baby name FrancesThe baby name Frances feels like a charming antique with a lady-like, refined vibe.

Thanks to Kim for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


One famous Frances comes to mind: the badger of Russell and Lillian Hoban’s series of children’s books. She’s strong-willed and imaginative, and her family is close-knit and loving. The stories have been favorites since they were first published in the 1960s. (Bread and Jam for Frances is one of the titles.)

Fun fact: in the first draft of the stories, Frances was a vole.

The Jim Henson Company adapted the books for a PBS Kids series in 2008, but it ran for only a few episodes.

Still, Frances – and her baby sister Gloria – remain storybook staples for many children.


But ages before the little badger appeared on bookshelves, this name belonged to a saint – one of the most renowned of the Middle Ages.

Born Giovanni, his merchant father was traveling in France during his birth. Accordingly, the nickname Francesco – meaning Frankish or Frenchman – stuck.

It seems he wasn’t the very first Francis. The future saint was born in 1181; while the name doesn’t appear throughout Europe until the 1300s or so, a few appear prior to Francis’ birth.

No question, though, that Giovanni-turned-Francesco gets credit for the popularity of Francis. He renounced his family’s wealth, devoted himself to the poor, and founded a religious order at Assisi that continues more than eight centuries later.

The baby name Frances tends to be the feminine form in English. But standardized spellings are relatively novel. It’s not until the sixteenth century that Frances regularly appears in use in England.

International forms of the name abound. There’s the Spanish Francisca, identical to the Late Latin form of the name. The Italian Francesca enjoyed some popularity in the 1980s, and again early in the 2000s, but it never quite caught on.


But the baby name Frances has had a good run. It ranked in the US Top Ten for girls in much of the 1910s and 20s. It remained a Top 100 favorite through 1955.

When the Hobans named their badger, quite a few young girls might have had the name.

And yet, the name fell steadily beginning in the middle of the twentieth century. By 2007, it hit a low of #828.


Famous and accomplished women named Frances abound.

Let’s start with the British aristocracy. No shortage of woman answered to the classic name, including Frances Newton, Baroness Cobham, known as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s closest friends. There’s also Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, one of the Restoration era’s most noted beauties. She served as the model for Britannia in the 1600s; her image appeared on British coinage into the 1970s.

Lady Diana Frances Spencer became an international celebrity when she married Prince Charles in 1981. The former Princess of Wales remains beloved, more than twenty years after her tragic death.

In American history, nineteenth century activist educator Frances Willard makes it a suffragette name.

Frances Perkins served as Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, the first woman to hold a US Cabinet position and a key part of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.

They continue over the ages. Author Frances Hodgson Burnett penned classics like The Secret Garden early in the 1900s. A century later, Frances McDormand became a celebrated actor in movies like 1996’s Fargo and 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.


The baby name Frances comes with a complement of sparky nicknames. There’s boyish Frankie and retro Franny, probably the two most commonly heard. Francie, too, works.

Former favorite Fanny, however, is probably best left in the past.

There’s also another Frances you might overlook: Frances Houseman, better known as Baby in the 1987 coming-of-age movie Dirty Dancing.


Celebrities have embraced Frances for ages. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s daughter Frances Bean is all grown up. Amanda Peet and Brooke Shields have daughters by the name.

Then came 2012, and Greta Gerwig’s successful indie flick Frances Ha. That year, the name rose slightly.

In 2014, Jimmy Fallon named his second daughter Frances Cole. They call her Franny. She’s been in the spotlight on his late night talk show many times since.

As of 2018, the baby name Frances reached #445. That’s still a ways from the name’s former Top Ten status. But it signals that the revival of Frances is well underway.

If you’re crushed that Eleanor and Charlotte are such chart-toppers, the equally classic Frances might be a logical substitute.

What do you think of the baby name Frances? Do you prefer Frances or Francesca?

First published on September 2, 2008, this post was revised substantially and re-published on August 6, 2020.

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. First Edwin and now Frances … what a great week!!

    I have always loved being a Frances. The misspelling can grate at times (“i” for him and “e” for her), but I’m used to spelling it out and emphasising the “e” every time. I have always been hoping it will have some sort of a revival and always excited when I hear of someone naming their baby Frances. Actually I was quite disappointed that Princess Charlotte was not named “Frances Elizabeth” – I think they missed a great opportunity to give the name a boost 🙂

    I’ve also loved the Hoban books – I had them all and now my kids enjoy them too. There were many lines frequently quoted to (and now by) me. I love the parents so much now!!

  2. I had two great-uncles named Francis and my husband’s middle name is Francis. I was taught the way to remember the proper spelling was Francis ending in “is” = the i in him, Frances ending in “es” = the e in her.

    We didn’t consider naming a daughter Frances (I wasn’t that thrilled with the name and I didn’t have good memories of either of the above-mentioned great-uncles), but I wish we would have given serious thought to the name Francesca. I think that Ceska (the C has the same ch sound as in the full name) is a beautiful nickname for Francesca. Undoubtedly it would have been frequently mispronounced and misspelled.

  3. I’m a second generation Frances after great grandmother on my fathers side.My full name is Frances Elizabeth Beare so it was rather frustrating when people spelt my name with a is instead of es (my mother always said that the es is more feminine the the is) or when they pronuced my last name beer instead of beare.
    I now love my name as i find it unique considering how many bethany’s,chole’s and laurens ive met,I know that if i wasnt named Frances i would have been named Florence for my other great grandmother.My sisters names are quite beautiful to as they are called Lucy Jade and Emily Rose – i was always jealous of their names when growing up.

  4. I’m a Frances born in the 1940’s. My father insisted on naming me Frances but couldn’t really say why it was so important to him. He just knew he had to have a Frances. He had been orphaned at the age of 3 and knew nothing about his family. After his death I began doing family research to discover his roots, (he didn’t even know the names of his grandparents) and found that there was a Frances in almost every generation. After all those years of having no knowledge of my father’s family, I felt immediately connected to the past generations through my name.
    Sadly, my father never knew the family roots of the name he insisted on giving me…….or did he? Was it somehow buried in his 3 year old subconscious? I like to think so.
    At any rate I am thrilled and honored to have such a classy and classic name and knowing that I am one of a long line of Frances’ I couldn’t be happier. Now if my Granddaughter will just have a daughter and name her Frances……

  5. My name is Frances and I’ve never been a fan of it. My family calls me Gidget, which I love. Named after the 60’s sitcom with Sally Field. Gidget’s proper name on the show was Frances.

  6. So happy to find a post on Frances! I’m the 4th generation Frances in my family. My great-grandmother was Frances Faye, then my grandmother is Lily Frances, my uncle is Michael Francis (YES, we firmly believe that the -is spelling is masculine and will challenge anyone who says otherwise to a duel), and lastly, I’m Kathleen Frances. My daughter’s first name will be Frances. DH and I already decided on this ages ago.
    The story of how the first Frances got her name is actually a cute story. Her parents originally named her Eunice Faye but when Cecil, her older brother first heard what his baby sister had been named, he (who was four at the time) put his foot down and said “No, no, no. She’s a nice little Frances Faye Forbes.” This amused their parents so much that they changed her name to just that. Thanks to my great-great uncle, I have this wonderful name that connects me with the generations past. 🙂

    1. Oh, I wanted to add that anytime I see the name Francesca on someone that doesn’t have an heritage link to the name (Italian, etc) it sets my teeth on edge…it didn’t do that before, but I guess as it got more popular, it got more irritating. Just seems so overly-feminine and forced, like the parents wanted their girl to have a name ending with an ‘a’ so they pasted it on the end of the name. Roberta and Wilma gets the same reaction out of me.
      I’m overly sensitive when it comes to girl names, I admit. Oh well.

  7. I just sent this link to my husband–we just had a baby girl in September and we named her Frances. However, the name wasn’t pulled out of thin air; it was my great grandmother’s name. We like to stick to traditional family names and named our son, Lowell, after my husband’s grandfather. But it’s funny because I can immediately tell if someone likes the name–most, and expectedly so, make a reference to it being such an “older name”. My mother-in-law is already calling her ‘Frankie’ and I’m not sure I’m on board with that just yet….If she ends up being a little tom-boyish, maybe (however my husband really likes it). But for now it’s either Frances or Francie (alot of time we call her ‘Francie-pants’ or ‘Francie Rain’, since her middle name is Lorraine, sometimes my husband will even pull off a ‘Francois Pantelones’, trying to be funny). But I refuse to let anyone call her ‘Franny’, ‘Fanny’, or ‘Fran’, while I can still control it. 🙂 It’s funny though because in her 3 short months I’ve already had to correct the spelling of her name many, many times. It’s funny to me that more people default to the ‘is’ spelling rather than the ‘es’. Another interesting tidbit is my mom has a friend who just recently became a grandmother to a girl by the name of Francesca…..only her (Francesca’s) parents call her ‘Frances’ for short.

  8. Funny to read all of these, my name being Frances.. “hottie” I hated my name for the longest time too but i realized in highschool, when every other girl had the name Lauren or Sarah or Katie, that i loved it, and now i love it even more in college! Everyone always knows who someone is talking about when they say Frances, there’s never a “Frances Who?” and I always get a “Is that your real name?? It’s great!” or “It’s so classic”. Seriously, best name EVER! I go by fran, france, francoise… my grandmother, a Frances as well, went by Fanny

  9. Funny to see the comments!
    My name is Frances (and i hate it) as i’m 16. Almost everybody who meets me for the first time spells my name francis! It is extremely annoying, as i am not a guy!
    Nicknames i go by are: Franny, Frankie and Fran.