Phil Schaap Jazz

What Was Miles Davis' Real Name?

You may have noticed the contract between Miles Davis and Charles Delaunay for Miles’ appearance at the International Festival of Jazz held in Paris May 8 – 15, 1949. [It was offered for sale on but has already sold.] For this contract, Miles Davis signed his name “Miles Davis Jr”. That certainly grabbed my attention.  Miles Davis is said to be legally named Miles Dewey Davis III. One of his sons is Miles Davis IV and both Miles’ father and his paternal grandfather were named Miles Davis. But was grandpa truly a “Miles Dewey Davis” and was dad “Miles Dewey Davis, Junior”? If so, why did Miles Davis - on March 11, 1949, nearing the age of 23 - sign a legal document “Miles Davis Jr” when his legal name is supposed to be “Miles Dewey Davis III”? What did Miles himself know to be his name? I will conjecture that the Dewey is for Admiral Dewey, the naval hero of the Spanish-American War (1898). One might note that the bandleader Andy Kirk’s middle name is Dewey and that he was named for the hero. (Andy was born on May 28, 1898.) Miles’ father was probably named Miles Dewey Davis and was, therefore, likely given the middle name Dewey for the same person and reason as Andy Kirk. BUT, Miles’ paternal grandfather was undoubtedly born before Admiral Dewey was prominent, much less a war hero. I suggest that: The grandfather is Miles Davis. The father is Miles Dewey Davis. Our Miles is Miles Dewey Davis, Jr. Miles’ son “IV” might actually be Miles Dewey Davis III.