List of names and terms of address used for Charles de Gaulle

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In France, Charles de Gaulle is called or referred to with different names, depending on who is talking, and possibly what the feelings of the person talking about De Gaulle are. This article gives a list of several names and terms of address used in France with respect to him.

Charles de Gaulle, when he was fighting with his Free French forces, and when he was president, was a somewhat controversial person, and, to some extent, the way he was referred to indicated the political leanings of the speaker. While the political controversies have now largely ceased, some distinctions are still relevant today (for instance, the use of le Général almost always indicates that the speaker is a nostalgic Gaullist supporter).

Names in current use[edit]

  • Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle: This is the formal full name of de Gaulle, the one used in his birth, marriage, and death certificates, the one used for official purposes when he was alive, such as for passports or other identity documents. This full name is never used in France nowadays. It does not even appear in French encyclopedias or dictionaries.
  • Charles de Gaulle: This is the regular name that de Gaulle used in everyday life, the name that is used in French encyclopedias and dictionaries, official documents, the name used when French people show a list of all their former presidents, etc.
  • le général de Gaulle: This name originates from the promotion of de Gaulle to provisional brigadier general by Prime Minister Paul Reynaud in May 1940. After his rebellion in June 1940, de Gaulle never returned into the army, and became a political figure, thus never advancing to higher ranks of general. When he was prime minister or president he always refused to promote himself to higher ranks. Thus, one of the most famous French generals remained only a two-star general (as in France brigadier generals have two stars). De Gaulle was very much attached to his military past, and during his political career he often appeared with his two-star general's uniform, especially during critical moments such as the Putsch of Algiers in 1961. It was quite funny for French people to see a two-star general commending authority over five-star generals. Indeed, during the Second World War, two-star general de Gaulle had been scorned by five-star generals who remained faithful to Vichy France. This may explain why de Gaulle remained attached to his two-star status, which was reminding the days of the Free French during the war.
    In France, le général de Gaulle is now the most widely used term to refer to de Gaulle. Most avenues or streets which are called after de Gaulle use this term (e.g. avenue du général de Gaulle), but there are some exceptions, such as Charles de Gaulle Airport (aéroport de Roissy-Charles de Gaulle). In left-wing municipalities, when naming streets, Charles de Gaulle is sometimes preferred over général de Gaulle, a term that has always irked the left, even though it is used all across the political spectrum nowadays. People who itch at the military, or who want to distance themselves from de Gaulle, use Charles de Gaulle instead of général de Gaulle. Charles de Gaulle is supposedly more neutral, but général de Gaulle is now so widely accepted that using Charles de Gaulle in conversation definitely carries a feeling of distance, or covert criticism. One could guess the feeling of someone toward Gaullism simply by watching whether they use général de Gaulle or Charles de Gaulle.
  • le Président de Gaulle was mainly used in formal circumstances when he was president.
  • le Général ("the general"): This is used by people most devoted to de Gaulle, especially people who personally knew him, or worked under him. This was the term used by the ministers of de Gaulle when they referred to him in private. They would never have said le président. There is a feeling of partisanship (and now, nostalgia) attached to the word, and the left would never have used it. In France, when the phrase le général is used alone, it is almost always understood as meaning de Gaulle. This phrase is nowadays hardly ever used except by elderly Gaullist supporters.
  • mon général: This was used by ministers of de Gaulle and by his close supporters when addressing de Gaulle, but also by most journalists in the regular press interviews he gave ever since 1944. The left would have used Monsieur le président instead.
  • mongénéral: This was, and still is, used by satirical publications such as the Canard Enchaîné to caricature the devotion and, according to those publications, blind obedience and ideologic conformity that de Gaulle's followers had.
  • de Gaulle: This is used nowadays to refer to de Gaulle as a historical character, often with a tone of praise or respect, such as recent book C'était de Gaulle ("Thus was de Gaulle"). In colloquial conversation, a Frenchman could say: "De Gaulle, c'était quelqu'un ! " ("De Gaulle, now that was a man!"). In French, calling someone by their family name alone is considered derogatory when they are alive, but it is considered normal for historical figures when they are dead.
  • Monsieur Charles de Gaulle or Monsieur de Gaulle: This is never used. The last time it was used, probably, was when de Gaulle was in high school in the 1900s. His professors would have addressed him as Monsieur de Gaulle in formal circumstances, and as de Gaulle alone in informal circumstances. After high school, de Gaulle entered the military, and so he was addressed by his military rank at the time, followed by de Gaulle (lieutenant de Gaulle, etc.)

Historical names[edit]

  • le colonel Motors: This is how de Gaulle was called by jokers in the French military in the 1930s. De Gaulle's proposals that the French army should emphasize the use of tanks and armored vehicles were scorned by the high command. Consequently, de Gaulle was refused promotions to the rank of general, and remained a colonel until the fall of France in June 1940, when his theories sadly proved right. This nickname of colonel Motors is a play on the General Motors Corporation name that translates as "The americans have the general Motors, we French must settle for the colonel Motors". In addition, the use of the English word "motor" was made on purpose to caricature de Gaulle as a reckless partisan of tanks because in French, English words had, and still have, a feeling of modernity, sometimes to the point of being too recklessly new.[1]
  • Gaulle: This is how the military leaders of Vichy France called de Gaulle. They were scornful of a two-star general who pretended to be the incarnation of France in London. They took away the apparently aristocratic particle "de" (see French names) to belittle de Gaulle. Gaulle is also homophonic with the French word "gaule", the long pole that is used to harvest walnuts. This French word can also be understood in slang as meaning "dumb".
  • le grand Charles: This was used in political caricatures, referring to the tall height of de Gaulle (196 cm, 6'5"). Although used by caricaturists, there is often a friendly feeling to it, and it was used as the title for a 2006 TV-drama of his life. Nowadays, this phrase can still be heard sometimes, when people in casual conversation refer to de Gaulle, but with a little scornful tone in the voice (often it is pronounced with the voice trailing on "Charles").
  • mon grand: Used in some famous satirical cartoons. A very famous one shows the Eiffel Tower welcoming de Gaulle during the Liberation of Paris, bending to embrace him, and calling him mon grand. Other cartoons in the 1960s show Marianne, the personification of France, casually conversing with de Gaulle, and calling him mon grand. In French, mon grand is the way a mother tenderly calls her son.
  • la grande Zohra: This is a derogatory expression that was used by the Europeans living in French Algeria and the people in favor of French Algeria. After de Gaulle opted for the independence of Algeria, he became the subject of much hatred among all the people who favored a French Algeria. "Zohra" is reportedly the way North African Arabs colloquially call the camel. Often this expression is associated in the mind with a drawing of de Gaulle dressed as an Arab woman, complete with earrings and veil, with only his big nose protruding from the veil. Perhaps there was the idea that de Gaulle was "prostituting" himself to the pro-independence Algerian rebellion. The use of the feminine, instead of the masculine, also has a diminutive effect in French. Today, the expression is still heard sometimes among the pied-noir community.[2]
  • Viper: a reference to the captain Mike "Viper" Metcalf in Top Gun, used by French antimilitarists in the late 80's. The use of this reference may be seen as a paradox, as Charles de Gaulle was not really pro American. Anyway, the peremptory behaviour of the captain in the movie suits very well to the general, according to his detractors.
  • Charlot: a reference to Charlie Chaplin character, used by opponents.
  • Big Moustache: a reference to the character of the British squadron leader in the French movie La Grande Vadrouille, used by young Frenchmen nowadays. This evokes the glorious British past of the general, and, of course, his world-known moustache.
  • le Connétable: He acquired this name when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during the Great War. It had come about because of the talks which he gave to fellow prisoners on the progress of the conflict. These were delivered with such patriotic ardour and confidence in victory that they called him by the title which had been given to the commander-in-chief of the French army during the monarchy.[3]
  • la grande asperge:The great asparagus. De Gaulle spent four years studying and training at the elite military academy, Saint-Cyr. While there, and because of his height, high forehead, and nose, he acquired the nickname "the great asparagus".[4][5]
  • le melon-kilomètre: Another nickname from Saint-Cyr, coming from one initiation where one had to measure the courtyard using one’s own body as a yardstick, and given his height, he managed to do it faster than others…
  • Cyrano: This nickname derives from his large nose and refers to Cyrano de Bergerac.[6]


  1. ^ Roussel, Eric (2007). "3". Charles de Gaulle : Tome 1, 1890–1945. Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin. ISBN 978-2-262-02611-0.
  2. ^ Nickname originally used by French settlers in Algeria [1] Le Nouvel Observateur 1976-02-09, section "Tableaux de chasse"
  3. ^ Ledwidge, Bernard (1982). De Gaulle. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. p. 24. ISBN 0-297-77952-4.
  4. ^ Dallas, Gregor (2005). 1945: The War That Never Ended. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-300-10980-6.
  5. ^ Gorman, Robert F. (ed.) (2008) "Charles de Gaulle" Great Lives from History: The 20th Century Salem Press, Pasadena, Calif. Archived 8 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, ISBN 978-1-58765-345-2
  6. ^ Debray, Régis (1994) Charles de Gaulle: Futurist of the Nation translated by John Howe, Verso, New York, ISBN 0-86091-622-7; a translation of Debray, Régis (1990) A demain de Gaulle Gallimard, Paris, ISBN 2-07-072021-7

See also[edit]