This article was plannedâ€”and it was supposed to have that exact titleâ€”many months ago, when a Gather member, Ann Weaver Hart, published one of hers in which she mentioned the word Caesar, and how it gave birth to German kaiser and to Russian tsar. (Word says Kaiser should be capitalized but has no such tender feelings about tsar.) I found her article by following Charles Thiesen's comment there, and I immediately thought the name Charles was even richer in etymological wonders, and I should write an article about it. Except I didnâ€™t do it immediately, which usually meansâ€¦.
Anyway, the title has presented itself independently of these ancient plans of mine, and itâ€™s now clamoring for content. Here it is:
The name Charles arrived in English via French, but its origin is the German name Karl, which derives from an old Germanic word meaning â€œmanâ€: P.Gmc. *karlaz or *kerlaz, where P.Gmc stands for Proto-Germanicâ€”the hypotheticalÂ common ancestor of all Germanic languagesâ€”and the asterisks mean that these are reconstructed forms (in other words, hopefully intelligent guesswork). But Charles is not the only descendent of this root in English: thereâ€™s also the Old English world ceorl â€œmanâ€, â€œfree manâ€ â€œfree peasantâ€, which by Middle English had morphed to churl, and through a process called pejoration, came to mean â€œfellow of low birth or rude manners.â€ A churlish person, in other words.
Now you must be thinking, if this is a tribute article, shouldnâ€™t I be looking for more glorious cognates of Charlesâ€™s name? But thatâ€™s exactly why Iâ€™m writing this: Charles may be aware of his humble Anglo-Saxon relatives, but he probably doesnâ€™t know about his royal relations in East-Central Europe.
Obviously, Charlemagne, or Carolus Magnus, had a lot to do with the popularity of the name in France and, by extension, in England. But this influence didnâ€™t stop in the western part of Europe. Slavic people were as impressed by power and riches as the Franks, and they borrowed the great Charlesâ€™s name, which they had as Karol, to meanâ€”what else?â€” â€œkingâ€. The name Charles is still Karol in Polish and Slovak (Karel in Czech), but â€œkingâ€ has become either krÃ³l (Polish) or krÃ¡l (Slovak/Czech). And it doesnâ€™t end there. When the Magyars arrived in the area soon after, they looked around and realized that it was a place to settle down and be ruled by kings. Predictably, they promptly borrowed the Slavic word krÃ¡l for the concept, so the Hungarian word for â€œkingâ€ is kirÃ¡ly, while the equivalent of the name Charles, from Karol, is KÃ¡roly (the ly today sounds like a y).
As a very recent development, the word kirÃ¡ly has developed a new meaning in Hungary. When I was growing up, the word for â€œcoolâ€ was klassz, or men??. Those sound kind of like saying â€œgroovyâ€ in English these days. The new word for everything great and cool is kirÃ¡ly.
So, in conclusion: word meanings can branch off in unexpected and wild directions; and Charles, in addition to being the only god on Gather, is also king. And heâ€™s also very cool.