Francesca: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 13, 2012

William Blake - The Lovers' Whirlwind, Frances... William Blake – The Lovers’ Whirlwind, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta – WGA02230 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frances is a polite, modest name for a daughter.  The Italian version takes her in a whole other direction.

Thanks to Annamaria for suggesting Francesca as our Baby Name of the Day.

Saint Francis of Assisi was born Giovanni, but his dad thought the French were the bee’s knees.  Giovanni became known as Francesco, little Frenchman.  We know him as Saint Francis today, founder of a religious order and patron saint of animals and Italy.  His considerable popularity has inspired parents for centuries.

Dante Alighieri wrote his Inferno in the 1300s, immortalizing the story of Francesca da Rimini.  Francesca’s dad was the Count of Ravenna, and he arranged to marry his daughter to the eldest son of his ally.  The only problem?  Giancotto Malatesta, the intended bridegroom, was lame – or maybe just unattractive.  Giancotto’s younger brother Paolo stood in for his brother at the wedding.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Francesca fell madly in love with her brother-in-law.  The adulterers were caught, and the wronged husband had them put to death in 1289.  But their story lives on, thanks to Dante.

Francis was slower to catch on in the English-speaking world, but he did eventually find favor, and there’s Francis Bacon and Francis Drake to prove it, plus Francis, Frank, and Franklin have been in use in recent decades.

Francis is sometimes used for girls, but the feminine form is typically spelled Frances.  Francis became Franciscus in Latin, hence the Italian forms: Francesco and Francesca.  They’ve been in use for centuries:

  • There are plenty of surname forms, too, and Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca is one who wore this form as a surname in the fifteenth century.
  • Francesca Caccini was a seventeenth century composer, and is generally considered the first woman to author an opera.
  • Early silent film star Francesca Bertini was an international star in the 1910s.

But back to Dante’s answer to Juliet.  The ill-fated Francesca’s story was immortalized in music by Tchaikovsky in late nineteenth century.  An Italian film version of the story was made in 1950, and released in the US in 1953.

The same year, Francesca entered the US Top 1000.  She’d climb slowly, peaking at #353 in 1996, and falling to #500 in 2011.

She’s long been a starbaby staple:

  • Conrad Hilton and Zsa Zsa Gabor welcomed Constance Francesca Hilton in 1947, but she was always known as Francesca.
  • Francesca Eastwood is Clint’s daughter, born in 1993, and currently seen on E!’s Mrs. Eastwood and Company.
  • Martin Scorsese gave the name to a daughter in 1999, and she’s had small roles in several of dad’s films.
  • Jason Bateman’s Francesca Nora, born in 2006, is probably the best known.

Today she’s the quintessential Italian name for a daughter.  While her most popular days are behind her, she was never popular enough to feel dated.  Francesca makes a great alternative to Isabella or Alexandra, with nickname options from Franny to Frankie to Cesca to Francie to Chess.

She’s less popular than you’d expect, but still feels like a stylish choice – and an impeccable Italian heritage option.  It’s a mystery why more parents aren’t using Francesca – but that’s a great reason to consider her today.

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