A fictional badger has made this ladylike appellation a staple on nursery bookshelves for years. But would she wear well on a real girl?
Thanks to Kim for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Frances.
If you came of age in the last thirty years, you may have grown up reading the works of Russell and Lillian Hoban – among them Bedtime for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances and A Baby Sister for Frances. Our heroine is a small, high-spirited badger. (Her baby sister is Gloria.)
Not so long ago, Frances sounded fit only for a pencil-drawn children’s illustration. The Italianate Francesca was the stylish choice. But today, the gentler Frances could be part of the next wave of antique monikers primed for revival.
The first starbaby to wear the name is nearly grown up herself: Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Kurt and Courtney. More recently, Amanda Peet chose Frances Pen for her daughter, for whom she uses the spunky nickname Frankie. And Brooke Shields’ firstborn is Rowan Francis.
The Francis and Frances spellings were used interchangeably for men and women throughout the Middle Ages. Both share the same root – the Late Latin Franciscus, for Frankish or Frenchman. The first notable bearer of the name was the 12th century Saint Francis of Assisi. He was born Giovanni. His father, a successful businessman, had been traveling in France when his son arrived. On his return, Dad decided that Francesco suited his boy better, and the nickname stuck. Saint Francis, of course, founded the Franciscan monastic order and is among the most beloved of Catholic saints, inspiring many a child’s name.
Sometime in the 1600s, Frances became established as the dominant spelling for women, but like many names of long use, variants abound, and you can find a female Francis today.
By the start of the 20th century, Frances regularly ranked in the US Top Ten for newborn girls. She remained in the Top 100 until 1955. Since then, she’s fallen steadily to a low of #825 last year.
Francesca peaked at #353 in 1996, but today remains a respectable #477. She fits right in with Isabella, Alexandra and Olivia. But as those names start to feel overused, parents are seeking not just new choices, but new sounds – and more modest classic names could be just the thing.
Other early 20th century favorites that share Frances’ quiet profile include Alice, Maude, Eleanor and Beatrice – many of which are already heard among the fashionable. We can also imagine Frances as sister to Clara or Cora, or even chart-toppers like Emma and Hannah. Frances hits the highly coveted combination – seldom heard, but undeniably classic.
Sparky nicknames include Frankie and Frannie, both of which would sound just right sharing the playground with Maddie. Longtime favorite Fanny, however, is not the best choice circa 2008.
Frances sounds smart, and bearers like Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand and former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins – the first woman to hold a US cabinet position – bolster this image. It’s also the given name of the character played by Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing – though she’s known throughout the flick as Baby.
It’s an appealing choice for a daughter. And if you spent your college years with a Robert Doisneau poster on your dorm room walls, well … this is a far more sophisticated option than calling your daughter Paris.