Karl Maria Kertbeny was born Karl Maria Benkert in Vienna in 1824. When he was young, he moved with his parents to Budapest where he learned to speak Hungarian as well as his mother tongue, German. Shortly after the death of his father, Benkert changed his name (legally, he claimed) to Kertbeny, the name he used for his publications. He is best known in gay studies for his coinage of the word "homosexuality," which first appeared in two pamphlets, published anonymously in 1869, in which Kertbeny argued against introducing the Prussian antisodomy law into the penal code of the new North German Confederation. Magnus Hirschfeld reprinted the first pamphlet in 1905 and identified Kertbeny as its author. Hirschfeld later falsely stated that Kertbeny was a Hungarian-born doctor; this statement has been repeated by many other authors. Although Kertbeny continued to be interested in the subject of homosexuality, he did not publish his later investigations and they came to
light only when Jean-Claude Feray and Manfred Herzer visited the Hungarian National Library in Budapest. Kertbeny is otherwise known as a prolific journalisthe wrote thousands of articles-and as a translator into German of Hungarian authors, most notably the poet Sandor Petofi. A life of restless wandering took him to Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. It was in Berlin, where he lived from 1868 until 1875, that he wrote the two "homosexuality" pamphlets. Then, when his health was severely shattered by an undetermined illness, he returned to Budapest.