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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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. 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. 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.

    1. That may be part of it, but he is also the first Jesuit pope. The order was founded by St. Francis Xavier. I think the choice is a nod to the Jesuits (who many thought would NEVER be named pope due to the relatively progressive nature).