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Karl (also Carl) is a Germanic name and an early Germanic term (*karaz) for a freeman. Related terms include the Anglo-Saxon Ċearl or Ċeorl and the French (but also English) Charles. In German, Karlchen ("my little man") is sometimes used as a pet name for young boys. Also in Germany, double names like Karl-Heinz, Karl-Friedrich, Karl-Ludwig, Karl-Johann, Karl-Alexander or Karl-Ferdinand are widespread.


In Germanic Mythology, Karl was the given name of a solid young man, the son of a married farm woman who was impregnated by the Germanic god Heimdall, who, in human form, was an overnight house guest of the lady and her husband. During the same journey, the promiscuous Heimdall is also credited with fathering two more sons, Jarl and Thrall, each of whose names were assigned to a different social class.

A "churl" (Old High German karal), in its earliest Anglo-Saxon meaning, was simply "a man" or more particularly a "free man" (also "husband" or "lover"), but the word soon came to mean "a non-servile peasant". In most Germanic languages this word never took on the English meaning of "lowly peasant", on the contrary, a derivation from the Proto-Germanic (urgermanisch) element heri "army" is supposed, therefore meaning man or leader of the army, becoming a popular reign name.

See also