Mark Twain used different pen names before deciding on “‘Mark Twain”. He signed humorous and imaginative sketches as “Josh” until 1863. Additionally, he used the pen name “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” for a series of humorous letters.
He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating safe water for passage of boat, was measured on the sounding line. Twain is an archaic term for “two”, as in “The veil of the temple was rent in twain.” The riverboatman’s cry was “mark twain” or, more fully, “by the mark twain”, meaning “according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms],” that is, “The water is 12 feet (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass.”
Twain claimed that his famous pen name was not entirely his invention. In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:
Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them “MARK TWAIN,” and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; … At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner’s discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands – a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.
Twain’s story about his pen name has been questioned by biographer George Williams III, the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, and Purdue University’s Paul Fatout. The claim is that “mark twain” refers to a running bar tab that Twain would regularly incur while drinking at John Piper’s saloon in Virginia City, Nevada.
Twain’s legacy lives on today as his namesakes continue to multiply. Several schools are named after him, including Mark Twain Elementary School in Wheeling, Illinois and Mark Twain Elementary School in Houston, Texas, which has a statue of Twain sitting on a bench. There is also Mark Twain Intermediate School in New York. There are several schools named Mark Twain Middle School in different states, as well as Samuel Clemens High School in Schertz, near San Antonio, Texas. There are also other structures, such as the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge.
Mark Twain Village is a United States Army installation located in the Südstadt district of Heidelberg, Germany. It is one of two American bases in the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg that house American soldiers and their families (the other being Patrick Henry Village).
Awards in his name proliferate. In 1998, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts created the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, awarded annually. The Mark Twain Award is an award given annually to a book for children in grades four through eight by the Missouri Association of School Librarians. Stetson University in DeLand, Florida sponsors the Mark Twain Young Authors’ Workshop each summer in collaboration with the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal. The program is open to young authors in grades five through eight. The museum sponsors the Mark Twain Creative Teaching Award.
Buildings associated with Twain, including some of his many homes, have been preserved as museums. His birthplace is preserved in Florida, Missouri. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri preserves the setting for some of the author’s best known work. The home of childhood friend Laura Hawkins, said to be the inspiration for his fictional character Becky Thatcher, is preserved as the “Thatcher House.” In May 2007, a painstaking reconstruction of the home of Tom Blankenship, the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, was opened to the public. The family home he had built in Hartford, Connecticut, where he and his wife raised their three daughters, is preserved and open to visitors as the Mark Twain House.
Asteroid 2362 Mark Twain was named after him.
On December 4, 1985, the United States Postal Service issued a stamped envelope for “Mark Twain and Halley’s Comet,” noting the connection with Twain’s birth, his death, and the comet. On June 25, 2011, the Postal Service released a Forever stamp in his honor.
Mark Twain told an interviewer that he was not actually Mark Twain, but Mark Twain’s twin brother, but since his parents couldn’t tell which one drowned in the bath tub when they were babies, the parents decided that the one who lived must have been Mark.