I grew up hearing my flustered mother say:
FRAAAAAA! Get over here!
Mom was going through the first syllable of each of our Italian nicknames (Nu for Nuna short for Onofria for Nora, Gia for Gianna short for Giovanna for Jeanie, N’to for N’tonia short for Antonietta for Toni, Zi short for Vincenzina for Zina) before finally arriving at my name! The funny thing is that she always went through the names in our birth order. My name always came up last and sounded loud as a punch. I wonder if her mother did the same thing, going through ten names before getting to her tenth child’s name?
So, what’s in a name?
Everyone in Sicily has a shortened name. The shortened names are terms of endearment. After my dad died, I read his journals and I was so moved when he wrote about instantly falling in love with Pippina, the nickname he used for my mom, Giuseppina, or Josephine in English). Usually, the Sicilian nicknames or shortened names are loaded with sweetness and love. Pippina is no exception to that rule and the very sound of Pippina has a way of softening your heart when you hear it! When you hear Pippina‘s name in your head, you feel the love my dad felt for her.
My full name is Francesca, but most people instantly rename me. It’s a mouthful and not so easy to say. When I was in Germany, and I introduced myself as “Fran, short for Francesca“. “Oh, Frenny! Nice name!” Instantly, I became Frenny.
Rick, some of my American cousins, my sisters, and a few friends call me Franny. When I was really little, I was Little Franny.
My childhood and high school friends and some of my English speaking cousins call me Francy. Some spell it Francie. When I look back at old signatures, I see I wrote it both ways!
My parents called me Francy or Fra when they were happy with me. When I did something to irritate them, I became Ciccia or Ci (“ci” sounds like Che as in Cheese).
My aunts and uncles in Sicily, the old generation, love to play with my name and I have been called: Cicinazza (not well-behaved, naughty), Cicinella (denotes elegance), Cicineddra (very cute, adorable) and my Uncle Charlie even made up a song for me, “Basa mi Cicineddra” which I suppose would translate loosely to “Kiss me, cutie-pie”, but “sounds” more like “Frannie Bananie, kiss me”. It’s supposed to be funny and when he sings it, it is hilarious!
The cleaning lady on Pantelleria Island, who worked every day and who, for some reason, didn’t like me, had a way of calling out my full name sharply and in a quick, clipped, and vile manner in a high-pitched voice, “Francesca! Francesca, where are the towels?” I cringed every time I heard Ninetta call out my name! On the other hand, also while in Pantelleria, Tonino, our fabulous guide, started calling me “Franci” and I loved it! In English, it would be sounded out like “Fran-cheee). The way he said it was tender, lovely, and full of kindness! In fact, the yoga retreat participants started calling me ‘Franci“!
Definitely, my name was meant to be shortened. Maybe it has something to do with my personality. When I was 10, my cousins in Italy started calling me “Franca“. I never liked it because it sounds so much like Frank and so very boy-like! I was already a tomboy, but I didn’t want a boy-like sounding name.
When I was in the Peace Corps and I arrived in Philadelphia for a week-long in-country training before leaving for Africa, I hand-wrote my name as “Francy” for the check-in at the hotel. Somehow, the “n” and the “c” merged together to make my name look like FRANKY. Guess what happened? All my name tags said “Franky” on them. And I was assigned a fellow male Peace Corps volunteer as a roommate for the hotel in Philadelphia. Imagine my surprise when he showed up in my room.
When I spent my Junior year abroad studying in France, I was Francoise.
Every time we travel to Mexico and I introduce myself as Fran or Francesca, rather than calling me by my Spanish name, Francisca, Mexicans immediately take the liberty to call me Panchita! And my name in Mexico, Panchita, comes with a loving gentle smile! Panchita sounds so sweet. It makes me feel as if I should be sporting a chubby belly because panza in the Sicilian dialect means “belly” and “Panchita” sounds similar to my ear.
In Senegal, I was “Franshesca“, and in Japan, I was Frances-san, but it sounded more like Fu-rang-se-su-san.
I wonder if I am the only human being with so many variants on my name?
So where did it come from, this name? I love the meaning of my name which means “honesty, to be honest, to be frank.” Another interesting piece in the story of my name is that my dad’s father (my paternal grandfather) was married three times. His first wife was the lovely Francesca! She was blond and blue-eyed, a rare Sicilian beauty. Together, they had my dad’s half-brother, my Uncle Joe. Joe has a daughter named Francesca living in Boston, who also goes by Fran. She is the East Coast Fran and I am the West Coast Fran! I am named after East Coast Fran’s grandmother, the lovely and fair Sicilian beauty, Francesca!
My Grandfather Gallo’s beloved first wife, Francesca, died at a young age of breast cancer. After Francesca’s death, my grandfather married Francesca’s sister! That was the custom, to marry your wife’s sister, because who better to raise your children? The Sicilians of old times believed an aunty made the best step-mother. Unfortunately, she, too, died young and finally my grandfather married his third and last wife, my grandmother, Onofria. When Grandfather Gallo and Grandmother Onofria (Mamma ‘No) married, grandfather insisted their first child be named after his beloved first wife, FRANCESCA.
So, I am named after my aunt who is named after her father’s first wife who was not related to either of us.
I have many names and you are welcome to make up another name for me, as long as it sounds nice, is related to Francesca, is not masculine, and does not denote something unpleasant as in ‘Francescazza” (I will not translate the meaning of that one… but, one hint, it’s not nice).