Monday, October 25, 2010

Geoffroi de Charny's Name

This is perhaps a dumb question, but why is Geoffroi de Charny called "Charny" rather than "Geoffroi" when we're just using one name? Most of the time, the "de" is more of a designation than part of the name, so we just use their proper name, such as in Christine de Pizan, who would normally just be called "Christine."* The case of Joan d'Arc is an odd one since "d'Arc" is actually her name -- she's from a town called Domremy, and as far as I know there isn't even a place called "Arc," so "Joan of Arc" is a misnomer.

But I notice that the practice is to call Geoffroi de Charny "Charny," and I also note that it's the way he signs his own book. So, does anyone out there know why he's called "Charny" rather than "Geoffroi"?

*Though this too is a little complicated, since she's from Venice, and "Pizan" is an inherited name indicating her family's origins in Pizzano.


  1. The French crusade historians are always called "Villehardouin" and "Joinville," too.

  2. Anonymous4:10 PM

    That latter has made me wonder as well. I now wonder if it's a relic of an essentially upper-class historiographical tradition, up till say the nineteenth century, that would use writers' noble titles when they were known rather than their names. So, Christine de Pizan and Joan d'Arc (though, point taken about the non-toponym, I didn't know that), non-noble, first names; Charny, Villehardouin, Joinville, noble, so called by their lordship. Does that make sense?

  3. Jean Charles d'Avignon5:35 PM

    'Tis obvious and dare I say, I question why you would ask of it! Perhaps the winter has left you cold! At once, sit aside the fire and compare no longer than Henry V for your answer, dear Sire.

    Just for you, I shall quote with some remembered joy, at length:


    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.


    Ah, so I will end the quotation there -- enough has been said to demonstrate the point, I think.

    Here is your answer and you may correct me if I am in error in this assumption:

    As was custom, and this passage of Shakespeare makes clear, such names as Bedford, Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, et al, do not represent the cities, but rather the names of those whose hand rules there. Whether it is Guy of Exeter, or later his son, Robert of Exeter, both would be known as Exeter in the time of their rule, from generation to generation, reflecting also on their family lineage and position.

    From a man's hand comes authority. His name signifies his holding and reflectively his holding grants him his name.

    In private, his friends may call him by his first name, yet the public shows him the honor of his holding through his name. Thus, Guy of Exeter, who rules in Exeter, is called simply Exeter. However, Hugh of Exeter, the local baker at the corner, is called simply Hugh since he does not hold the city.

    It seems then apparent that Geoffroi de Charny holds Charny as his true lands, wherever that may be.

    Written this day by
    Jean Charles d'Avignon
    "With Peace Comes Poverty"
    (and no, I do not hold Avignon)

  4. Great post! Thanks a lot for it.