Why does the ICAO alphabet use "Charlie" for C? Specifically, why choose "Charlie", which has a "Ch" sound, rather than a word with the hard "C" such as "Carl"?

A cursory Googling turns up nothing.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ I voted to close this, it should be reworded to include the entire NATO alphabet otherwise we are going to have 25 more questions on the subject. The entire NATO alphabet is discussed with great detail and analysis of each letter at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet $\endgroup$
    – jwzumwalt
    Aug 2, 2018 at 19:45
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ A: aye. B: bee. C: cerise. E: eye. G: gnat. H: honour. K: knee/knife. O: oestrogen. P: pneumatic. etc. $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Aug 2, 2018 at 22:51
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ If you are from eastern Europe you would spell "Carl" with a K. Karl Marx, karl Benz (Mercedes) Karl Dönitz, a town in Rhineland, Germany etc. etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – paul
    Aug 3, 2018 at 0:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ note that C is pronounced like /tʃ/ or /ts/ in many languages, so Ch is almost the same as C $\endgroup$
    – phuclv
    Aug 3, 2018 at 2:11
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I sense some other 25 questions coming in $\endgroup$
    – PlasmaHH
    Aug 3, 2018 at 6:58

3 Answers 3


Hard C sounds too much like K. Ch (Charlie) will not be confused with K (Kilo). And soft C sounds too much like S (Sierra).

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Previous names were: Canada, Casablanca, and Coco (or Coca) before finally settling on Charlie. It is required that the name start with the letter it represents, but not having a sound conflict with another name (although a good idea) is not required. $\endgroup$
    – CJ Dennis
    Aug 3, 2018 at 3:21
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Non-English speakers (especially Germans) or just people who are bad at English spelling might spell "Carl" as "Karl". There's no other way to spell "Charlie." $\endgroup$
    – Jeffiekins
    Aug 3, 2018 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says "The Allied military radiotelephone spelling alphabets were created prior to World War I and evolved separately in the United States and the United Kingdom—and separately among the individual military services in the two countries—until being merged during World War II. The last WWII spelling alphabet continued to be used through the Korean War, being replaced in 1956 as a result of both countries adopting the ICAO/ITU Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, with the Allied nations calling their usage the "NATO Phonetic Alphabet"." with Cast, Canteen, Chain, and Cork used earlier. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Aug 3, 2018 at 15:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jeffiekins: actually, "Czarli" if you were from Poland and knew zero foreign languages, but that still makes 'c' ;) OTOH, if an english-speaker doesn't know this name and overthinks it, he could take it as slavic and write "Tcharlie" - see "Tchaikovsky" (Czajkowski). I bet there are many other ways you could write the sounds of "Charlie" in English $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2018 at 22:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ....aaand I've just learnt that currently preferred spelling of Чайковский would be Chajkovskij or Chaykovskiy, while Tchaikovsky is traditional spelling, kept just because we're used to writing it like that. Well.. I can't argue with it, "Chaykovskiy" looks more natural to me, much more that some idiotisms like "voivodeship".. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2018 at 22:54

ICAO is a phonetic alphabet, so it's all about sounds. English language doesn't have a distinct sound for singular letter "C". You're proposing "Carl", but it's pronounced kɑɹl̩ - with K. Other option would be "cent", but this one is pronounced sɛnt - with S.

"Ch" as in Charlie (ˈtʃɑːli) is the only C that sounds (tʃ) distinctively and can be recognized as "C" without any doubt. The fact that's not a singular C but a part of digraph is not relevant. The clarity of the message is.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer is exactly the same as CrossRoads answer. $\endgroup$
    – CJ Dennis
    Aug 5, 2018 at 1:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @CJDennis although the examples make it much easier to understand. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2018 at 15:05

For the same reason we use niner for nine. The phonetic alphabet took a lot into consideration when they were choosing words including how words are pronounced with different accents. "Charlie" like all the other words was likely chosen due to its unique pronunciation across dialects. It is also a nice short two syllable word.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .