character (n.)

mid-14c., carecter, "symbol marked or branded on the body;" mid-15c., "symbol or drawing used in sorcery;" late 15c., "alphabetic letter, graphic symbol standing for a sound or syllable;" from Old French caratere "feature, character" (13c., Modern French caractère), from Latin character, from Greek kharaktēr "engraved mark," also "symbol or imprint on the soul," properly "instrument for marking," from kharassein "to engrave," from kharax "pointed stake," a word of uncertain etymology which Beekes considers "most probably Pre-Greek."  The Latin ch- spelling was restored from 1500s.

The meaning of Greek kharaktēr was extended in Hellenistic times by metaphor to "a defining quality, individual feature." In English, the meaning "sum of qualities that define a person or thing and distinguish it from another" is from 1640s. That of "moral qualities assigned to a person by repute" is from 1712.

You remember Eponina, who kept her husband alive in an underground cavern so devotedly and heroically? The force of character she showed in keeping up his spirits would have been used to hide a lover from her husband if they had been living quietly in Rome. Strong characters need strong nourishment. [Stendhal "de l'Amour," 1822] 

Sense of "person in a play or novel" is first attested 1660s, in reference to the "defining qualities" he or she is given by the author. Meaning "a person" in the abstract is from 1749; especially "eccentric person" (1773). Colloquial sense of "chap, fellow" is from 1931. Character-actor, one who specializes in characters with marked peculiarities, is attested from 1861; character-assassination is from 1888; character-building (n.) from 1886.

Origin and meaning of character

updated on October 13, 2021

Definitions of character from WordNet
character (n.)
an imaginary person represented in a work of fiction (play or film or story);
she is the main character in the novel
Synonyms: fictional character / fictitious character
character (n.)
a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something;
the radical character of our demands
Synonyms: quality / lineament
character (n.)
the inherent complex of attributes that determines a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions; "education has for its object the formation of character"- Herbert Spencer;
Synonyms: fiber / fibre
character (n.)
an actor's portrayal of someone in a play;
Synonyms: role / theatrical role / part / persona
character (n.)
a person of a specified kind (usually with many eccentricities);
a real character
a strange character
Synonyms: eccentric / type / case
character (n.)
good repute;
he is a man of character
character (n.)
a formal recommendation by a former employer to a potential future employer describing the person's qualifications and dependability;
requests for character references are all too often answered evasively
Synonyms: reference / character reference
character (n.)
a written symbol that is used to represent speech;
the Greek alphabet has 24 characters
Synonyms: graph / grapheme / graphic symbol
character (n.)
(genetics) an attribute (structural or functional) that is determined by a gene or group of genes;
character (v.)
engrave or inscribe characters on;
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.