Muhammad Ali was named after Cassius Marcellus Clay, an ardent abolitionist who emancipated the 40 slaves he inherited from his father. Clay edited an anti-slavery newspaper, commanded troops in the Mexican-American War and served as minister to Russia under Abraham Lincoln.

Muhammad Ali originally named for ardent abolitionist and Yale alumnus Cassius Clay

When heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam, he stated that his birth name was “a slave name,” adding, “I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it.” His new name, he noted, is “a free name” meaning “beloved of God.”

The name Ali inherited from his father — Cassius Marcellus Clay — was in fact given to his dad in honor of Cassius M. Clay, a fervent abolitionist who graduated from Yale in 1832.*

Judith Schiff, chief research archivist in the Yale University Library’s Manuscripts and Archives, alerted YaleNews to the connection following Ali’s death on June 3 at the age of 74.

Schiff noted that in “Memorials of Eminent Yale Men,” Anson Phelps Stokes said of the Yale-educated … Continue Reading (3 minute read)

12 thoughts on “Muhammad Ali was named after Cassius Marcellus Clay, an ardent abolitionist who emancipated the 40 slaves he inherited from his father. Clay edited an anti-slavery newspaper, commanded troops in the Mexican-American War and served as minister to Russia under Abraham Lincoln.”

  1. DavidRandom

    Not entirely correct.
    He was named after his dad, Cassius Marcellus Clay, who was named after the abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay.
    Muhammad Ali’s birthname was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.

  2. thek3ym4k3r

    I’m this guy’s great great great great great great great great great Grandson. It isn’t something I get to mention often…

  3. Ennion

    I thought he changed his name to drop his ‘slave name’. Didn’t he somehow want to champion an abolitionist? I never heard him do so.

  4. apzoix

    “In 1894, the 84-year-old Clay married Dora Richardson, the 15-year-old orphaned sister of one of his sharecropping tenants.”

    Yikes. Big fan of the abolitionism though.

  5. usumoio

    There is some real irony in this. Muhammad changed his name to Muhammad when he converted to Islam. When he spoke about his name change he referred to his old name as his slave name and saw his new name as part of his self determination and an expression of his right to chose his destiny free of the reality of the racist past.

    I’m sure Cassius himself would have agreed with Muhammad’s logic, but that his name was that of a famed abolitionist is truly ironic.

  6. myrrdynwyllt

    Rejected the name of an abolitionist to take the name of a man would bought and sold African slaves.

  7. Theres_A_FAP_4_That

    No offense to maybe the greatest boxer of all time, but Cassius Clay is a way cooler name. Funny, I feel the same about Lew Alcindor.

  8. AdvocateSaint

    And then he changed his name to Muhammad, named after *the* Muhammad, like every other Muhammad

  9. cthulhulogic

    Clay also got into knife fights with pro slavery folks constantly.

  10. TreyWait

    Ironically he dropped Cassius Clay as his ‘slave name’ (it’s a Nation Of Islam thing).

  11. PrudentFlamingo

    Sounds like a name to be proud of

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