Does Pope Francis Throw Like a Girl?

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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The new pope has taken the name Francis, which is being interpreted as a sign that he's a bit of a 76-year-old rebel. In my personal experience as a Francis, the name has been less associated with Francis of Assisi than with, well, just plain sissy.

In fact, the first thing Francis needs to know about his new name is that a lot of people will think he's a girl -- and maybe a not-very-smart one. The female version of the name is Frances, with an "e," but the distinction escapes many. Years ago, after writing a short piece on the Louisville Slugger baseball bat for Harper's, a reader questioned how much, ultimately, a woman like me could possibly know about baseball. I've received variations on that question on a host of other topics, as well, making me a little more conscious of, and vigilant about, sexism. In some readers' minds, I lose IQ points for being Francis.

Though all my official documents -- driver's license, bank account, mortgage, etc. -- list me as Francis, I generally go by Frank. (The exception was the year I lived in France, where I couldn't bear being addressed in a nasal honk reminiscent of a car horn.) The dual names have class as well as gender implications. Frank grew up playing football and later did stints as a long-distance trucker and construction worker. Francis, well, he lived in France, didn't he?

Pope Francis's name has particular significance because he chose it willingly. My name was thrust upon me. I was named Francis after my maternal grandfather Francis Desales McBride. I have never figured out whether the first "s" in Desales is supposed to be capitalized or not. I've tried it both ways, depending on the day of the week, my mood, whatever. If you know the answer, drop me a line. I answer to Ms. or Mr.

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To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net