1806, from Gen. Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), who invented a type of exploding, fragmenting shell when he was a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery during the Peninsular War. The invention consisted of a hollow cannon ball, filled with shot, which burst in mid-air; his name for it was spherical case ammunition. Sense of "shell fragments" is first recorded 1940. The surname is attested from 13c., and is believed to be a metathesized form of Charbonnel, a diminutive form of Old French charbon "charcoal," in reference to complexion, hair color, or some other quality.
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