What does it mean to be a Gentleman?

Education History


Gentleman is from the Latin word “gentillils”. Similar is the French word gentilhomme (gentil=noble, courteous and homme=man). The term refers to a man from a reputable or noble family. Usually in reference to a royal family, knights, and baron's where the only men in society who would be able to have a moral compass.


This term originated in Europe during the middle ages (500 -1500AD.)  The term gentleman was used as a distinction to denote a man who comes from nobility or a good family.  Only men of a certain social class, rank, race, or certain income could be called a gentleman. Men who fulfilled these conditions were considered to have ethics, morals, education, and honor. During this time period, these qualifications eliminated a vast majority of men from different races and class. Society considered only a certain few rich men would be able to have this moral standard.

During the 19th and 20th Century , social norms began to change along with the application of the title of a gentleman. The Industrial Revolution created a larger middle class of people with financial means to “buy”, an opportunity that was not present or available in previous years. This economic freedom changed how society viewed this class, it was now accepted by those of a higher class of men. Even as this new social class developed and expanded, the title of gentleman was still limited to men who could achieve a level economic status, education.  As time, politics, and society progressed, the title of gentleman remained limited to a certain “group” of people.  This “group” was only characterized by those who met criteria such as education, economic status, and race.  Men who were of an ethnic background, recently freed slaves and other immigrants were not allowed the same opportunities. Society still perceived the title and it's qualities were only limited to the those who met the criteria. Only a man with money and education could have this moral standard, thus be called a gentleman.

Which brings us to the 21st century.  What does it mean to be a gentleman today? Societal norms have change. Opportunities have become more available. Education is not limited to a certain social group. Does the term Gentleman still have the same qualifications? Only those who have had some sort of success  can uphold some moral standard? Since the word was first used, there is a core belief, I believe, that encompasses every man regardless of social class, family history, or race; character. A man’s character should be the defining attribute of a man.  Does a man keep his word? Is he responsible? Does he take care of his family? How does he treat others? How does he carry himself? These are the questions one needs to answer to be considered worthy of being called a gentleman, not what he wears, where he went to school, who is parents are, how much he makes, what he looks like, or where he lives.  Character defines a man. Character separates a man from a child . Your character is your qualification of becoming a gentleman. So, are you a gentleman?

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  • james on

    Good points, good history.

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