Romance novels were around before actual romances. The usage we know as "love affair", or, in its verb form, "to love", was first attested as late as 1916. Before that, it just meant "adventure", since love is an adventure, I suppose, and prior to even that, it meant "adventure book", the kind with knights and heroism. During this time, the spelling evolved from romaunce, and the original roumances were not affixed with a "novel"; the word in itself implied "novel". This definition survived to today: "What are you reading?" "Oh, a romance." Romaunce as a word is obviously French, and it comes from their term romanz, which was the name of the vernacular language of France at the time. Yup, the book genre was named after a language. This, from Vulgar Latin romanice, is related to our term "romance languages", which describes existing Italic tongues and has nothing to do with "languages of love", a popular misconception. Romanice is from romanus, the demonym for "Roman", from the root Roma ("rome"), possibly of Etruscan origin!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.