The founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk, was born in Salonika (now the Greek city of Thessaloniki) in the Ottoman Empire in 1881 with the given name Mustafa. During his time at a military secondary school he adopted the name Kemal which means "The Perfect One". Some say it was because of his exceptional mathematically abilities or because it was a nickname given to him by his mathematics teacher. Other say he adopted the name after the radical nineteenth century poet Namik Kemal.
During World War I he led three Ottoman divisions in the defense of the Dardanelles and he was instrumental in the Ottoman defeat and expulsion of the Allied Forces. After the war, from the years 1919 and 1923, Mustafa Kemal led a national uprising (the Turkish War of Independence) against the last Ottoman sultan and the Greeks which laid the foundation of the new Turkish State. In 1923 he became the first president of the Republic of Turkey.
He spent the next decade pushing reforms to modernize the country. One of the last reforms centered on family names. In 1934 it was decreed by the General National Assembly (of which he was president) that every citizen must choose surnames. For centuries many people in Turkey were recognized by their given names because the unit of community was based on small villages and clans; the uniqueness of given names minimized the need for last names. Only one name was not allowed to be chosen and that was Ataturk. Mustafa Kemal selected the name Ataturk for his surname; Ataturk means, "Father of the Turks" or "Father of the Turkish Nation".
Ataturk died in 1938 and his presence is still felt across Turkey today.