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's etymology is a Common Germanic noun karlaz meaning "free man", which survives in English as churl (< Old English ċeorl), 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.
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).
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 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
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.
- 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:
- 1904: Saint Charles Garnier (1606–1649), French Jesuit missionary and martyr
- 1959: Saint Charles of Sezze (1616–1670) was a Franciscan lay brother.
- 1964: Saint Carl Lwanga (1860 or 1865–1886), Ugandan Catholic martyr
- 1995: Saint Charles-Joseph-Eugene de Mazenod (1782–1861), French Catholic clergyman
- 2007: Saint Charles of Mount Argus (1821–1818), Passionist Dutch priest who worked in Ireland
- 1867: Blessed Charles Spinola (1564–1622), Genoese nobleman
- 2004: Blessed Charles I of Austria (1887-1922), last emperor of Austria, king of Hungary, Bohemia etc.
- Charles Wesley (1707–1788), co-founder of the Methodist Church
- Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875), a leader of the Second Great Awakening in America
- Charles W. Penrose (1832–1925), leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892), Reformed Baptist preacher
- Charles Harrison Mason (1866-1961), Pentecostal preacher and founder of the Church of God in Christ
- Charles d'Ursel
- Charles-Joseph, 4th Duke d'Ursel
- Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1713–1780)
- Charles III of Spain (1716–1788), first son of the second marriage of Philip V with Elizabeth Farnese of Parma
- "Bonnie Prince Charlie" Charles Edward Stuart (1720–1788), exiled claimant to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738–1805), English military commander and colonial governor
- Charles XIII of Sweden (1748–1818), king of Sweden, the second son of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden and Louisa Ulrika of Prussia
- Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia (1751–1819)
- Charles IV of Spain (1748–1819), king of Spain from December 14, 1788 until his abdication on March 19, 1808
- Charles XIV John of Sweden (1763–1844), king of Sweden and Norway. Former Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of France
- Infante Carlos, Count of Molina (1788–1855)
- Charles, Count Léon (1806–1881), illegitimate son of Emperor Napoleon I of France and Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne
- Charles III, Prince of Monaco (1818–1889) founder of the casino in Monte Carlo
- Infante Carlos, Count of Montemolin (1818–1861)
- Charles I of Romania (1839–1914) first ruler of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty
- Carlos, Duke of Madrid (1848–1909)
- Charles I of Portugal (1863–1908), second to last King of Portugal and Algarves from 1889 to 1908
- Charles I of Austria (1887–1922), Emperor of Austria
- Charles II of Romania (1893-1853) eldest son of Ferdinand I
- Charles XV of Sweden (1826–1872), king of Sweden, the eldest son of King Oscar I and Josephine of Leuchtenberg
- Prince Charles of Belgium (1903–1983), second son of King Albert I of Belgium and Queen Elizabeth
- Archduke Karl Pius of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1909–1953)
- Carlos Hugo, Duke of Parma (1930–2010)
- Juan Carlos I of Spain (b. 1938) former King of Spain
- Charles, Prince of Wales (b. 1948), eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
- 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 Keating, American financier, instigator of the "Keating 5" scandal
- Charles M. Schwab, founder of Bethlehem Steel
- Charles R. Schwab, stock-broker and founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation
- Charles Zadok (1897-1984), American businessman, art collector and patron
- Charles Upham, most-decorated Commonwealth serviceman of World War Two
- Charles Gibbs, 19th-century pirate
- Charles Sobhraj, Indian serial killer
- Charles Manson, American cult leader, convicted murder conspirator
- Charles Ponzi, Italian-American con-man, gave name to Ponzi scheme