Francis: Baby Name of the Day

Saint Francis of assisi in his tomb

Saint Francis of Assisi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  This post was originally published on June 4, 2009.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on Monday, March 18, 2013.

He’s a legendary rat packer – and now the name of a pope, too.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting Francis as Name of the Day.

Just like many an Italian-American, Francis Sinatra was named after his grandfather. More than a decade after his death, Ol’ Blue Eyes remains one of the best known singers of all time.

Somehow he’s still plenty cool, too.

The name he was best known by – Frank – is clunkier, but plenty cool.  Sure there’s the Pixies’ Frank Black, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum.  Elvis Costello and Diana Krall chose the name for one of their twin sons in 2006.

The name comes from the Late Latin franciscus – Frenchman. Fransiscus, in turn, can be traced back to a type of weapon – a throwing axe called a francisca and favored by the Franks, the Germanic tribe who settled the area back in the late Roman Empire. (Some argue that the axe is named after the tribe and the origins of the name are entirely different.)

The twelfth century Saint Francis of Assisi transformed the adjective into a popular personal name. He’s best remembered as a friend to animals and the founder of the Fransiscan religious order. But once upon a time, he was a young man quite fond of the French way of life – resulting in the nickname Francesco. Not only did Francis’ nickname attach to him during his lifetime, plenty of parents used it for their sons.

A pair of parents in Navarre bestowed the name upon their son, the future Saint Francis Xavier, a key figure in the establishment of the Jesuit religious order. At least half a dozen more saintly Francises appear over the next few centuries.

There’s also Sir Francis Drake and Francis Bacon, Francis Scott Key and Francis Ford Coppola. And yes, the F. in F. Scott Fitzgerald stands for Francis, too – he was a distant cousin of the composer. And that’s before we count the royal and aristocratic bearers of the name – a Holy Roman Emperor, two Kings of France and plenty of powerful princes and dukes, too.

Now there’s Pope Francis, newly elected in March 2013.

Both Frank and Francis remain familiar choices, even though they’re past their prime. Francis was a Top 100 pick through 1955. He’s fallen to #618 as of 2011.

Frank has fared slightly better. In fact, the nickname eclipsed the more formal version, ranking the Top Ten from 1880 thru 1922. Even today he stands at #308.

A host of related names are also heard, including:

  • Francisco #211
  • Surnamey and presidential Franklin #504
  • Frankie #861
  • Franco #956 … in homage to the Spanish dictator, or the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back?

On the girls’ side, Frances and Francesca chart.

Francis emerges as a solid pick for a son. He’s undeniably classic and the ends-in-s construction fits with evergreen choices like Lucas and preppy newcomers like Ames. And Frank fits with retro picks like Max and Gus.

The fact that your Francis is likely to be the only one in his kindergarten class? That’s just a bonus.

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  1. Julie says

    My husband has an step-uncle Francis. 99% of the time he’s just Francis, but back in High School he went by Fran because of the Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

    Franklin Guthrie was one of my backup names. Now, I’m really glad we didn’t use it, because I’m worried the “Frank” names will take off. But I still love Frankie!

  2. says

    I think everyone must be wondering what the name Francis “means” for the pope – it’s hard not to connect it to St Francis of Assisi’s vision, where God says, “Rebuild my church, for it is in ruins”.

    The name Francis is a traditional one in my family. I’m not sure if I’d use it or not though.

  3. Kristin says

    I just can’t make myself like Francis/Frances. There is something in the sound I don’t like. I adore Francesca, though.

  4. Allison says

    I’ve only met one Francis, last year, and he was in his early forties. Since he was unable to speak, I made a point of asking his wife, “Does he go by Francis or Frank?” Apparently he was Francis only. Francis is okay, for me he’s just a touch too soft sounding for a boy.

  5. Kat says

    I’m just immature, I’m sure, but all I can think of is the portly, obnoxious man-child named Francis in Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure:

    Pee Wee: “I’m here to see Francis!”

    Bodyguard: “Francis is busy.”

    Pee Wee: “Busy doing what?”

    Bodyguard: “He’s having his bath.”

    Pee Wee: “Oh really??? WHERE ARE THEY HOSING HIM DOWN????”


  6. Bek says

    Again, respectable, but not a name I’d use.

    I actually prefer Frances over Francis, as the name does skew feminine to me… Which is odd since I know a Frank who is Francis that has a son who is also Francis (and that is what he is called). In fact, thinking back, I can now think of at least 4 Franks I know in the area I grew up in (just outside NYC), all middle-aged and up, though I’m not sure who is Francis and who may be other Frank appellations.

    I admit, though, that I’m really not a fan of Frank or Frankie at all, which is a shame because I do love Franklin. I think it has more to do with personal associations than anything else.

    • appellationmountain says

      I actually know a little Francis, baby brother to Augustine. Augustine goes by Gus, but Francis is always Francis.

      IMHO, it works nicely on either a boy or a girl – but I suppose I am influenced by the cute little Francis I know!

  7. AzhiaShalott says

    I just realised that if my memory serves me correctly, I have never actually met a Francis! Frances, yes, but Francis, no. This is curious since the name is far from being unfamiliar. I think I actually prefer Francis to Frances, although both are agreeable.

    Incidentally, I’ve seen St. Francis Xavier’s body — it’s on display in a cathedral in Goa, India. Does that count as meeting a Francis?

  8. SophieGray says

    Francis is pretty cool – I can definitely respect his appeal. He’s not for me, as he sounds oddly feminine, as I’ve known a few Frances’ but no Francis’ throughout my life. I have a great uncle Francois? That’s the closest association I can get.

    Anyway, he’s clean and streamlined and rather snazzy indeed :)

  9. Christina Fonseca says

    Francisco is my favorite version of this international classic. My cousin Francisco named his son Franco so he wouldn’t be a Jr; In my mind it is similar to men named Ron who named their little boys Aaron a few decades back. Good suggestion, Lola!

  10. JNE says

    Francis is a fine name and I recognize and respect it’s classic nature. The sound of Francis doesn’t bother me either (although it always feels a little feminine because growing up our neighbor across the street was Frances, so she’s always what I picture when I hear either Frances or Francis, which I say exactly the same). But Frank, and especially Frankie, grate on me. There’s no rational explanation – the best I can do is to cite the nasal sound as unappealing, but that’s not the whole enchilada… I just can’t put my finger on what else it is. My pappy was a Frank and my uncle is a Frankie and while I feel a little badly about disliking the name because of that, I can’t help it! Still, that’s a very personal reaction, and I certainly wouldn’t think “ugh” if I met a baby boy Frankie, it’s just 100% not for me.


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