Here’s a rare, old-fashioned name that’s been given two distinct pop culture boosts over the years — one from the movies, one from the weather.
The movie connection is especially interesting because, as far as I can tell, this is probably the first name to debut on the charts thanks to an actress.
Usage of the name Francelia (fran-SEE-lee-ah) goes back to at least the 1700s. The name was most popular in the mid-1800s, especially in the Northeastern U.S. (New York state in particular). It seems to be an elaborated form of Frances (“Frenchman”) influenced by either Celia (“sky, heaven”) or Cecilia (“blind”), or both.
Francelia debuted on the SSA’s baby name list in 1912, probably thanks to early silent film actress Francelia Billington, who was born in Texas in 1895 and appeared in silent films from 1912 until the mid-1920s (and in a single talkie in 1930).
Francelia Billington wasn’t the first silent film actress to become famous, but she was the first whose name debuted on the national baby name list while she was famous. Several other silent film actresses of the 1910s also had distinctive names (e.g., Alla Nazimova, Theda Bara, Kathlyn Williams) but their names had all been listed since the late 1800s.
The SSA data from the 1910s isn’t super-reliable, so I’ve put both the SSA and the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) numbers side-by-side below. For the SSDI numbers, I only counted people who had Francelia as a first name, not as a middle.
|1912||5 Francelias [debut]||10 Francelias|
|1913||10 Francelias||10 Francelias|
|1915||6 Francelias||5 Francelias|
|1916||14 Francelias||15 Francelias|
|1917||15 Francelias||12 Francelias|
|1918||5 Francelias||6 Francelias|
|1919||5 Francelias||4 Francelias|
One of the Francelias above was children’s literature scholar/writer Francelia Butler (née McWilliams) who was born in Ohio in 1913.
The name Francelia has remained rare in the U.S. ever since, though it did see a spike in usage in 1969 thanks to the news of Hurricane Francelia, which hit Central America in early September.
- 1971: 5 baby girls named Francelia
- 1970: 10 baby girls named Francelia
- 1969: 23 baby girls named Francelia (and 8 more named Francellia)
- 1968: unlisted
- 1967: 7 baby girls named Francelia
Francelia’s last appearance on the SSA’s list was in 1998, with just 7 baby girls. (To be included on the list, a name needs to be given to at least 5 babies.)
Do you like the name Francelia? Would you consider using it for a baby girl?