I passed the query about Thelonius Monk's name on to my husband who is
a jazz musician, and a member of Jazz-l.
Here is what they came up with, including a URL for Monk's birth
"I once read - and I do NOT remember where, but it was quite some time
ago -that someone had actually looked up Monk's birth certificate. The
name there was Thelious Junior Monk.
This story may place too much trust in the "fact" that there was a birth
certificate to look up, given that many southerners, both black *and* white,
born at the time Monk was never had a birth certificate issued."
"This is a two paragraph quote re: Thelonious' name:
"First, it is necessary to correct the myths surrounding Mon's birth and
name. For a long time the year of his birth had been given as 1920. In
1974, however, Leonard Feather saw Monk's entry in the birth register of
Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It reads, 'October 10, 1917, Thelius Monk.'
The name is written with an unsteady hand, and can also be read as
'Thelious'. The father's name appears to be 'Thelsious' , and the mother's
'Barbara'. ,,, The middle name, 'Sphere', which Monk increasingly came to
use, is missing here....
"According to Ponzio and Postif, the authors of Blue Monk, the name
'Thelonious' come from 'Thelonius', the Latizined form of the German name
'Tillman'. German missionaries could have brought the name to the Carolinas
in the Bible Belt. How ironic that Thelonious Monk, a musician often
by colleagues and critics to an African shaman or medicine man, should have
borne the name of a hero of German epic. As far as the middle name,
'Sphere', is concerned, Monk's son Thelonious Jr. claims that it was a part
of his father's original Christian name, and derived from Monk's maternal
grandfather, Sphere Batts. Monk did not learn of this name, however, until
the forties, judging from certain documents. From then on he used it as a
hip accessory. He would joke that owing to his middle name he could never
called a 'square'."
from THELONIOUS MONK: HIS LIFE AND MUSIC by Thomas Fitterling
(w/Foreword by Steve Lacy)"
"I have a copy of the certificate in front of me this very minute; the
nameis Thelious, written over the top of an initial mispelling of the
name; the middle name is Junior. The father's name is given as
Theloious, similarly overwriting a misspelling, and the listing for his
age is a mess. The mother's name is Barbra Monk. The occupation of
each is listed as ice puller and house hold work, and their educational
attainments are listed simply as read and write.
In the section for boy or girl, it looks like the writer begn writing girl,
and the over-wrote boy. The certificate also states that the child was born
a live, curious; written in long hand all other a's are clearly linked to
the following letter, not this one. He was born at 9:15 pm, on 10 October
At this point in time were the certificates compiled by the registrar, or
the clerk, or who?
The certificate can be seen on Jacques' Monk site:
I hope this is of some interest, even if it doesn't shed any light on
the 'felonious monk' idea, and is therefore not strictly of relevance
to the medieval religion theme!
> As the jazz buffs amongst you will know, Thelonious Monk is the name of a
>famous jazz player. A little while ago I heard on a radio programme
>that theway that he got his forename was as follows. Before his
>christening, his mother, Mrs Monk, had (mis)heard the term "felonious
>monk". She didn't know what it meant, but thought that it had a good
>ring about it and would be a good name for a boy. At the subsequent
>ceremony the officiating priest asked her how to spell the name she
>wanted bestowed on her son. She obliged with what she thought she
>had heard. The rest is (jazz) history.
> I haven't had any success in locating a literary source for what Mrs Monk
(mis)heard. Does anyone else known of one?
> Ron Hornsby
Dr BA Williamson,
Department of History of Art
University of Bristol
36 Tyndalls Park Road
Bristol, BS8 1PL
+ 44 (0)117 928 8591
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