Count Charles among the most evergreen of classics.
Thanks to Alicia and Melissa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Charles: He Rules
Tally up the ten kings of France, four kings of Spain, two kings of England, one king of Portugal and Hungary each, as well as a host of powerful aristocrats, Holy Roman Emperors, and Charlemagne himself, and it’s easy to see this name as blue-blooded through and through.
Add in a half-dozen saints or more, and this name appears in nearly any history book.
But we’re just getting started …
Famous men by the name abound, including:
- Scientist Darwin
- Authors Dickens and Baudelaire
- Aviators Lindbergh and Yeager
- Statesman de Gaulle
- Actor Chaplin
- Athlete Barkley
- Musician Mingus
- Architects Eames and Le Corbusier
I’ve barely scratched the surface.
In fact, if I added in Carlo, Carlos, Karol, and all of the name’s international variations, this post would easily quadruple in length.
While there are a few competing theories, most agree that the name comes from the Germanic Karl, meaning man, or free man.
Way back in the early 700s, Charles Martel led the Franks, fending off a Muslim invasion. His grandson shared his name, along with the epithet Magnus – Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. While Martel wasn’t the first Carl by any means, he and his grandson put Charles on our radar. Charlemagne was wildly famous, known throughout Europe, and almost certainly the reason the name entered into wider use.
It arrived in England when Mary, Queen of Scots – raised at the French court – gave it to her son James as a middle name in 1566. It’s been in use among English royals ever since, including the current Prince of Wales.
All of this makes the name feel quite elevated and grand. But nickname Charlie? It’s as friendly and accessible as you can get, a go-to name for storybook boys, including:
- Good-hearted Charlie Brown, of Peanuts fame, drawn by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz
- Roald Dahl sent his Charlie into the Chocolate Factory with Willy Wonka
- Charlie Bone is the hero of Children of the Red King, and its sequels
- It’s the name of one of the Weasley brothers in the Harry Potter series, and a love interest for Anne of Green Gables
The list goes on and on.
Of course, other possible nicknames abound for this traditional name, from Chuck to Chaz to maybe even Chase, and more.
And Charlie isn’t just a diminutive, either. It’s the most popular form of the name in much of the English-speaking world.
Charles: By the Numbers
Even classics rise and fall. From 1880 through the 1950s, this name appeared in the US Top Ten, falling behind only names like John and James. In fact, it’s never left the US Top 100. That puts Charles squarely among the most traditional of boy names.
Still, it did decline in use, leaving the Top 50 at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and hitting a low of #63 by 2010.
That was the same moment parents fell hard for Charlie. The nickname name started to rise, from #450 in 2000 to #214 by 2017. Along the way, it lifted Charles, too.
That’s the strength of this name: a rock-solid traditional choice with upbeat, appealing short forms. If you’re looking for a classic name for a son that will endure over time and adapt from childhood well into adulthood, you can’t go wrong with Charles.
Would you consider this name for a son? What’s your favorite short form?
First published on March 17, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on
Our youngest son is named Charles Cole after my husband (middle name Charles) and a middle to honor his birthmother (last name Cole). We chose Charles because our daughter was given my middle name: Elaine. I liked the symmetry and similar style, though I thought both names were fairly boring choices to begin with. I did not like any of the nicknames because they are so overused (Charlie) or unpleasant (Chuck). But after several months of living with “Charles” and calling him “CharlieCole,” (because she’s often called LainieHope) I find myself calling him Coco or just Co. He’s almost five months old now and the whole family is picking it up. Maybe it’s too feminine but it feels right and sweet. He’s my little coconut. He and his youngest sis are often El and Co. Would love to read others’ thoughts on Coco for Charles.
Brooke Kennel says
Maybe I just have a taste for snooty royal names, because I love it. Nothing wrong with a little bit of pomp and circumstance! 😉 I like the nickname Charlie, too, mostly because of Charlie Brown. Can’t say I’m especially crazy about the other nicknames, though. Chuck makes me think of a piece of beef. The feminine Charlotte is gorgeous (and equally royal) and has the adorable nickname Lottie.
In a magazine, just spotted a Charles from SC that goes by Cholly. Never saw that one before, but kind of like it… just thought I’d share.
Rufus will always be a dog’s name to me 🙂
On Never Been Kissed, it was a synonym for “awesome.” 😀
Besides the fact that it doesn’t work with my husband’s surname, I’ve known too many dogs named Charlie and Chuck to ever consider Charles for a baby. Even the name Carl (which is a family name I love) has gone to the dogs.
It amusing how many “old-fashioned & pompous” boy’s names go to the dogs and then we reconsider them for our children: Maxwell, Oscar, Rufus, Winston, Samson, Oliver…
I get the same vibe from Charles as many of you – snooty, pompous and stiff. (Yet I love all the other “royal” names! Weird.) Charlie is super cute, but personally I won’t be using it, as it is way too popular, informal and currently appearing on far too many females for my liking. So, no. No Charles or Charlie for me.
British American says
Charles is my Father in Law’s name. He goes by Chuck – which took me awhile to get used to, as I thought of it as a generic term of endearment, like “dear”.
I like Charlotte and thought that would be a nice nod in his direction, but we didn’t end up using that name.
I love Henry and like William. Edward is good too. Charles doesn’t do it for me so much. I guess I have the ‘snooty vibe’ from it, perhaps from the current Prince Charles.
Charlie is cute but I dislike that it’s becoming a girl’s name too. So I’d be hesitant to use it for that reason.
Other Charlies include Charlie Sheen, born Carlos Estevez, plus Carlos Santana, Carlos Mencia, Charlton Heston and Carlo Ponti (Sophia Loren’s husband). I think also of the wildly popular YouTube video for “Charlie Bit My Finger.”
Thank you! How could I leave them off the list?
You said there were too many to name! I just added the first ones that I thought of, and Charlie Sheen immediately made me think of other Carloses and Carlos. Spring Break-ers may think of Carlos N Charlie’s!
Charles is a favorite of mine, but William is probably my favorite royal name. I love the nn Charlie for Charles or Charlotte, but I also like Chick for a guy. The musical My Sister Eileen had a debonair reporter named Chick. Very retro. I met a Chick in real life once, and I didn’t understand his nickname until he explained that it’s similar to Chuck.
English Kate says
I totally concur with Urban Angel, I want to love Charles but I just can
I know a pair of toddlers, both called Charlie, so I guess I can’t help but love it. They’re both family names, and I can’t imagine either set of parents putting just Charlie on the birth certificate.
But I know what you mean about Charles – though I was remembering that Hugh Grant’s break-out role was as a rather handsome, though upper-crust Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral … not sure that helps …
Charlotte Vera says
Who doesn’t love Charles? When I lived in Australia, people began to call me Charles. It’s not exactly a moniker I would have chosen for myself, but it was fun at the time. Now, if Mark and I ever have a boy, we’re going to go with Charles Marcus for his middle names.
I love Charles as a nn for Charlotte! It’s like Jules for Julia or Julian.
Lady Gwyn says
I like Charles. As for as “royal” or classic names go, I prefer Henry or Edward, but Charles is nice. It has a lot of nice nicknames (I prefer Chaz), and it one that will still sound good on a grown man. I would use Charles for a middle name for sure.
Love Charles! It has the -ar- sound in it that apparently draws me in with boy names. But beyond that, it is a great name. It is also my dad’s name, so it’s a no-go for me. But Charles is timeless and while the full name is fairly dignified, the nns are fabulously everyman. Charlie is my favorite nn, but Chaz is also a good one. I actually went to grad school with a guy who was Chaz – full name. I’m not a fan of Chase or Chuck – they are OK, but maybe too verby for me. And I’m currently caring for a 2 year old with a stomach virus, so the Chuck option is especially unappealing right now!
Charles is timeless,sophisticated & handsome. It’s name perfect. I WANT to love it, I really, really do – I just can’t. I’ve tried. It’s just so pompous & snooty. also don’t really like other royal names like Henry, Edward etc (though I have a soft spot for Henri). I have these weird connotations for royal names & most of them just reek with pompous vibes, for me
I LOVE Charlie passionately, I like Prince Charles for Pete’s sake & I even like Chaz (Queen of Babble series by Meg Cabot has a Chaz in it).Oh well, I do love Charlotte, so maybe I end up with a daughter Charlotte & can call her Charlie or I’ll end up with a dog named Charlie. I do LOVE Charlie, I just have this block where I think nickname & not first name even though it’s very popular globally as a first
Overall, I applaud Charles with all of his merits & can understand the appeal, but it’s not for me.Oh, and Chuck is a brand of dog food here, so I couldn’t use Chuck
My youngest is Charles, called Charles but more often Charlie. And he is a redhead with brown eyes like the photo you used, which i find adorable! He is named after my father, who does by Chuck a lot. We really must like variations on the Charles theme, as my daughter’s middle is Charlotte. : )