very centrality and importance made it a target for violence during the hostage siege crisis last year, and a focus for remembrance and healing afterwards when Martin Place was transformed into a “field of flowers”. Martin Place is a place to remember, to celebrate, to mourn, and to heal.
Martin is from the Roman name Martinus, derived from Martis, which means “belonging to Mars”. In Roman mythology Mars was the god of war, and etymologists dispute the origin of his name. It must come from some older god, but quite who it was, whether they were Oscan or Etruscan, and what their name signified, is something lost in the mists of time.
The name Martin has become well known to us because of Saint Martin of Tours, a Christian soldier conscripted into the Roman army who felt that a military life was incompatible with his faith and turned conscientious objector. He became a disciple of St Hilary in France, and then a hermit before he was elected bishop of Tours by popular acclaim.
There are many stories about Saint Martin. One is that he was so reluctant to become bishop that he hid in a barn full of geese, but their cackling gave him away (this legend shows that the mythology of the god Mars may have got involved here, because geese were sacred to Mars in pagan Gaul). Another famous story is while still a soldier he used his military sword to cut his cloak in half to give to a ragged beggar shivering in the depths of winter. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half cloak, which convinced him he was on the right path by following the Christian faith.
Saint Martin was enormously popular in France during the Middle Ages, and was adopted by the royal houses of France. Saint Martin is not only a patron of soldiers, but of France itself, and Martin is the most common French surname. Saint Martin has been called upon during many modern conflicts in France, including World War I, and when his feast day of November 11 was chosen as the day to sign the Armistice, the French saw it as a sign of his intercession.
Saint Martin’s Day was widely celebrated in Europe, and in Britain was known as Martinmas. Occuring at the beginning of the coldest months, it was the traditional day to slaughter animals for the winter, with a feast naturally following – goose was often served, and wine drunk liberally, as Saint Martin is also the patron of the grape harvest and winemaking. Martinmas was a Christian successor to the pagan feast of Samhain, which took place on October 31/November 1. It was formerly seen as the beginning of the lead-up to Christmas.
There are several other saints named Martin in his honour, and popes as well. The famous theologian Martin Luther was named after the saint, and he was baptised on November 11, Saint Martin’s Day. The great Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr gained his name from Martin Luther – his father had been a pastor named Michael King, but changed his name to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired by the life of Martin Luther on a trip to Germany. One way or another, the name wields a powerful spiritual clout.
Martin is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #93 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 the following decade. It began climbing during the 1940s (perhaps the war brought this military name to the fore). By the 1950s Martin was in the Top 100 again, peaking in 1967 at #41 (around the time of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s greatest publicity). It left the Top 100 in the 1900s, and is now around the 200s.
In the US, Martin was a Top 100 name from the late 19th century until 1970, and reached its peak in 1880 at #44. Its highest point in the twentieth century was #63 in 1964, the year after Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech. It is now #261 and very stable, even rising slightly last year – in 2014 the film Selma was released, with David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.
In the UK, Martin was in the Top 100 from the mid 19th century until the 1990s, peaking in the 1960s at #18. It is now #247 and stable, and as in the US, numbers went up last year. Martin is still a popular name in Europe, including Ireland, and is a particular favourite in Spain and Latin America. It is rising in Spain, where it is #8, and in France, where it is #46, so the French are still backing their patron saint.
With Martin you get a classic name seems both strong and gentle – a warrior under Mars, and a man of firm principles and the power of his convictions, like Saint Martin, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a traditional name that isn’t common, and yet isn’t disappearing into obscurity either: it’s stable and even had a small boost. A surprisingly safe choice that’s possibly just a little cooler than you might think.
Martin received an approval rating of 57%. 21% of people believed it was old-fashioned and dated, while 16% saw it as geeky or dorky. However, 13% thought it was a strong yet gentle name for a boy. The tease names of Martian or Fartin’ Martin each bothered 2% of people, while only one person thought it was too closely connected to alcohol because of Remy Martin cognac or the martini cocktail.
(Photo shows the GPO at 1 Martin Place)