“My name is Francis, just like Pope Francis,” I can now say. It is a name much deprecated and maligned in this country for mysterious reasons. Most boys, given the name, refer to themselves as Frank or Frankie. Girls don’t have this problem because the female version –Frances–is far more common and accepted as being, um, feminine. But one of the shortened forms of the name is Sissy, which has grave implications particularly for the male version.
Besides the infamous Francis the mule on television during the 50s, there is Malcolm in the Middle’s brother, the troubled older son who is sent to military school for getting caught for too many pranks. The author of “The Great Gatsby” may not have regarded his first name highly since he used F. instead of Francis. His namesake, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem, must have been often mistaken as female since, even today, one of the common questions asked about him is his gender. Francis Sinatra became Frank the Crooner. Hats off to the director of “Acopalypse” and “The Godfather” for staying with his baptismal name.
The name has its Latin origin in “Franciscus,” or “of France.” According to legend, St. Francis of Assisi’s father was a Francophile who preferred to call his son by his nickname rather than his baptismal name of Giovanni. The saint-to-be must have thought, “Don’t want to be just another John!”
At the Catholic school I attended in Yokohama, teachers called us by our baptismal names and, after 12 years there, the name Francis stuck as indelibly as Christian faith. After realizing that my name was often misspelled into the female form, it became a personal challenge not to shorten it to Frank. Admittedly, that would have a more masculine ring, but I thought, wouldn’t it be silly if such a famous personage as the king of France were called King Frank? Or the famous English navigator’s name was Sir Frankie Drake?
So, along with millions of people around the world who are rejoicing the appointment of the new pope, I salute Pope Francis. The name has a certain ring to it–holy and noble.