By Linda Rosenkrantz
It’s almost as though the various members of the Fran-name family got together for a big reunion celebrating at the joint revival of these names, sparked in part by the election of the newest Pope taking on the name of Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Suddenly we began seeing, new interest in the girls’ version Frances, as well as variations like Francine and Francesca and nicknames like Frankie.
Let’s take a look at the whole Fran Clan.
Soft, sweet, gentle Frances has never not been on the popularity list. Now at #446 in the US and 132 on Nameberry, it was a Top 10 name from 1911 to 1926, when s-ending girls’ names were in vogue. Common among the early British aristocracy, Frances’s copious other notable connections include actresses Frances Farmer and Frances McDormand, the daughters of F. (for Francis) Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Amanda Peet and Jimmy Fallon, as well as numerous memorable literary and movie characters.
Francis does still have something of a starchy, saintly quality, reinforced by the name chosen by the current Catholic pope. But it seems to be making a bit of a comeback, rising 200 places in the charts since 2009, now back in the Top 500. Animal-loving parents might, like the Pope, be inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, now patron saint of ecology, or St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and editors. Francis Underwood is the lead character of House of Cards.
Between Benjamin Franklin and Franklin D. Roosevelt, this name has lots of historical cred and was at its most popular (as high as Number 33 in 1933) during FDR’s administrations. A vampire on True Blood, Franklin now stands at #423 on the popularity chart and 267 on Nameberry.
Frank was the standard stand-alone nickname for Francis for so long that it was a Top 10 name from the 1880s through the 1920s. It still has a certain warm, friendly real-guy flavor that could bring it back, a la Jake and Jack, with its meaning suggesting sincerity. Singer Sinatra was its standard bearer for decades.
Francine was part of a girls’ club of names ending with ine/een popular in the 40s and 50s (she was 224 in 1950), which completely disbanded in the mid-80s. But she’s now attending the Fran-name reunion, already back at #425 on Nameberry. Fran Drescher was born a Francine and literary bearers include Francine Prose and Francine du Plessix Gray. And, not surprisingly, there was a Mad Men character named Francine Hanson.
Some international variations
Both classics in their native Italy and Spain, Franco has made more of a mark in the US than his twin, associated with footballer Franco Harris and actors Franco Nero and James Franco, and is now at #695. Franca feels much fresher, never having ventured much outside the Italian community.
The dainty Italian Francesca has proved particularly popular with local celebrity dads, so there are, among others, Francescas Eastwood, Scorcese, Estrada and Bateman (Francesca and Jason Bateman are illustrated). Francesca now ranks #424 in the US, 210 on Nameberry.
Francesco is Italian; always common there with tons of notable namesakes, it’s now the #1 boys’ name in Italy. Francisco is the Spanish-Portuguese version, enjoying a wave of popularity in the US at Number 251. San Francisco was of course named for St. Francis.
A French variation of Francois. Hollywood Golden Age actor Franchot Tone was actually born Stanislas—Franchot was his mother’s maiden name.
Francois/Francoise (frahn-SWAH, frahn-SWASE)
These boy and girl variations could be considered the ultimate sophisticated French names.
European cultural heroes include painter Frans Hals, composers Haydn, Liszt and Schubert and writer Kafka. And who can forget SNL’s classic old Hans and Franz duo?
A rarely heard geographic name that has lots of Gallic élan; the French most often use it as a double name, such as in Marie–France, but a lovely French-Vietnamese actress named France Nuyen starred on Broadway in The World of Suzie Wong.
Fan—The brief shortening that’s used more in conversation than on birth certificates (Though I must tell you that my mother was most often known as Fan, when she wasn’t Frances, Fran or Fanny). Scrooge had a sister called Fan in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Fanny/Fannie—Pretty much exiled due to her naughty association, Fanny was once a prime Frances nickname, as in Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice (born Fania), writer Fannie Hurst and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as characters in the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot and W. Somerset Maugham. Now that the slang word has passed out of fashion, Fanny might possibly join other returning retro nickname names.
This lively Russian/Yiddish variation has been a rarity in the US, unlike cousin Tanya.
Fran was the most common stand-alone short form of Frances and Francine for a good chunk of the 20th century, on the pop list from 1939 to 1964, and rising to #592 in 1960. It’s sometimes used for Francis as well (Remember football star Fran Tarkenton?). Prominent modern bearers include Fran Drescher and humorist Fran Lebowitz.
For girls, Frankie is fast becoming the new Charlie. Once strictly for the boys, peaking when bobby-soxed teen girls were swooning over the young Sinatra, Frankie is now a hot name for those girls’ granddaughters. It returned to the girls’ Top 1000 in 2015 after a 41-year break, and it’s way up at #147 in England and Wales and 68 in Australia. Use by actresses Drew Barrymore and Sarah Chalke for their daughters has given it a bounce, as has the Lily Tomlin character in Grace and Frankie. Literary cred: 12-year-old Frankie Addams, protagonist of the Carson McCullers novel The Member of the Wedding.
Francie—The daintiest, danciest nickname for Frances, now largely replaced by Frankie. Francie Nolan is the touching young heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie Callfo an Alias character, and Francie Fairchild is Barbie doll’s slightly more evolved cousin.
Franny—Cuter and more PC than Fanny, this nickname is associated by many with Salinger’s 1961 Franny and Zooey, Franny being the young collegiate member of the Glass family. Franny is also a character in John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.
So what’s your favorite member of the Fran clan?