James T. Kirk (TOS)

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Name: James Tiberius Kirk
Occupation: Starfleet Officer
Relationships: Was married to Miramanee while amnesiac, she and their unborn child died. With Carol Marcus, had a son, David Marcus, who was killed by Klingons.
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
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James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) was introduced in the premier episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) -- he was not in the original, unaired pilot, "The Cage" -- and starred in all three seasons, 1966-69, and seven subsequent movies.

Canon Background

James T. Kirk is the captain of Starfleet's flagship, the starship Enterprise. He protects and guides his crew on their mission "To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!" It's his voice reciting those words at the beginning of every TOS episode, along with his "Captain's Log" entries.


Fan Responses and Analysis: Personality and Motivations

James Kirk's personality and motivations have been a subject of endless exposition and debate for Original Series fans from the very beginning, as seen in early fanzines. Especially after the release of the new movies, these fans will tell you there is a great difference between canon!Kirk as created by Shatner and Gene Roddenberry and the way he is as played by Christopher Pine in the 2009 et seq. "reboot" films by J. J. Abrams (this character is often called NuKirk or Nu!Kirk) -- and between Shatner's original portrayal vs. the general public's perception of the character. This phenomenon is sometimes called "Kirk drift"[1] Fans cite examples of how in the original series Kirk is shown to be a smart, compassionate, thoughtful man who, while he has many love affairs, treats women with respect, and while he's good at thinking on his feet, is also able to analyze difficult situations carefully and seek advice from his specialists in briefings; as opposed to the rash, macho, womanizer character that most people today likely imagine when they think about Kirk.

kirk is supposed to be the middle ground between spock (mostly logic with little emotion) and mccoy (mostly emotion with little logic). spock’s flaw is that he sometimes fails to consider human emotions and reactions when making a decision; mccoy’s flaw is that sometimes sentiment can cloud his judgement about what the correct course of action is. kirk is supposed to have spock’s intellect with mccoy’s human feeling and understanding.


There is no other way to put this: essentially everything about Popular Consciousness Kirk is bullshit. Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination. [1]

it really upsets me that jim kirk has been so heavily appropriated by gross dudebros that their complete misunderstanding of the character is now widely regarded as canon. like, where did this bs that kirk is a womanising hardass maverick who shoots first and asks later and rules the enterprise with an iron fist like the manly man he is come from? not from the canon, thats for sure. (it actually sounds more like mirror!kirk who, ironically, is supposed to be the evil version of kirk)

it astounds me that so many middle aged men who claim to love the show hold onto this myth. its not supported by the actual show or the actual actors and producers whatsoever. how and why did this happen?

imagine my surprise upon discovering that jim kirk is actually a soft, smiley, gentle feminist after 21 years of misinformation. it’s high time that jim kirk gets remembered as the character he really is. [3]

I realize some are hyper defensive over NuTrek, and might argue that, 'well Kirk is young in that 1st film! Its realistic to be brash' Kirk was also younger in his TOS pilot, but even in that 1st episode, he tempered any inherent move to action with reason, even doubt. That's what made TOS Kirk a great character: he had the ability to fight--wage war, but he was not impulsive, or some hothead--even in the worst of situations. He was always thinking, which is a trait lacking in NuKirk.[4]

Fan Responses and Analysis: Kirk's Middle Name

At a recent New York convention, some people gathered around our table to discuss trivia, and then to explain such a phenomenon as James R. Kirk, the typo on the tombstone prepared for Kirk by Gary Mitchell in "Where No Man Has Gone Before".

It has been postulated by others that Gary Mitchell was the First Officer onboard the Enterprise, since there appears no more suitable character than him to hold the rank. Were he the First Officer, he would have known Kirk's name. We have now established that Kirk's name was James R. Kirk.

We also know that Kirk must have preferred the name Tiberius to "R.". Possibly the journals of Tiberius were found, putting the former Roman Emperor in quite a different light. Personally, I am a Graves' fan and I find it much more likely that Kirk found it more aesthetic than Augustus or Claudius, which would have made it James A. Kirk or James C. Kirk. Both sound a lot less effective than the statement James T. Kirk.

But why indeed should Kirk have changed his name at all? James R. Kirk is also a strong statement. Here we must use or common sense and recall. It is common knowledge that Kirk called his brother George Samuel, Sam. It is equally likely that George Samuel would have called James R. whatever R stood for. Certainly it is that "R" that caused him to change his name. A name like Robert or Richard would not have offended Kirk. Perhaps a name like Ralph would.

The unanimous consensus was that the above reasoning was correct. [5]


Gen Relationships

Shatner: Where No Man...

William Shatner's 1979 biography, Shatner: Where No Man..., by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, includes long interviews with Shatner, who provides insightful analysis of Kirk's character and personality. He explains how he worked to create a believable image of Kirk as a warm, emotionally appealing but strong and effective leader who cared for his crew as family. Marshak and Culbreath's personal agenda aside, anyone wishing to understand who James Kirk is would benefit by reading Shatner's own words.

Common Tropes in Fanworks

Tarsus IV

The first season episode "The Conscience of the King" reveals that a young Kirk had been present on the colony Tarsus IV during a genocide. This incident, mentioned only once on the show, is a popular source of angst in Kirk-centric fanworks, mostly fic. There are communities dedicated to Tarsus IV, tarsus_iv_fic on LJ, and another on ff.net, and Shadowloverk maintains a thematic list for these.[6]


It appears that it is more likely that Kirk is comforting others in hurt/comfort scenarios, however fanworks where Kirk is the hurt character can also be found, in those stories it is usually Spock or McCoy that comforts Kirk, or occasionally original women characters. McCoy was especially intended to be a comforting, healing character in the series. Kirk (or anyone) could go to him for counsel and was occasionally shown bringing Kirk a cocktail along with his good advice.

Disordered Eating

In a small amount of fanworks Kirk having issues around food, or an eating disorder, can be found. Sometimes these issues are tied to his past starvation on Tarsus IV. This is a more recent phenomena to explore in fanfic.

Older fanworks address, usually in a humorous way, Kirk's weight gain and his dieting, based on Shatner's troubles with these. Shatner dieted and exercised strenuously for years for a properly vigorous, athletic appearance, even doing some weightlifting on the set.

Horatio Hornblower

from an unknown zine, Signe Landon is the artist
Kirk dreams of Horatio Hornblower, 1980, Mei-Moi Lee is the artist

In the original proposal for Star Trek, James T. Kirk was named Robert April who was described as "A space-age Captain Horatio Hornblower, constantly on trial with himself, lean and capable both mentally and physically." [7]

In 1972, D.C. Fontana confirmed to fans that Kirk was not just reminiscent of Horatio Hornblower, but also a descendant:

Fontana said:

QUESTION: It said that Kirk was some how related to Horatio Hornblower. Are there any other characters who have their basis in other novels?

ANSWER: None that I can think of off hand. As you may or may not know, Hornblower and Mr Forrester have long been favorites of Gene Roddenberry, and the essential premise of man alone with warships at sea, and the many perils they then faced are similar to what we proposed the Enterprise to be. And in that sense, yes. Captain Kirk is descended from Hornblower and he's the only character that has that genesis.[8]

This something that was touched upon or described in numerous fanworks. Some Hornblower-Kirk references and topics:

  • Kirk and Hornblower, article by G.B. Love (Trek #2, 1974)
  • The Man at the Helm: Captains Kirk and Hornblower, article by Mark Alfred (Trek #11, 1978)
  • A Working Relationship/Space Age, article by Cassie Dalton (Not Tonight, Spock! #3, 1984)
  • Secret Admirer, fiction by Ciana Sepulveda (Spock gives Kirk a Hornblower book, 1995)

Kirk-centric Fanworks


  • Fortune's Child by UKJess
  • Father to the Man by Frankie Jackson ("Whilst travelling with his father, a teenaged Spock is diverted to Tarsus IV in the aftermath of the massacre. There he meets and extremely interesting and unsettling human boy.")
  • What You Love by sans_pertinence

Example Art Gallery





Unknown Date

Meta/Further Reading


Archives and Links



  1. ^ a b FRESHLY REMEMBER'D: Kirk Drift by Erin Horáková
  2. ^ pop culture's idea of kirk, tumblr entry by fan BB, dated November 16, 2017.
  3. ^ the appropiation of Kirk by some fans tumblr entry by fan ifyougonnagetnastyimgonnaleave, dated May 18, 2017.
  4. ^ Trek_God_1, writing in a 2015 discussion about an article from The Federalist, "How Star Trek Explains the Decline of Liberalism". Entire discussion at Star Trek and Liberalism.... on TrekBBS.
  5. ^ comments by Margaret McMahon in The Intergalactic Etcetera #6 (1979)
  6. ^ Fic Rec List: Tarsus IV (accessed 3 April 2010)
  7. ^ from Star Trek Format: The Original Star Trek Idea As Submitted To NBC by Gene Roddenberry
  8. ^ from a panel transcript from Star Trek Lives!