Maya Angelou’s Birth Name: Marguerite Ann Johnson

Maya Angelou, a prominent figure in American literature and civil rights activism, made a lasting impact through her powerful writing and unwavering commitment to social justice. Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou’s life journey was marked by resilience, creativity, and a deep sense of purpose. This article will explore Maya Angelou’s early life, her traumatic experience, education and career, as well as her remarkable writing and activism.

Early Life

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents’ divorce at an early age led to her relocation, along with her brother, Bailey, to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. It was during this time that Bailey affectionately gave her the nickname “Maya,” which she would later adopt as her preferred name.

Traumatic Experience

Tragically, at the age of seven, Maya Angelou was subjected to a horrific incident of sexual assault by her mother’s boyfriend. This traumatic experience had a profound impact on Angelou, resulting in her voluntary muteness for a period of six years. The emotional scars from this event shaped her perspective and influenced her later works.

Education and Career

During World War II, Maya Angelou relocated to San Francisco, California. She received a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School, where she honed her artistic talents. Notably, Angelou became the first African American female cable car conductor in San Francisco, breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations.

Angelou’s artistic career flourished as she ventured into theater productions, securing roles in various plays. She also released albums, showcasing her talent as a singer and performer. These early accomplishments laid the foundation for her future success in the world of arts and literature.

Writing and Activism

Maya Angelou’s most renowned work is her memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Published in 1969, this groundbreaking book became the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman, solidifying Angelou’s place in literary history. Through her poignant storytelling, she shed light on her own experiences and explored universal themes of identity, racism, and resilience.

As a member of the Harlem Writers Guild, Angelou actively participated in the vibrant literary scene of the time, collaborating with other influential writers. Her involvement in the civil rights movement further exemplified her commitment to social change and equality. Angelou’s writing and activism were intertwined, echoing her belief in the power of words to inspire and effect meaningful transformation.

Throughout her career, Maya Angelou received numerous awards and honors for her exceptional contributions. She was recognized with NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category in 2005 and 2009. Additionally, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian honors in the United States, in 2011.


Maya Angelou’s life and work continue to resonate as a testament to the enduring power of literature and activism. Her ability to confront adversity with grace and resilience is reflected in her writing, inspiring generations of readers. Through her memoirs, poetry, and essays, Angelou’s voice remains a beacon of hope, advocating for justice and equality. Maya Angelou’s legacy serves as a reminder of the transformative potential of storytelling and the indomitable spirit of the human experience.



What was Maya Angelou’s birth name?

Maya Angelou’s birth name was Marguerite Ann Johnson.

When and where was Maya Angelou born?

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Why did Maya Angelou change her name?

Maya Angelou adopted the name “Maya” as her preferred name later in life. Her brother, Bailey, gave her the nickname, and she chose to embrace it over her birth name.

Was Maya Angelou’s birth name legally changed?

Maya Angelou’s birth name was not legally changed. She used the name “Maya” informally and professionally, but her birth name remained Marguerite Ann Johnson.

Did Maya Angelou use her birth name in her works?

No, Maya Angelou is known and recognized by her pen name, Maya Angelou. She used this name as the author of her acclaimed memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and throughout her career as a writer and activist.

Was Maya Angelou’s birth name significant in her life and work?

While Maya Angelou’s birth name, Marguerite Ann Johnson, may not have had a direct significance in her life and work, it is worth noting as part of her personal and historical identity. Maya Angelou’s chosen name, Maya, has become synonymous with her legacy and contributions to literature and civil rights activism.

Did Maya Angelou legally change her name?

There is no record of Maya Angelou legally changing her name. She primarily used the name “Maya Angelou” professionally and in public life.

Why did Maya Angelou decide to go by her nickname?

Maya Angelou embraced the name “Maya” given to her by her brother, Bailey. It is believed that she preferred this name as it held personal significance and resonated with her identity and artistic pursuits.