I don’t know how old I was when I realized.
I hated it.
In kindergarten, I didn’t even know it was my name.
My teacher, Mrs. Brown, called the roll:
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 approach: On 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: