Walking the Route of Charlemagne: My name
Part one: The history of my name
Who or what is Charlemagne?
[Image: my own from my trip to Aachen, April 2023]
Charlemagne. [ (shahr-luh-main) ] The first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire; his name means “Charles the Great.” In French it directly translates to Charles le Mange, shortened to Charlemagne. Other known aliases include: Karl der Große in German, or Karolus Magnus in Latin. He ruled much of Western Europe from 768 AD until his death in 814 AD. In 771 AD, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany and was crowned emperor in 800 AD. He is especially remembered for his encouragement of education facilitating a cultural and intellectual renaissance. He established a monetary currency, the Dinar, and was an avid supporter of the arts. Despite being liberal-minded for his time and not forcing his children to marry in arranged setups, open to cultures and countries he was, however, a devout Christian, instilling his faith onto others and for most of his reign was at war. The period of his and his father and son’s reign is known as the Carolingian Dynasty/ Empire and ended around 888 AD.
In the 1980s
CHARLEMAGNE POIRE MOUSSEUX SUPERIOR 1,5 L was a sparkling Perry.
“Charlemagne offers fresh fruity aromas with a stylish elegance of flavour. (ooh la la)
Taste: White cherry, crisp pear and almond.
Serve with Canapes, fish, seafood and salads.”
I know what you’re thinking…
Hmm, famous emperor, or bottle of bubbly–
Which one am I named after?
Read on to find out!
What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet- Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
Do you think names have meanings, identity and symbolism? They do in China, India and Africa. Do they reveal something about who we are, where we come from, and where we’re headed? Are they keys to our destiny? Do they influence our characters or show social class distinction? Do they show personal, cultural or historical, generational connections? Do you even like your name?
Or do you agree with Shakespeare? There is no worth or meaning in a name.
In my last post about my DNA journey I mentioned how I wondered why my dad named me Charlemagne. He told me he saw it in a book of baby names (80s) and it said: French for Charles. No other explanations. I vaguely remember the faded yellowing book from years ago and it mentioned nothing of emperor.
When I was born there was a French sparkling wine called Charlemagne in the local supermarket.
Now I don’t know which came first, me or the bubbly or me as a direct result of the bubbly, but dad bought magnum bottles of it in copious amounts when I was born. He gifted many to friends and family and it became our Christmas Day tradition to open a bottle. It was discontinued by the 90s and I haven’t seen it since until … 2023. My mum ecstatically sent me photos saying she’d found it online and ordered 3 cases albeit smaller bottles!
I have saved the last 3 magnum bottles from the 80s. They are around 30 years old now and I decided I will have them on really special occasions.
One bottle was supposed to have been for my wedding day. It was at the venue but got missed. I found the unopened bottle by chance as we were clearing the rented hall the following day. I had a sick feeling lurking in the pit of my stomach that it was a bad omen. So many things had gone wrong on our wedding day.
And I am now divorced. But that is for another post.
I digress, at the time I considered the possibility that my parents had named me after a bottle of booze. Classy. Mum had originally wanted to name me Crystal but lost in the coin toss to dad.
I was picked on a bit at primary and secondary school for all kinds of reasons but at primary school I remember one kid having a dig at me about my name
“It’s foreign and long. It’s stupid.”
With being a slightly chubby kid, having two different coloured eyes, being blind from birth in one of them and then having a long weird name when my siblings all have “normal” ones (mum chose all their names thereafter) and the fact that I have three middle names as well, my odds at NOT getting bullied were going to be slim from the get-go.
All I remember repeating to myself was,
“As soon as I get to 18 I am changing this stupid name!”
I was angry. And it was a pain in the backside to spell.
I didn’t know anything about the meaning of my name until I got to university. By then I had grown into my name, grown in maturity and quite liked the fact it looked like the word Champagne. There was something luxurious and glamourously French about it (think champagne and Coco Chanel looking out at the Eifel Tower from an exquisite balcony) and I hadn’t been bullied for my name at secondary school. I decided to keep it.
On my first day at Bristol University, Dr. Mark Allinson who specializes in modern German history, was introducing us to the programme and the lecturers. He was very excited and announced that it was a real treat to have a Charlemagne in his lecture theatre this year and asked me to stand up.
As an introvert, I was mortified and wanted to hide! I stood up terrified and he asked me if I knew about my name. I knew nothing but that was something he said would be corrected in his class as we would be covering briefly the timeline of German history from the Middle Ages to modern day.
I never really learned much at all to be honest about Charlemagne at university; only that this guy existed and there had been a lot of war. It was only recently this year that I started researching it as I was tracing back my family tree and wondering about my DNA. I’d read an article online that the majority of Europeans are descendants of Charlemagne. He had many legitimate children but hundreds of illegitimate ones. He was a bit of a Casanova, eh?
Was I related to him? Would I also have a huge empire and be famous? That’s a big name to live up to. *gulp*
Well it turns out I’m probably not related to him at all. I have no Germanic DNA spanning back 1000 years but maybe all of my curiosity around him, the name, the history is part of my journey to figuring myself out and he is that torch guiding me the way.
I think if I were given a regular “normal” name I might have agreed with Shakespeare and not thought it particularly special. No one in the UK has batted an eyelid when I’ve introduced myself and no one seems to know about the emperor unless they studied history at university level. It’s just not taught on a normal school syllabus. My name often gets mistaken for Charmaine and many pronounce it that way which infuriates me. I wince inside like someone dragged nails across a chalkboard. But since moving to Germany, anyone I meet from any country within Europe instantly recognizes and is impressed by this prestigious name. They look wide-eyed and open-mouthed at my business card and say,
“wow! You have an incredible name! What an honour!”
My French customers certainly say that with a name as grand(e) as mine I must do it justice. I am not exactly sure what that means but I guess they put value on the history of Charlemagne and I should not do something bad to ruin that name and reputation. Their reactions make me smile and I guess they learn more Medieval history in secondary schools in Europe than the Brits do. Tut tut, England.
Since February I had been toying with the idea of what to do about my future. My bunnies are in heaven, I had a job that was driving me into the ground and no work-life-balance; I now had the opportunity to make a huge change if I wanted to. There was nothing tying me to Germany anymore and I had wanted to leave before the pandemic hit.
Whilst still undecided, and waiting for my DNA results from Ancestry, I thought it would be a good idea to visit Aachen before I emigrate and actually see Charlemagne’s tomb; the man I am named after. I kept getting this feeling like Aachen was calling me. I had to go and there were signs reinforcing this message.
Even the German Bundesbank brought out a commemorative 2 Euro coin with Charlemagne’s signature on it to mark his 1275th anniversary of birth.
And yes, I stood in line, got my coin and being late to work was worth it!
The more I researched where Charlemagne had lived and travelled left me with goosebumps. I feel my path here in Germany has almost been predestined. I’ve ended up following the route of Charlemagne without knowing it. It’s been a pilgrimage without realizing. I’ve lived, visited and ended up in significant places that were meaningful or iconic to Charlemagne and his battles, residences and life. Worms, Mainz, Wiesbaden, you name it. It was so surreal. The more I researched him the more parallels I could draw to my own life and character. Could it be me reaching out to make sense of my life and draw comfort where times have been hard? My own personal hell and war trying to survive like the many battles Charlemagne found himself in? To justify or trick my brain into believing this was meant to be or was it truly all part of Destino?
How did my dad pick my name? Did he have an idea I would be liberal-minded and take an interest in the arts or end up working with currency and money? Did he have some feeling from divine intervention to land on the name Charlemagne? I wish I had asked him this or even thought about this while he was still alive. Did he know about Charlemagne and his history? Was he hoping that I would live up to this great name and do something amazing?
I guess I will only find out when I go to heaven myself and ask him.