Frances

I don’t know how old I was when I realized.

I hated it.

My name.

In kindergarten, I didn’t even know it was my name.

My teacher, Mrs. Brown, called the roll:

“Frances?…Frances?”

She finally narrowed her eyes at me: “Aren’t you Frances?”

Sitting there at my tiny desk, I blinked: “No. I’m Fran.”

Such an illustrious beginning to my academic career.

Nobody called me by it much, except my aunts. My mother’s sisters. “Frrrraaanncessss,” they’d say, rather posh, although they weren’t. They were a colorful blend of heavy smoker and ribald raconteur. With looonnnnnnnnnng Carolina drawls.

My father used it when he was angry: “Fran-CES!” —Yeah, the emphasis on that last syllable, utterly ominous.

Nobody else in school had my name. Lots of Debbies, Dianes, Jennifers, Kellys, Sherrys, Angies, even a Charlene or two. There were names that felt like poetry to me: Vonda, Monica and Erica (twins), and Lawandra. Even a girl with a Hawaiian name: Leilani. Gorgeous.

Not my name. It was popular in, like, 1894.

When my reading group was learning about spoof in fifth grade, the teacher allowed the three of us to illustrate it to the class. My spoof: I had legally changed my name. To Diane or Debbie or something (can’t quite recall). Something that blended in much better and was much cuter.

The class didn’t buy it. There was no escaping.

Many of the kids couldn’t even get it right. “Hey, France,” they’d cheerfully greet me.

I glared at them, responding though clenched teeth: “It is Frances, or it is Fran. Not France. I am not a country.”

Early on (sometime after kindergarten, anyway) I learned that I’d been named for my paternal grandmother, Ruby Frances, whom I loved long before my memory ever kicked in. She remains, to this day, my life’s single greatest influence and guiding force. I never wanted to be away from her. We treasured every moment we had together throughout her long years. Grandma was named for her father, Francis. She adored him, always spoke of him with great affection and admiration. She saved a wooden jewelry box he gave her during the Depression. It is mine, now. She cherished my being her namesake; my love for her and this generational legacy were the only saving grace I could find in my name.

It was problematic on another count. The pharmacy couldn’t spell it right on prescription labels: Francis. Did the world at large not understand that the feminine spelling is with an e? I felt like chucking those little orange bottles through the window.

But then I learned a couple of things. The name means free. Or, one who is from France. Interesting that I discovered this while taking French in middle school, where the class got to choose French names. I was Renée. Spoken from the throat.

“Hey, Grandma, did you know the name Frances means one who is from France?”

“It does? I loved taking French in school.”

“You took French?”

“Oh, yes. I thought it was such a beautiful language.”

My DNA tests now tell me there’s a dollop of French ancestry. Not hard to guess which side passed it down. Although my father told me I should be taking Spanish instead because it’s more practical. He was right, alas…but I loved French and studied it until I had dreams fully narrated en français.

Funny how my elementary classmates used to call me France.

Then there was the little group of Spanish-speaking girls in my first teaching job, one of whom grabbed my badge across the reading table and sounded out my first name: Fran. “Great job!” I said. “That’s really my nickname. It’s short for Frances.”

“Ooooooo,” said my little student, “that sounds like princess.”

I never, ever would have thought of that, even though I knew Princess Diana’s middle name was… Frances. Even though I wore my hair in a Princess Diana bob for several years. My hat in yesterday’s post is an artifact of those days.

Was there a poetic quality to my name, after all?

And, even though I’m not Catholic, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands by my front steps. Patron saint of animals, always depicted with birds, which are often in my dreams and blog posts, for they speak to me each day. In their own bird languages, that is.

So it’s only taken a few decades but I’ve grown into my name. I cling to the legacy of it, have come to hear the musicality in it, even in all its variations. Except, perhaps, for Fanny.

Ahem. Moving on…

My favorite of all, from my granddaughter: Franna.

Now, that’s gorgeous.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approachOn Day 6, I am writing around a word beginning with letter f. Figured I might as well write around my name… a fun way of inspiring more stories from your life is brainstorming words and phrases that somehow describe you, that also begin with the first letter of your first name:

45 thoughts on “Frances

  1. Fran fits you so much better than Frances. And I loved French too! I took all that our school had, two years in junior high and then two years in high school. I even minored in French for a bit until I hit the grammar wall. Grammar in English class, grammar in French class, too much grammar. So I switched my minor to Social Studies.

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    • Fran and Frances are like wearing jeans or pearls, lol, both of which I enjoy. I keep wanting to brush up on my French. I still love it. My teachers said I had a good Parisian accent. Aaarrrgh – grammar. I had a teacher once who said she didn’t understand English grammar until she took German. As for French, I recall conjugating all those verbs…I see why you went to Social Studies!

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  2. This was so interesting to read. It was sweet to read your connection with your granny. Wouldn’t it have been great if you had seen Frances as a princess name?

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    • Thank you so much. You are so right – the history and reasons for our names do “contribute to our being,” sometimes in profound ways. Being a name-bearer can carry extra layers of responsibility, etc.

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  3. Such an interesting and fun post to read about your name! I can relate so I’ll share…
    My mom said I thought my name was Sugar in Kindergarten since my family never called me Gina. They still don’t. I also didn’t like the sound of my name. Gina wasn’t as popular as Jennifer or Michelle either.
    Then there was my middle name, Dale. A few years ago, I was hanging out with coworkers (one male, one female) and we were talking about middle names. No one wanted to say their name! I suggested on the count of three we’d say them together. There was Jo, Gene, and Dale.
    “Dale!?”, they laughed. They said they simply were not expecting it.
    I’m named after my mom’s brother that died in an accident shortly before I was born. Otherwise, I was going to be Gina Marie, which I love. Like you, I’ve grown to love the uniqueness of it. 💗

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    • So cute! My dad occasionally called me “Sugar” which my grandfather shortened to “Shoog” or “Shoogie” – this must be a North Carolina thing-? I will say that Gina Marie has a lovely ring to it – but I like the sound and uniqueness of Dale, and definitely the honor in it.

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  4. Such a beautiful journey along your name history and all your different embarrassments resonate. Yes, Fran sounds much better than Frances and it is annoying the two different spellings (My husband’s middle name is Leslie and he hated it because it’s a ‘girl’s name). My name is Celia and no one else had that name growing up so it was always misread and mispronounced, so I entirely sympathise…!!

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    • Alas, I understand your husband’s angst. Name associations change across the years, like Cameron being popular for girls now. My oldest son’s middle name is Adrian, after my husband’s late father. I think it’s gorgeous. He HATED it until he got to high school and the girls said “OOOOOO, I LOVE your middle name” – lol! Celia is so beautiful and lyrical. 🙂

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  5. I adore how you played with language in this post. Your voice is so welcoming, yet incredibly playful.

    I would have never guessed that Fran came from Frances. I am not sure that I have ever met a Frances, except in books.

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    • I’m thankful that you picked up on the playful tone, Trina, even if it was, in places, couched in prickly language. As I’ve grown older, I’ve encountered quite a number of people with my name – but never in all my school years! One of my favorite literary characters connected to my name is Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased sister Fan – likely named after author Charles Dickens’ sister, Frances.

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  6. This was so interesting for me to read. My oldest daughter is Frances- not Fran. It’s a name I’ve long loved. And now I’m going to stop writing to you and pick up the phone and ask her how she feels about her name.

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  7. I love the name Fran, and I especially LOVE Franna. How creative and endearing! I, too, have such an incredibly complicated history and relationship with my name. I despise, and I’m barely coming to terms with….not hating it. Choosing a name for our son seemed an impossible task; my husband is a monolingual American and I’m Hispanic, and I wanted something easily pronounced in both English and Spanish. When an older lady asked us our list of names, her reply to one of them – “Elías” -was infuriating. “Oh sweetie, it’s cute, but people like me won’t be able to say it. We’ll say something like Alias!”
    I cried and cried because I knew that was the one my heart had settled on, but I guess I hadn’t verbalized it just yet.

    I ended up naming my son Elías though LOL. The tears turned into anger and many weeks telling my husband people need to ask how to pronounce names and just practice! I didn’t need to convince him; he says I was really convincing myself 🙂

    Thank you for sharing! Maybe I need to work out the relationship with my own name, too, one day.

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    • I love your name-stories here, Britt! I have thought from the first time I saw yours that it’s beautiful. Elias is a gorgeous name (it just so happens to be in my family as well!) and I am glad you weren’t swayed. Names for our children come to us for a reason. I do hope you will write more about your name – these things fascinate me. Thank you so much, Britt, for this response.

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  8. Names ARE funny, aren’t they? I have quite the relationship with my given name, Helaine. I was named after my grandfather Harry. And in a world of Jennifers and Lauras and Stephanies, neither Helaine nor Lainie was a fun way to go. I have spent most all of my life as Lainie, with only my oldest sister, my mom (when I’m in trouble), and a brief interlude in fifth grade as the “Helaine” exception. I’m still a ways from grandkid territory, but I can only hope that if/when it’s my turn, I’ll settle into a version of myself that is as heartfelt and sweet as Franna. ❤

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    • So I had to look up “Helaine,” which means “sun ray” or “light” or “bright” – all of which you ARE. The nickname seems to suit you; it’s playful, and I think the alliteration with your last name is awesome. Sounds like an author or movie star! Your mom, my dad, using whole names as reprimands – !! One thing’s for sure: you will rock being a grandma and a fun name is bound to arise. I just know it. ❤

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  9. F for Fran! You made me think of my own name’s journey. I was always Christine as a child, didn’t really like or dislike it…my parents would call me Tina, but that didn’t exactly fit. I started going by Chris when we moved from Germany to El Paso just before my sophomore year of high school. You can tell who knows me from when, just by what they call me. I like the meaning of your name! When I looked up “Christine Margaret Katherine” (my given plus confirmation name), it meant “Christian pearl of purity”–made me snort with laughter!

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    • I get that life-location-name thing. My dad’s family and all the folks “down home” called him by his middle name; everyone else called him by his first name (the nickname of his first name, in fact). He said “If you’re going to call a child something, make that the first name!” Serving in the armed forces was part of the issue for him. I love the variations of your name; my youngest is Christopher. That’s what we call him. His friends call him Chris but when he was little, he couldn’t say it and called himself “Creef.” His brother calls him that to this day. What a glorious moniker of meaning you have, Christine Margaret Katherine! My middle name is Ann, which means “grace” (my turn to snort?) and I have only just learned it also means…hold onto your hat…”eagle.”

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  10. Names! What a story everyone has about their name! It is so personal, but yet we have no say in our name until we are much older. Then it’s like fighting a losing battle. I understand your journey with your name. I wanted to be a Debbie too so I wouldn’t stand out in the class. My mother complicated the whole thing by putting a capital in the middle of a one word name (LeAnn). Elsie comes from my initials, LC. The number one rule I had for naming my son was you had to be able to find it on the racks of key chains, bike license plates or any place that had personalized do-dads. I hated having a unique name!

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    • Ah – I remember that “Elsie” is a play on your initials; to me that’s fascinating. It’s got zing and just suits you. Hard to think of you as LeAnn, although that’s pretty in its own right. Chuckling at your rule for choosing your son’s name! Both of my boys can find theirs on personalized doodad racks, too.

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  11. Frances does sound like princess; however, it is your granddaughter’s take on your name that makes my heart smile: Franna…that is just so special and seems to be a name filled with fancy, love and a Nanna’s adoration!

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  12. There is so much love in naming. Franna is beautiful. My first niece called me Yay Yay for the longest time, because she couldn’t say Amy. I remember the first time I showed up and she said “Aunt Amy” instead (because she had been practicing) I cried. There was just something so joyful about Yay Yay.

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  13. I am so glad I visited to read your post about your name. I have always thought that Frances is one of the loveliest names, though I do understand how having an old-fashioned name doesn’t always feel like a gift to a child. Franna is the best!

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    • I have been heartened to know that so many people love “Frances”! When I was a child it was “old” but now I think of it as “vintage” and that makes all the difference. I adore “Franna.” I need it on shirts, notebooks…. I am grateful for your words and if I may say, I think Elisabeth with an “s” is especially beautiful.

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