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Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I.jpg
Charlemagne, King of the Franks
Word/nameFrench from Germanic
Meaningfree man
Other names
Variant form(s)Carl, Karl, Carlo, Carlos
Related namesCaroline, Charlotte
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This article is about the given name. For the family name, see Charles (surname). For other uses, see Charles (disambiguation).
Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I.jpg
Charlemagne, King of the Franks
Word/nameFrench from Germanic
Meaningfree man
Other names
Variant form(s)Carl, Karl, Carlo, Carlos
Related namesCaroline, Charlotte

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. Grammatically the final [s] is the former subject case of masculine names in Old French like in Giles or James.

The corresponding Old Norse form is Karl, the German form is also Karl. 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 words in Old French (< Latin -us, see Spanish 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]


Early Middle Ages

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).

Later Middle Ages and Early Modern history

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);

Modern history

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 (but he has reportedly considered choosing George VII as his regnal name).

Derived feminine names

Caroline and Charlotte are feminine given names derived from Carl.

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, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan), a name which dates from early Italy.

Regional forms:

Regional forms of the name

LanguageFormal nameInformal name
ArmenianԿարլոս (Karlos)
BulgarianКарл (Karl)
DanishKarl, Carl
EnglishCharlesChaz, Chad, Chip, Chuck, Charlie
EstonianKaarel, Kaarli, Kaaro, Kalle
FinnishKaarlo, Kaarle, Kalle, Karl
GermanKarl, Carl
Georgianკარლო (Karlo)
GreekΚάρολος (Károlos)
HungarianKároly, Karcsi
IrishCarlus, Séarlas
NorwegianKarl, Carl
RussianКарл (Karl)
Scottish GaelicTeàrlach
SerbianКарло (Karlo)
SpanishCarlosCarlito, Carlitos
SwedishKarl, Carl, Kalle

List of notable people called Charles

Media, arts and entertainment

In literature
Charles BukowskiAmerican poet and novelist
Charles DickensEnglish novelist
Charles Dodgson (pen-name Lewis Carroll)English clergyman, writer and mathematician
Charles Henri FordAmerican poet, photographer and writer
Charles FortAmerican writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena
Charles L. GrantAmerican science-fiction author
Charles LummisAmerican journalist, poet and historian
Charles OlsonAmerican poet
Charles G.D. RobertsCanadian poet
Charles Webb (author)American author of The Graduate
In music
Charles AznavourFrench-Armenian singer
Chuck BerryAmerican guitarist, singer and composer
Charlie DanielsAmerican country music figure
Charles GavinBrazilian rock drummer/producer
Charlie HadenAmerican Jazz bassist and composer
Charles IvesAmerican composer
Chuck MangioneAmerican jazz artist
Charles MingusAmerican Jazz bassist and composer
Charles E. MoodyAmerican gospel song writer and performer
Charlie ParkerAmerican Jazz saxophonist
Charles Davis Tillman (1861–1943)pioneer of southern gospel music
Charlie WattsEnglish drummer for the rock group The Rolling Stones
In film
Charles BowersAmerican cartoonist and early film-maker
Charles BoyerFrench-American actor
Charlie ChaplinEnglish comedy actor, famous for silent film acting
Charley ChaseAmerican silent film comedian and writer
Charles DanceEnglish actor
Charles DurningAmerican actor
Charles Gray (actor)English actor
Charles GrodinAmerican actor and cable talk show host
Charles HerbertAmerican child actor of the '50s and '60s
Charlton Heston (born John Charles Carter)American actor
Charles LaughtonEnglish actor
Chas LicciardelloAustralian comedian and a member of The Chaser
Charles Stanton Oglesilent film actor
Charles Nelson ReillyAmerican comic actor and game show regular
Charles ReisnerAmerican actor and film director
In television
Charles GibsonAmerican television journalist
Charles KuraltAmerican television journalist
Charlie RoseAmerican host of a television interview show
In visual arts
Charles AddamsAmerican cartoonist known for his particularly black humor and macabre characters
Chuck JonesAmerican animator
Charles MartinetAmerican actor known for playing the voice as Mario and other characters
Charles R. Knightwildlife artist, known for prehistoric restorations
Charles Schulzcreator of the comic strip Peanuts


Charles Barkleyformer NBA forward and a current NBA color commentator for TNT
Chuck BednarikNFL player, 1967, Philadelphia Eagles
Charles CorneliusNFL and CFL player
Charles Daniels (swimmer) (1885–1973)American freestyle swimmer
Charley DiamondAmerican football player
Charlie FlemingScottish footballer
Charles "Buckets" GoldenbergAmerican All-Pro football player
Charles Green (disambiguation)multiple people
Chuck HayesAmerican basketball player who currently plays for the Houston Rockets
Charles HortonAmerican football player
Charles Jenkins (disambiguation)multiple people
Charles LefrançoisCanadian high jumper
Charles Madrid "Dr. Charles"one of the founding fathers of sport compact racing
Charlie McCarthy (hurler)Irish hurler
Charles MyerAmerican major league baseball All Star second baseman
Charles OakleyAmerican basketball forward
Charles Radbournearly Major League Baseball pitcher
Charlie ReiterAmerican professional soccer player
Charles Fernando Basílio da SilvaBrazilian midfielder
Charles Siffordfirst African American golfer to play in a PGA tour

In politics

Charles "Bubba" ChaneyLouisiana politician
Charles Francis Adams, Sr.American congressman and ambassador, grandson of John Adams
Charles Edward BennettDemocratic U.S. Congressman from Florida
Charles Bentfirst Governor of New Mexico Territory, assassinated in 1847
Charles Joseph Bonaparteformer U. S. Attorney General
Charles BradlaughBritish political activist and militant atheist, founder of the National Secular Society
Charles Carroll of Carrolltonlast living signer of the Declaration of Independence (died 1832)
Charles ColsonU.S. President Nixon's Chief Counsel, involved in the Watergate scandal
Charles Magill Conradformer American Secretary of War
Charles Curtis31st American Vice President, under Herbert Hoover
Charles G. Dawes30th American Vice President, under Calvin Coolidge
Charles Devensformer U.S. Attorney General
Charles de GaulleFrench military leader and statesman
James Charles Everscivil rights figure, older brother of Medgar Evers
Charles W. Fairbanks26th American Vice President, under Theodore Roosevelt
Charles A. FordAmerican diplomat
Charles Gibbs (Alberta politician)Canadian politician
Charles Harper (Mayor)Australian politician
Charles Evans Hughesformer U.S. Secretary of State
Charles HumphreysPennsylvania delegate to Continental Congress; refused to sign Declaration of Independence due to his Quaker beliefs
Chuck Larsoncurrent (2008) U.S. ambassador to Latvia
Charles Lee (Attorney General)former U. S. Attorney General
Charles Mathias (1922–2010)American politician
Karolos PapouliasPresident of the Hellenic Republic (Greece)
Charles Stewart ParnellIrish political leader
Charles Pearsonformer Solicitor for The City of London and early railway advocate
Chuck Robbformer Governor of Virginia & U.S. Senator
Charlie Rose (congressman)American congressman (Democrat from N.C.)
Charles Scott (governor of Kentucky)also George Washington's Chief of Intelligence during the American Revolution
Charles Harding SmithIrish politician
Charles G. Taylorformer president of Liberia
Charles Thomsonsecretary of the Continental Congress
Charles Wilson (Texas politician)Texas congressman, subject of 2007 movie Charlie Wilson's War

In religion


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 in 1606 by Pope Paul V. Charles, Duke of Brittany (1319–1364) had been canonized after his death, but this was annulled by Pope Gregory XI. 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:


church leaders


See #History above for medieval and early modern royalty and nobility. This section lists noblemen born after 1700.


Charles BabbageEnglish mathematician, philosopher, mechanical engineer and computer scientist
Charles L. BennettAmerican astrophysicist
Charles Thomas Boltonastronomer who proved the existence of black holes
Charles DarwinBritish naturalist
Charles DawsonEnglish archaeologist, involved in the Piltdown Man hoax
Charles Fleming (ornithologist)New Zealand ornithologist
Charles Thomas JacksonAmerican geologist
Charles T. KowalAmerican astronomer, discoverer of Chiron and 2 moons of Jupiter
Charles LyellScottish scientist, founder of modern geology
Charles Wright MillsAmerican sociologist
Charles Hazelius SternbergAmerican fossil collector, involved in the Bone Wars
Charles Mortram Sternbergson of above, also a fossil collector and paleontologist
Charles TillyAmerican sociologist
Charles Doolittle WalcottAmerican paleontologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
Charles Thomson Rees WilsonScottish physicist


In aviation and aerospace
entrepreneurs and businessmen
military personnel

Other uses of the name

See also


  1. ^ T. F. Hoad, English Etymology, Oxford University Press, 1993 (ISBN 0-19-283098-8). p. 76.
  2. ^ Pokorny, Julius; G. Starotsin; A. Lubotsky (2007). Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary: a Revised Edition of Julius Pokorny's Indogermanicshes Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Indo-European Language Association. pp. 1192–1193. 
  3. ^ E. Förstemann, Altdeutsches Namenbuch (1856), s.v. 'Carl' (303).