The story of the word romancebegins as the fifth century is coming to a close, and the Roman Empire with it. The story’s key players are the inhabitants of Gaul, a region comprising modern-day France and parts of Belgium, western Germany, and northern Italy—a region one British isle short of the western reaches of the Roman Empire. The Gauls speak a Latin-derived language that we now call Gallo-Romance, but that the Gauls themselves refer to as Romanus, from the Latin word meaning “Rome” or “Roman.”
By the Middle Ages, ‘romans’ or ‘romanz’ was used to refer not only to the vernacular language, but to works composed in it. These works were often narratives chronicling the adventures of knights.