How popular is the baby name Francois in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Use the popularity graph and data table below to find out! Plus, see all the blog posts that mention the name Francois.

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Popularity of the baby name Francois


Posts that mention the name Francois

What popularized the baby name Oscar in Scandinavia?

Oscar I of Sweden (as crown prince, in 1823)
Oscar I of Sweden

For a number of generations, the name Oscar has been particularly popular in Scandinavia — that is, the countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Why?

The simplest answer is King Oscar I of Sweden. But the more accurate answer, in my opinion, is Napoleon.

The story starts with Scottish poet James Macpherson, who, during the early 1760s, published a series of epic poems. He claimed that they were his translations of 3rd-century Scottish Gaelic poems by a bard named Ossian, but many of his contemporaries were suspicious of this claim. (The current consensus is that they were composed by Macpherson himself and based largely upon Irish mythology. The name Ossian, for instance, is Macpherson’s interpretation of the Irish name Oisín.)

Despite the controversy, Macpherson’s poems became extremely popular throughout Europe. And they were very influential: “[I]t is arguable that these poems constitute one of the canonical Ur-texts of the romantic nationalisms which spread across the Continent” over the century that followed.

French military officer Napoleon was among the prominent admirers of Macpherson’s poems.

Incidentally, Napoleon had tried his hand at writing. One of his unpublished novels, Clisson et Eugénie, written in 1795, was based in part upon his relationship with then-fiancée Désirée Clary.

He ended up marrying a different woman, Josephine, in March of 1796.

And former fiancée Désirée went on to marry a different French military officer, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, in August of 1798.

Oscar Bernadotte (as a child, circa 1806) who later became Oscar I of Sweden
Oscar Bernadotte (circa 1806)

Désirée gave birth to the couple’s only child, a boy, in July of 1799. The baby was named Joseph François Oscar Bernadotte. “Joseph” was in honor of the baby’s uncle, Joseph Bonaparte — Napoléon’s brother, who happened to be married to Desiree’s sister. “François,” I presume, was a patriotic nod to France. And “Oscar”? Included at the suggestion of godfather Napoleon, the name Oscar referred to a heroic character from Macpherson’s poems. (Oscar was Ossian’s son.)

Later the same year, Napoleon became First Consul of the French Republic.

In May of 1804, he declared himself Emperor. Soon after, he promoted Bernadotte (and seventeen other generals) to the rank of Marshal of the Empire.

Bernadotte continued fighting in the Napoleonic Wars throughout the rest of the decade.

Then, in August of 1810, Bernadotte was unexpectedly invited to become heir-presumptive to the Swedish throne. The king of Sweden at the time, Carl XIII, was elderly and had no male heir.

(Why would the Swedes ask a Frenchman with no royal blood to rule their country? For several reasons, including: he had strong ties to Napoleon, he had proven military and administrative abilities, and, not least of all, “he already had a son to ensure the succession.”)

Bernadotte accepted. Several months later, he moved his family to Sweden. converted to Lutheranism, and was legally adopted by the king — thus becoming the country’s crown prince.

He became the de facto head of state right away, playing a key part in the formation of the Sixth Coalition (which fought against Napoleon from 1813 to mid-1814) and gaining control of Norway to create the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway (later in 1814).

In 1818, Carl XIII passed away. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte — under the regnal name Carl XIV Johan — ascended to become King of Sweden and Norway. His wife Désirée became queen, and their son Oscar became crown prince.

Oscar I of Sweden (in the 1850s)
Oscar I of Sweden

More than a quarter century later, in 1844, Carl XIV Johan (Bernadotte) himself passed away, and Oscar succeeded his father as King of Sweden and Norway.

This explains the popularity of the name Oscar in the countries of Sweden and Norway, but what about Denmark? Usage started to increase there in 1848, when King Oscar sided with Denmark (instead of Germany) in the territorial dispute over Schleswig and Holstein.

Usage of the name is still strong in all three countries today. In 2021, the baby name Oscar/Oskar ranked 14th in Sweden, 2nd in Norway, and 1st in Denmark.

Outside of Scandinavia, it came in 8th in England and Wales, 27th in Scotland, 30th in Ireland, and 44th in Northern Ireland.

Speaking of England and Ireland…the name Oscar became trendy in England during the 1880s and 1890s thanks to Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Not long after he was born, in late 1854, his mother wrote to a friend: “He is to be called Oscar Fingal Wilde. Is not that grand, misty, and Ossianic?”

What are your thoughts on the name Oscar?

Sources:

P.S. The House of Bernadotte remains the royal family of Sweden to this day. Descendants of Carl XIV Johan include Prince Bertil (b. 1912) and Princess Estelle (b. 2012).

Babies named for Napoléon Bonaparte

Portrait of French Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821)
Napoléon Bonaparte (circa 1812)

French military leader Napoléon Bonaparte may have spent his life trying to conquer a continent, but that life began and ended on islands.

He was born (as “Napoleone Buonaparte”) on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1769 — the same year that France took Corsica from the Republic of Genoa (now part of Italy). He died while in exile on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena in 1821.

In between, Napoléon: attended military school on the mainland, began serving in the French Army, rose to prominence during the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars, became the de facto leader of France in 1799, declared himself Emperor in 1804, and proceeded to build a vast empire via the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Needless to say, a large number of babies all over the world have been named “Napoleon” since that time.

I don’t want this post to get too crazy, though, so I’ve decided to collect namesakes from just two locations — France and the U.S. — and to stick to the years during which Napoléon was active.

Portrait of First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Napoléon Bonaparte (circa 1803)

Napoléon’s namesakes in France

Thousands of French babies were named in honor of Napoléon from the mid-1790s to the mid-1810s.

In contrast with namesakes in other countries (like the U.S. and England), most of his French namesakes were given only his first name — not both names — and it was typically combined with one or more traditional French names (e.g., “Louis Napoléon,” “Jean Baptiste Napoléon”).

With that in mind, I went out of my way to find combinations that were a bit more varied…

  • Napoléon Baillot, b. 1793 in France
  • Jacques Napoléon Desiré Campa, b. 1795 in France
  • Napoléon Stéphanie Joseph Therin, b. 1797 in France
  • Napoléon Joseph Buttin, b. 1799 in France
  • Napoléon-Jean Demeester, b. 1800 in France
  • Napoléon Nicolas Senelar, b. 1801 in France
  • Guillaume Napoléon Pelletier, b. 1802 in France
  • Willebrod Napoléon Désiré Degrave, b. 1803 in France
  • Charlemagne Napoléon Lambert, b. 1804 in France
  • Napoléon Louis François Richounne, b. 1805 in France
  • Napoléon Parfait Furpille, b. 1806 in France
    • parfait means “perfect” in French
  • Bienaimé Napoléon Le Cagneux, b. 1807 in France
    • bienaimé means “beloved” in French
  • François Desiré Prosper Napoléon Loiseau, b. 1808 in France
  • Napoléon La Paix Lemasson, b. 1809 in France
    • la paix means “peace” in French
  • Gustave Napoléon Fichet, b. 1810 in France
  • Esprit Napoléon Houdry, b. 1811 in France
    • esprit means “spirit” in French
  • Napoléon Bonaventure Dusautier, b. 1812 in France
  • Auguste César Napoléon Decoene, b. 1813 in France
  • Napoléon-Etienne Vernoni, b. 1814 in France
  • Fructueux Napoléon Artigue, b. 1815 in France
    • fructueux means “successful” in French

Almost all of the namesakes in this group were boys, but a handful were girls with feminized forms of the name (like Napoléonne, Napoléonide, and Napoléontine).

Several dozen more boys — most of them born early on — were given only the surname:

  • Jacques Dominique Bonaparte Venkirch, b. 1796 in France
  • Augustin Bonaparte Joseph Galle, b. 1797 in France
  • Jean Baptiste Bonaparte Mollard, b. 1798 in France
  • Séraphin Adolphe Bonaparte Decorne, b. 1799 in France
  • Alexis Sébastien Bonaparte Poirée, b. 1801 in France

Napoléon had usually been called “General Bonaparte” or “citizen Bonaparte” before mid-1802, when the people of France went to the polls to decide: “Should Napoléon Bonaparte be consul for life?” Millions voted yes, and, after that, “he was generally known as Napoléon rather than Bonaparte.”

Napoléon’s namesakes in the U.S.

Napoléon didn’t wage any wars on North American soil (though he did sell a lot of that soil in 1803, when he let go of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million). Nonetheless, U.S. newspapers paid close attention to him:

French plebiscite mentioned in U.S. newspaper (July, 1802)
The “consul for life” vote mentioned in a Virginia newspaper, 1802

Americans were clearly impressed by Napoléon’s achievements, judging by the hundreds of U.S. namesakes born in the late 1790s and first decades of the 1800s. Many of these babies received both his first name and his surname:

Others were given only his first name:

And a good number simply got his surname:

  • Buonapart Manly Towler, b. 1796 in New York
  • Buonaparte Bennett, b. 1797 in Maryland
  • Buonaparte Mann, b. 1798 in Rhode Island
  • William Bonaparte Wood, b. 1799 in Massachusetts
  • Charles Bonapart Hunt, b. 1800 in Maine
  • George Washington Bonaparte Towns, b. 1801 in Georgia
  • Louis Bonaparte Chamberlain, b. 1802, probably in Mississippi
  • Lucion Bonaparte Keith, b. 1803 in Massachusetts
  • Consul Bonaparte Cutter, b. 1804 in Massachusetts
    • Napoléon Bonaparte served as Premier consul from 1799 to 1804
  • John Bonaparte Dixon, b. 1805 in North Carolina
  • Erastus Bonaparte White, b. circa 1806 in Rhode Island
  • Socrates Bonaparte Bacon, b. 1807 in Massachusetts
  • Bonaparte Crabb, b. 1808 in Tennessee
  • Madison Bonaparte Miller, b. 1809 in Vermont
    • James Madison served as 4th U.S. president from 1809 to 1817
  • Bonaparte Hopping, b. 1810 in New Jersey
  • Israel Bonaparte Bigelow, b. 1811 in Connecticut
  • Joseph Bonaparte Earhart, b. 1812 in Pennsylvania
  • Ampter Bonaparte Otto, b. 1813 in New York
  • William Bonaparte Steen, b. 1814 in South Carolina
  • Leonard Bonaparte Williams, b. 1815 in Virginia

A few of the people named Bonaparte (but not Napoléon) did have other given names — like Lucien, and Jerome — that could have been inspired by other members of the Bonaparte family. I found a Josephine Bonaparte Evans (b. 1815), for instance, who was probably named after Napoléon’s first wife.

Another of the relatively few females in this group was Federal Anne Buonapart Gist (b. 1799), the daughter of Joshua Gist, who served in the Maryland Militia during the Revolutionary War.

Portrait of French Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821)
Napoléon Bonaparte in coronation robes

Defining “Napoléon” and “Bonaparte”

Other famous men named Napoléon Bonaparte (including Napoleon III) also had namesakes, but it was the original Napoléon Bonaparte who put these two unusual names on the map.

So…what do they mean?

The Italian forename Napoleone has obscure origins, so the meaning isn’t known for certain. One popular theory is that it’s made up of the elements Neapolis, the original name of Naples, and leone, meaning “lion.” When Bonaparte was born in 1769, the name was “relatively common around Genoa and Tuscany,” though it was spelled a variety of ways (e.g., Nabulio, Nabulione, Napulione, Napolionne, Lapulion). The name had been used in his family before; his father’s uncle, for instance, was also named Napoleone.

The Italian surname Buonaparte, on the other hand, is much more straightforward: it’s made up of the elements buona, meaning “good,” and parte, meaning “part, share, portion.”

Was anyone in your family tree named after Napoléon?

Sources:

African names in the newspapers

In 1971, a list of African names published in Jet magazine had an impact on U.S. baby names.

In 1977, a list of African names published in Ebony magazine had a similar impact on U.S. baby names.

And in between, in 1973, a list of African names was published in an interesting place: U.S. newspapers nationwide. That is, not in a magazine written for an African-American audience specifically.

African names, newspaper article, 1973, baby names
African names in U.S. newspapers, Aug. 1973

So…did this newspaper-based list have an impact as well?

Yes, turns out it had roughly the same impact as the other two lists.

The opening line of the article was: “Here’s help for young black couples wanting to give their infants African names.” Toward the end, the article featured a list of 23 names. Most of these names ended up seeing movement in the data, including 10 (!) debuts.

  1. Abeni – debuted in 1974
  2. Avodele – never in the data
  3. Dalila – increased in usage ’73
  4. Fatima – increased in usage ’73/’74
  5. Habibah – debuted in 1974
  6. Halima – increased in usage ’74
  7. Hasina – debuted in 1974
  8. Kamilah – increased in usage ’73/’74
  9. Salama – debuted in 1974
  10. Shani – increased in usage ’74
  11. Yaminah – debuted in 1973
  12. Zahra – debuted in 1973
  13. Abdu – debuted in 1973
  14. Ali – no movement in the data
  15. Bakari – debuted in 1973
  16. Hasani – debuted in 1973
  17. Jabari – increased in usage ’73/’74
  18. Jelani – debuted in 1973
  19. Muhammad – no movement in the data
  20. Rudo – never in the data
  21. Sadiki – not in data yet
  22. Zikomo – not in data yet
  23. Zuberi – not in data yet

The article cited as its source The Book of African Names (1970) by Chief Osuntoki. As it turns out, though, the Chief wasn’t a real person. He was a fictional character invented by the publisher, Drum and Spear Press. Here’s a quote from the book’s introduction, purportedly written by the Chief:

It is strange, indeed, it hurts my heart, that brothers from afar often come to greet me bearing such names as “Willie”, “Juan” and “François”. But we can not be hard against them, for they have been misled.

Of the 23 names listed above, the one that debuted most impressively was Jelani. In fact, Jelani ended up tied for 43rd on the list of the top boy-name debuts of all time.

  • 1976: 55 baby boys named Jelani
  • 1975: 46 baby boys and 6 baby girls named Jelani [debut as a girl name]
  • 1974: 53 baby boys named Jelani
  • 1973: 36 baby boys named Jelani [overall debut]
  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: unlisted

Which of those 23 names do you like best?

Sources:

  • “African chief explains symbolism of names.” San Bernardino County Sun 15 Aug. 1973: B-4.
  • Markle, Seth M. A Motorcycle on Hell Run: Tanzania, Black Power, and the Uncertain Future of Pan-Africanism, 1964-1974. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2017.

Popular and unique baby names in Quebec (Canada), 2016

Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec

According to data released recently by Retraite Québec, the most popular baby names in Quebec in 2016 were Emma and William.

Here are the province’s top 10 girl names and top 10 boy names of 2016:

Girl Names
1. Emma, 632 baby girls
2. Lea, 514
3. Olivia, 507
4. Alice, 489
5. Florence, 470
6. Zoe, 416
7. Rosalie, 406
8. Charlotte, 400
9. Charlie, 387
10. Beatrice, 378

Boy Names
1. William, 791 baby boys
2. Thomas, 697
3. Liam, 654
4. Nathan, 614
5. Felix, 603
6. Jacob, 597
7. Noah, 590
8. Logan, 580
9. Alexis, 532
10. Gabriel, 530

In the girls’ top 10, Charlie returned and ousted Chloe.

In the boys’ top 10, Gabriel replaced Samuel.

Some of the baby names used just once last year include:

  • Girls: Aucelia, Augia, Denasada, Eulogia, Flechere, Haydence, Juridielle, Luotta, Mavericka, Nermine, Omica, Saranella, Sydra, Tuleen, Waapikun, Zealy, Zoralie
  • Boys: Bienvenu, Brinx, Clouthier, Danevick, Dyberry, Endrick, Holiday, Knochlan, Luzolo, Naulaq, Ozroy, Rockwell, Syphax, Tchaz, Tunu, Vinicius, Zabian

A CBC News article about how Quebec’s baby names are evolving to reflect the province’s changing values mentioned several name trends observed from the 1980s to today:

  • Compound names (Anne-Marie, Jean-François) are falling out of style.
  • Once-taboo English names (Elliot, Mia) are seeing new acceptance.
  • Similarly, French names are flipping languages (Anne to Anna, Guillaume to William).
  • Names are also flipping gender (Ariel, Noa).
  • Pop culture is influencing names (Shania, Logan).
  • Unique names are on the rise.

Speaking of unique names, sociologist Laurence Charton of the INRS (Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique) suggested that the rise of unique names starting in the early 1980s was fueled in part by a 1981 change in Quebec’s Civil Code that loosened restrictions on babies’ surnames.

rare baby names, quebec baby names, baby name graph

This claim makes me wish the article had included data from the ’60s and ’70s. I don’t doubt that parents felt liberated by the law change, but I do suspect that unique names were already on the rise by 1981.

Here are Quebec’s 2015 rankings.

Source: List of Baby Names – Retraite Québec

Image: Adapted from Flag of Quebec (public domain)