True Story: Amadeus is Not Mozart's Middle Name

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It's one of the most famous three-named names in world history. Only one problem: That wasn't Mozart's name. Oh, the Wolfgang and the Mozart are right. But "Amadeus" was not Mozart's middle name.

It might seem silly at first to ask the question, "What was Mozart's middle name?" Given his worldwide fame, centuries after his death, given that Mozart's music is everlasting and as popular as ever today. But especially given that the Oscar-winning movie about him made in 1984 was named Amadeus.

Surely the movie didn't get his middle name wrong? But it did! There's a reason for that, though, as we shall see. Mozart's middle name wasn't the only thing that movie drilled into public consciousness that turned out to be wrong: There was also the lie that Salieri murdered Mozart (he didn't).

So if Amadeus was not Mozart's middle name, what was? And why does nearly everyone today think that Amadeus was Mozart's middle name?

Fact: Mozart was baptized on January 28, 1756, and his baptism record shows his name to be "Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart."

Fact: Mozart's father, in a letter shortly after his son's birth, stated that his son's name was "Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart."

"Theophilus" and "Gottlieb" are actually the same name: One is the Greek version (on his baptismal record), and Gottlieb is the German version. That is Mozart's real middle name: Gottlieb, not Amadeus.

So where does Amadeus come from? It comes from the Italian version of his real middle name, which was Amadè. Mozart had a habit of referring to himself in the language of his location, or in the language of the person with whom he was corresponding. He was a polyglot. When writing or speaking to a German, he would use Gottlieb, for example.

Beginning in 1770, however, young Wolfgang appears to have developed a fondness for the Italian Amadè, and from that point mostly used that version of his middle name.

That still doesn't get us to "Amadeus." This does: One thing the movie gets right about him is that Mozart had a sense of humor. He occasionally, for fun or giggles, used a pig-Latin by adding "us" to words, or to his name. So Wolfgang Amadè Mozart became, on just a few occasions in writing, "Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus." It was a joke.

And yet, even in his own time, the "Amadeus" version of Amadè seemed to catch on among others who were writing about him. His own joke about the Latin version of the Italian version of the German version of his Greek-derived middle name caught on with the public!

From the 1800s forward, even scholars began primarily using Amadeus. So even though "Amadeus" is not really Mozart's middle name, "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" is the name that goes down in history.