He’s among the most fashionable of classics.
Thanks to Alicia and Melissa for suggesting Charles as Name of the Day.
Worn by ten kings of France, four kings of Spain, two kings of England, one king of Portugal and Hungary each, as well as Holy Roman Emperors and a host of powerful aristocrats from the eighth century into the present day, it is hard to call Charles anything but an enduring classic.
But even classics have their eras. Their rankings may not show a significant change, but their images certainly do. Henry has switched from egghead to hipster. And thanks to a certain vampire, Edward is now more romantic hero than Rotarian.
In Charles’ case, he was once a perennial Top Ten pick, ranking amongst the most common names for boys born in the US from 1880 right through 1954. As of 2008, Charles ranked #63 – still far from uncommon.
But read the birth announcements for the fashionable and Charles is there in force. Jodie Foster has a son called Charles. So does Russell Crowe.
Crowe’s kiddo answers to Charlie, and that’s the nickname of the moment. But if Charlie isn’t for you – or if the rise in girls called Charlie has you vexed, there’s always Chuck, Chaz and – okay, it’s a stretch – Chase. As for variants, Carlos ranked #73 in 2008, Carl charted at #490 and Carlo came in at #922.
In the US, Charlie as an independent name has always been an also-ran to Charles, coming in at a distant #307 in 2008.
Not so elsewhere in the English speaking world. Charlie sits in England’s Top Ten, keeping company with the equally informal Alfie and Jack.
His origins are sometimes linked to Old English ceorl – meaning free man – and more often tied to the Germanic karl – once again, with a similar meaning. While the Old English word was in use, and surfaces in place names like Carlton, it does not seem to have been a personal name.
The earliest Charles recorded may have been Charles Martel, the leader of the Franks in the early 700s, known for fending off a Muslim invasion. He was grandfather to Charlemagne – Charles the Great – who ruled at the turn of the ninth century. The name caught on, and centuries later, trend-setting Mary, Queen of Scots, came of age at the French court and eventually brought the name across the Channel.
Mary’s son James Charles became James I of England; his son became Charles I. Charles’ rule ended in his execution, but his son, Charles II, eventually took the throne.
From the seventeenth century Restoration onward, there’s a lengthy list of notable Charles, including:
- Charles Darwin;
- Charles Dickens and Charles Bukowski;
- Charles de Gaulle – a statesman before he was an airport;
- Charlie Brown’s creator, Charles Schulz, as well as Charles Addams and Looney Tunes’ Chuck Jones;
- Actor Charlie Chaplin;
- Athlete Charles Barkley;
- Architect Charles Eames and Le Corbusier, born Charles-Edouard Jeanerret;
- Flyboys Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager;
- Roald Dahl’s immortal Charlie and the Chocolate Factory;
- Charles Ryder from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited;
- On TV, there’s Gossip Girls’ Chuck Bass and The Rugrats’ Chuckie Finster;
- Sinister dolly/serial killer Chucky has appeared in five Child’s Play movies.
I’m overlooking dozens of noteworthy Charles, including a half dozen saints, and that’s without considering the many men called Carl, Karl (think Marx), even Karol (as in the birth name of Pope John Paul II).
And that’s the strength of Charles. He’s quietly current and will suit your son no matter what passions he pursues. It’s a versatile, enduring choice.