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Calvinism and Chauvinism in the Dictionary

Calvinism and Chauvinism

Jean Chauvin AKA John Calvin

Jean Chauvin (1509-1564), better known among English speakers as John Calvin, was a prominent Protestant theologian and reformer in France and Switzerland. The belief system known as Calvinism is based on John Calvin’s theology.

So here’s an interesting fact: “Calvinism” and “chauvinism” have the same etymology. Both words are derived from calvus which is a Latin word that means bald. “Chauvinism” comes from the French word chauves which developed from calvus. Likewise, both names, Calvin and the French form Chauvin, are derived from calvus (“bald”).

Nicolas Chauvin and Chauvinism

Another man with the name “Chauvin” was Nicolas Chauvin, a character from the play La Cocarde Tricolore written by Théodore and Hippolyte Cogniard in 1831. Nicolas Chauvin was a soldier of Napoleon’s army who was blindly and passionately patriotic to Napoleon’s empire long after France became a republic. The French word chauvinisme was first coined around 1843 to describe the misguided, excessive, and fervent patriotism of Nicolas Chauvin.[1]

Male Chauvinist

The first documented use of the phrase “male chauvinism” is in the play Till the Day I Die written by Clifford Odet in 1935.[2] However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and in the 1970s that the term “male chauvinist” began to be used widely as a term to refer to a person who regarded women as inferior to men. Male chauvinism is the belief that men are superior to women and that the main function of women is to cater to the needs and wishes of men.

Etymology ≠ Meaning

It is important to note that the etymology of a word does not always reflect its actual meaning or usage. So, while chauvinism and Calvinism apparently share the same etymology, many Calvinists are not chauvinists, most chauvinists are not Calvinists, and baldness is not a feature of either group. 😉

Sadly, however, more than a few Calvinist men and women, as well as some other Christians, are staunch believers in separate and clearly defined roles based on gender, with women being excluded from some roles and positions. This discrimination on the basis of gender alone, where women are restricted to lower social positions, does seem to be a case of male chauvinism.


[1] “Chauvinism” in Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper (2010) here.
Wikipedia has an article on Nicolas Chauvin here.

[2] Jane Mansbridge and Katherine Flaster (2005). “Male Chauvinist, Feminist, Sexist, and Sexual Harassment: Different Trajectories in Feminist Linguistic Innovation” in  American Speech (Harvard University) 80 (3), 261.


Excerpt of a portrait of John Calvin (Jean Chauvin) by Hans Holbein the Younger (Wikimedia)

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