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King <a href="/content/Charlemagne" style="color:blue">Charlemagne</a> (742–814) of the Franks
King Charlemagne (742–814) of the Franks

Charles is a masculine given name from the French form Charles of a Germanic name Karl. The original Anglo-Saxon was Ċearl or Ċeorl, as the name of King Cearl of Mercia, that disappeared after the Norman conquest of England.

The name was notably borne by Charlemagne (Charles the Great), and was at the time Latinized as Karolus (as in Vita Karoli Magni), later also as Carolus.


The name's etymology is a Common Germanic noun karlaz meaning "free man", which survives in English as churl (< Old English ċeorl),[1] which developed its deprecating sense in the Middle English period.

In the form Charles, the initial spelling ch- corresponds to the palatalization of the Latin group ca- to [tʃa] in Central Old French (Francien) and the final -s to the former subjective case (cas sujet) of masculine names in Old French like in Giles or James (< Latin -us, see Spanish/ Portuguese Carlos).

According to Julius Pokorny, the historical linguist and Indo-Europeanist, the root meaning of Karl is "old man", from Indo-European ĝer-, where the ĝ is a palatal consonant, meaning "to rub; to be old; grain." An old man has been worn away and is now grey with age.[2]


The name is atypical for Germanic names as it is not composed of two elements, but simply a noun meaning "(free) man". This meaning of ceorl contrasts with eorl (Old Norse jarl) "nobleman" on one hand and with þeow (Old Norse þræll) "bondsman, slave" on the other. As such it would not seem a likely candidate for the name of a Germanic king, but it is attested as such with Cearl of Mercia (fl. 620), the first Mercian king mentioned by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. It is a peculiarity of the Anglo-Saxon royal names that many of the rulers of the earliest period (6th to 7th centuries) have monothematic (simplex) names, while the standard dithematic (compounded) names become almost universal from the 8th century. Compare the name of king Mul of Kent (7th century) which simply translates to "mule".

Charles Martel (686–741) was an illegitimate son of Pepin of Herstal, and therefore indeed a "free man", but not of noble rank. After his victory at the Battle of Soissons (718), Charles Martel styled himself Duke of the Franks. Charles' eldest son was named Carloman (c. 710–754), a rare example of the element carl- occurring in a compound name. The Chronicle of Fredegar names an earlier Carloman as the father of Pepin of Landen, and thus the great-great-grandfather of the Charles Martel. This would place the name Carloman in the 6th century, and open the possibility that the Frankish name Carl may originate as a short form of Carloman. The only other compound name with the Carl- prefix is Carlofred (Carlefred), attested in the 7th century; as a suffix, it occurs in the rare names Altcarl and Gundecarl (9th and 11th centuries, respectively).[3]

Charlemagne (742–814) was Charles Martel's grandson. After Charlemagne's reign, the name became irrevocably connected with him and his Carolingian dynasty. After Charlemagne, the name Charles (Karol) became even the standard word for "king" in Slavic (Czech and Slovak král, Polish król; South Slavic kral крал, krȃlj краљ; Russian король), Baltic (Latvian karalis, Lithuanian karalius) and Hungarian (király).

Charlemagne's son Charles the Younger died without issue, but the name resurfaces repeatedly within the 9th-century Carolingian family tree, so with Charles the Bald (823–877), Charles the Fat (839–888) Charles of Provence (845–863), Charles the Child (847/848–866) and Charles the Simple (879–929).

The name survives into the High Middle Ages (Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine; Charles, Count of Valois; Charles I, Count of Flanders (Charles the Good, beatified in 1882); Charles I of Naples; Charles I of Hungary). Karl Sverkersson was a king of Sweden in the 12th century, counted as "Charles VII" due to a genealogical fiction of the 17th century by Charles "IX", but actually the first king of Sweden with this name.

Charles resurfaces as a royal name in Germany with Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor (1316–1378, counted as "the fourth" after Charlemagne, Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat) and in France with Charles IV of France (1294–1328, "the fourth" after Charlemagne, Charles the Bald and Charles the Simple), and becomes comparatively widespread in the Late Middle Ages (Charles I, Duke of Savoy, Charles III, Duke of Savoy).

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500–1558) gives rise to a tradition of Charlses in Habsburg Spain (Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, Charles II of Spain, Charles III of Spain, Charles IV of Spain.

The numbering scheme for the kings of Sweden was continued in modern times with Charles X, Charles XI, Charles XII, Charles XIII, Charles XIV and Charles XV.

Charles I of England (1600–1649) is followed by Charles II of England (1630–1685). The Province of Carolina is named during the rule of Charles II, after Charles I.

Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine (1661–1742);

Carlism is a political movement in Spain seeking the establishment of a separate line of the Bourbon family on the Spanish throne. This line descended from Infante Carlos, Count of Molina (1788–1855), and was founded due to dispute over the succession laws and widespread dissatisfaction with the Alfonsine line of the House of Bourbon. The movement was at its strongest in the 1830s, causing the Carlist Wars, and had a revival following Spain's defeat in the Spanish–American War in 1898, and lasted until the end of the Franco regime in 1975 as a social and political force

Charles Floyd (1782–1804) was the only casualty in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Charles DeRudio (1832–1910) was an Italian aristocrat, would-be assassin of Napoleon III, and later a career U.S. Army officer who fought in the 7th U.S. Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Charles Albert Varnum (1849–1936) was the commander of the scouts in the Little Bighorn Campaign and received the Medal of Honor for his actions in a conflict following the Battle of Wounded Knee. "Lonesome" Charley Reynolds (1842–1876) was a scout in the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment who was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Carl has been a very popular male given name in the United States during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, consistently ranking in the top 30 male given names in the US from 1887 to 1938, and remaining among the top 100 until the 1980s, but since declining below rank 500. Charles has been among the top 400 male given names in the United States in the 1880s and again in the 1930s, but since then it has declined steadily, dropping out of the top 1,000 by the 1970s. By contrast, it remains among the top 100 names given in England and Wales.

The heir-apparent of the British throne, Charles, Prince of Wales, would become Charles III upon accession if he decided to keep his given name.

Derived feminine names

Caroline and Charlotte are feminine given names derived from Carl.[4][5][6]

Charlotte is late medieval, e.g. Charlotte of Savoy (1441–1483), Charlotte of Cyprus (1444–1487). It was introduced to Britain in the 17th century, and gave rise to hypocorisms such as Lottie, Tottie, Totty.

Caroline is early modern, e.g. Caroline of Ansbach (1683–1737). It has given rise to numerous variations, such as Carlyn, Carolina, Carolyn, Karolyn, Carolin, Karolina, Karoline, Karolina, Carolien, as well as hypocorisms, such as Callie, Carol, Carrie, etc.

Another derived feminine name is Carla (Bulgarian, Dutch, English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan), a name which dates from early Italy.[7]

Regional forms:

  • Carolina (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Bulgarian) Caroline (English, French, Swedish, Danish) Carolyn (English) Carlijn (Dutch) Karoliina (Finnish) Karolina (Bulgarian, Polish, Swedish) Karolína (Czech) Karoline (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) Karolina (Каролина) (Russian) Keraleyn (קעראַליין) (Yiddish) Carly (American) Carol (English)
  • Carola (German, Swedish) Carole (English, French, Portuguese) Karol (קאַראָל) (Yiddish) Kyārōla (क्यारोल) (Nepali) Kerol (Керол) (Serbian), (Russian)
  • Charlotte (English, French, German, Swedish, Danish) Carlota (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan) Carlotta (Italian) Charlotta (Swedish)
  • Carla Charla (English) Karla (Bulgarian, German, Scandinavian, Serbian, Czech, Croatian) Карла (Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian)
  • Charlene (given name), Charlène

Regional forms of the name

List of notable people

There are a number of historical figures known as "Saint Charles", although few are recognized across confessions. In the context of English and British history, "Saint Charles" is typically Charles I of England, recognized as a saint in the Anglican confession only. In Roman Catholicism, the best known Saint Charles is Charles Borromeo (1538–1584), an Italian cardinal, canonized by Pope Paul V in 1606. Charles, Duke of Brittany (1319–1364) had been canonized after his death, but Pope Gregory XI annulled this. Charles the Good (d. 1127) is sometimes referred to as a saint, but while he was beatified in 1904, he has not been canonized.

Other Saints of the Roman Catholic Church, canonized after 1900:


  • Charles Lindbergh, first person to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean
  • Chuck Yeager, American test pilot and first man to break the sound barrier
  • Charles Upham, most-decorated Commonwealth serviceman of World War Two

Other uses of the name

See also

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