February 18, 2011

G'night John-Boy. G'night Franny-Beth.

So about an hour after we give our brand new daughter what we think is the timeless, classic, non-top-ten name of Francesca Elizabeth, my girlfriend Clare arrives at the hospital, armed with her droll English wit and announces Francesca's new nickname . . . hello Franny-Beth! Hyphenated though, just to make it a little bit fancy. Although even a fancy hyphen can't help it from sounding like the name of the Alabama State High homecoming queen.

Anyway, because I'd been lucky enough to have an unmedicated birth, I had my wits about me and was able to tell my pommy mate to stick the name Franny-Beth in her Mint Julep (or whatever they drink in the fine state of Alabama) and suck it up through a straw.

The thing is, when you choose a name for your newest pride and joy, you ignore any potential nicknames at your peril.

When the midwife asks you what you plan to call your child, you'd better be damn sure that you're comfortable with the fact that Rebecca might get called Beck, Richard will get Dick and Potato will be shortened to Spud.


And let's not forget the Australian propensity to lengthen short names with a 'ee' or an 'oh' on the end. John becomes Johnny or Johnno, Anne becomes Annie, Russell is Rusty or, in the case of Jack's little mate Ryan, well, he'll always be Rynee-Piney-Pineapple-Head to us.

So it is with Francesca. We are happy with Frankie, Cesca (pronounced Chess-ka), Chessie, Honeypie, Cutiepie, Lil Cesca-Luna and, lately as she stacks on the thigh rolls, Butterball. However, whilst we're not keen on Fran or Franny (no offence to any Frans or Frannys out there), we accept that some people might call her those names and are prepared to correct them. Politely.

You also need to be prepared to tell anyone who asks why you chose the name and what it means. Because, like the questions "When are you due?" and "Do you know the sex?", you will be asked to explain the name you chose. If my Grandma, Father Paul from St Rose or the ladies who work in the presbytery ask, Francesca was named after St Francis of Assisi. To everyone else, we just liked the name. Or rather, I liked the name and John agreed (No seriously, I really did want to take his suggestions on board but I just couldn't imagine calling out "Marjorie!" or "Petula!" in the playground)*. I especially liked the Italian-ness of it.

Because to tell you the truth, ever since I watched A Room With A View at 17 (remember when Helena Bonham-Carter wore matching shoes and had a hairstyle instead of a birds nest on her head?) and then traveled to Florence myself at 19, I have been a bit of an Italophile. Apart from the man who flashed me in Rome and the other man who rubbed his crotch against me on a bus in Florence, I love Italy and everything in it.

I also love Italian names and when some friends of ours recently named their daughter Lucia, it reminded me how much I loved that name and also the name Francesca. So we looked it up and we liked the meaning "free woman" because even though she is growing up in this incredible millennium and this incredible country and can vote and show off her ankles and even visit the Long Room at the MCG**, we also hope that she will be free-spirited, free-thinking and free-speaking.

We also hope she remains a free woman as in 'stays out of jail'. Just saying.

Then, while I was pregnant, I heard a woman call to her daughter in the foyer of a cinema "Chess-ka!" and that sealed it. It sounded sweet and I did not foresee any future playground-shouting hesitation.

However saying the name is one thing; writing it is quite another. We have saddled the poor little pet with a rather long name and a lifetime of trying to fit Francesca Elizabeth Barraclough into the little boxes on Medicare forms and name tags at networking functions. I'll teach her to write small.

Of course, once we'd chosen the name it was essential to keep it to ourselves for as long as possible in order to avoid what I like to call the Raised Eyebrow Effect. When we discovered we were having a girl, we bandied around a few names, as you do, one of which was Chloe. I've always loved the name and still do. But when we mentioned it as a possibility at a family gathering, an older relative crinkled her nose and gave a little shake of the head, and two of the younger women, both in their twenties, gave each other a 'look'.

"What? What's wrong with Chloe?!" I asked, looking from one to the other in bewilderment.

They laughed nervously and said "Oh nothing," (meaning 'something') "It's just that we know a girl called Chloe and she's a bit of a skank."

Great. Just great.

In fact, no matter what name you mention, someone will always know a person with that name who is a skank/tosser/loser/stole-my-lunch-in-year-six/stank-like-fish/etc. For the record we decided against Chloe as a name, NOT because of a skanky acquaintance of our relatives, but because it has become very popular recently and we wanted something a bit different. Having said that, I have come across two more recently named Francescas so she could be 'Francesca B' in school after all, sandwiched between Francesca A and Francesca C.

In fact, like Mary of the 50s, Lisa of the 60s, Jennifer of the 70s and Jessica of the 80s, Francesca could be the nom de jour for the Teens (or whatever we're calling the next decade).

Indeed, my own name had a top ten ranking through the 60s and 70s, thanks to Paul McCartney and the Beatles. I was named by my 19 year old father whose frame of reference covered saints names and song titles. If I'd had a more reverent father I might have been Mary-Margaret or Bernadette. On the other hand, Tom Jones released Delilah in 1968 too. My my my!

Be careful, however, about throwing out any red herrings. We thought it would be hilarious to text everyone after the birth and tell them that, after careful consideration, we'd named the baby Francesca Elizabeth***, favouring it narrowly over Apple Daphne. There were some who thought Apple Daphne was a beautiful name and what a shame we didn't go with it. Hmmm . . . 

So to all you pregnant ladies out there, take heed! Firstly, choose your baby's name wisely. Secondly, do yourself a favour and keep the name to yourself until after the birth. Be cowardly clever like us and spring it on your loved ones via text message. Nobody EVER knows a skank/tosser/loser by that name once the baby's been born. Trust me.

* John dipped into the baby name book for daily inspiration and these were among some of his suggestions. I suspect he was joking but you never know with a man who still reveres Gordon Lightfoot. (If you're reading darling, LOVE YOU!)

** The Long Room is the famous dining room in the Members Pavillion at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, oozing with leathery tradition and a clubby atmosphere. Ladies were allowed to cross its hallowed threshold in 1984 (no, not 1884, 1984, if you can believe it!) and whilst Francesca will be free to enter, she will not be free to wear 'tank tops, non-tailored pants or yachting weatherproofs'. (Which is a shame because that's what I like to wear to the cricket, don't you? Especially with my midriff exposed. Another no-no in the Long Room I'm afraid).

*** We gave Francesca the middle name of Elizabeth after my beautiful friend whose wise words made Francesca a reality instead of just an unattainable dream.

Image courtesy of mummy-mayhem.blogspot.com


  1. I love your blog posts! You have such a great sense of humor. And your nursery post has inspired me to at least TRY to finish mine this weekend. I'm adding you to my daily blog checks, I'll keep reading! I found you through offbeat mama. :)

  2. Ack, brain not working. I actually found you through babycenter.com.

  3. Hey Dani, thanks for the lovely feedback. And good luck finishing your baby's nursery - just checked it out and it's looking pretty fabbo so far :)

  4. My husband is throwing out some doozies. In fact, he'd probably like to name her Doozie.

  5. Hi Michelle,
    I'm "Jessica of the 80s" (88), and I think Francesca Elizabeth is a gorgeous name. And she's a gorgeous baby! I found you through Emily Everywhere and I've been reading all your blogs in reverse, I think you are a fantastic writer.


I love hearing from you (and by the way, you're looking lovely today) x

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