William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. He was the son to William Henry "Will" Gable (1870–1948), an oil-well driller and his wife, Adeline (née Hershelman). His father was a Protestant and his mother a Roman Catholic. Gable was named William after his father, but even in childhood, he was almost always called Clark or sometimes Billy. He was mistakenly listed as a female on his birth certificate. Among Gable's ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch (German), Belgians, Rhinelanders, and Bavarians.
His mother died when he was ten months old, possibly from a brain tumor, although the official cause of death was given as an epileptic fit. William Gable refused to raise his son Catholic, which provoked criticism from the Hershelman family. The dispute was resolved when Will Gable agreed to allow his son to spend time with his maternal uncle, Charles Hershelman, and his wife on their farm in Vernon Township, Pennsylvania.
In April 1903, Gable's father married Jennie Dunlap (1874–1919), whose family came from the small neighboring town of Hopedale. The marriage produced no children. Gable was a tall, shy child with a loud voice. His stepmother raised him to be well-dressed and well-groomed. Jennie played the piano and gave her stepson lessons at home. Later he took up brass instruments. At 13, he was the only boy in the men's town band. He was very mechanically inclined and loved to strip down and repair cars with his father. Although his father insisted on Gable doing "manly" things, like hunting and hard physical work, Gable loved language. Among trusted company, he would recite Shakespeare, particularly the sonnets.
Will decided to settle his debts and try his hand at farming, and the family moved to Ravenna, Ohio, near Akron.