Francis Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Francis Surname Meaning

The popularity of Francis as a name derived in large part from the fame of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. The name was also associated with the Knight Templar Crusaders at that time. In addition to Francis in England there was Francois in France, Francisco in Italy, plus numerous similar forms elsewhere in Europe.

However, the English Francis had an alternative derivation from Le Franceys or Franceys, meaning “the Frenchman” in England.

Francis Surname Resources on The Internet

Francis Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and Wales
  • to Ireland, America, South Africa and Australia

England. There were Franceys or Fraunceys (i.e. the Frenchman) in England in the 12th and 13th centuries who subsequently became Francis. They appeared at an early time at Meaburn in Cumberland and Coughton in Warwickshire.

John le Fraunceys was born at Osmundeston in Derbyshire in 1224. His descendant Sir Robert Francis of Foremark Hall in Derbyshire was a knight and sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the early 1400’s. Robert’s grandson Sir John, who died in 1464, made his home at Burley in Rutland. One line of this family migrated to Sussex where Edward Francis was the Steyning MP in the early 1600’s.

Ebrordis Fraunceys was born in Bristol around 1240 and later became its mayor. His son Adam migrated to London in the early 1300’s. And his son Sir Adam Francis prospered as a mercer and twice served as the Lord Mayor of London. He was by the mid-1300’s one of the richest men in London.

Later Francis in England were to be found in two areas mainly – a smaller concentration in SW England and a larger concentration in SE England around London.

SW England.  Francis was a popular given name in the west country (as with Sir Francis Drake) and this sometimes translated into a surname.

William Francis, born at Gwennap in Cornwall around the year 1590, appears to have been the forebear of a later line of Cornish miners:

  • Henry Francis married Ursula Tregonning there in the early 1700’s.
  • while the brothers Henry and Absalom Francis, together with their offspring, took their mining expertise to Wales and to parts further afield in the early/mid 1800’s.

A Francis family built Chevithorne Barton, a gabled manor house near Tiverton in Devon, in 1610. They sold the house (which still stands) in 1664. Another Francis family has been traced to the village of Bradworth near Holsworthy in NW Devon and to John Francis who married Elizabeth Petherick in 1714.

The villages of Ansford and Castle Cary in Somerset contained a number of Francis lines. Isaac Francis was born in Ansford in 1681 and buried there in 1753; while Thomas Francis was born in Castle Cary around 1741 and died there in 1817. And a Francis family were millers at nearby Lovington.

SE England.  The early sightings were in Essex. Robert Francis was recorded as the bailiff of Colchester in 1349. His son Thomas became a wealthy merchant. He served as the bailiff of Colchester twelve times and as its MP fourteen times over a period lasting forty-five years. He died in 1417 but left no sons, only three daughters.

Another disappearing Francis line was to be found in the village of Shaddingfield in Suffolk where they held the manor of Francis in the late 1300’s. In the next century the estate passed into the Cuddon family through marriage with the Francis heiress.

The Francis surname was numerous but not very conspicuous in SE England thereafter. The main numbers in the 1881 census were in London, followed by Essex and Kent.

One local notable was Joseph Francis who was twice mayor of Southend in the early 1900’s.  “Joseph Francis, born in 1849, was the mayor of Southend with some repute for having held the position throughout the Great War. However, this came at a certain price as he was lampooned by the local press for being too old. He also endured a near miss when a bomb landed yards from the Civic Office in 1917, with himself being thrown to the floor.”  

James Francis from Terling in Essex took his family to New York in the 1850’s. But they did not stay there long and returned to Hastings in Sussex.

Wales.  Francis has also been a Welsh surname. DNA testing has shown that Francis here has Celtic origins and is thus genetically different from the English Francis of probable Norman descent. The name is found primarily in south Wales.

From Carmarthenshire came Enoch Francis, the famous Baptist minister of the early 1700’s; from Pembrokeshire Dick Francis, the well-known crime writer.

But the largest Francis numbers in Wales have been from Glamorgan, in particular from in and around Swansea – a booming area in the early 1800’s. The Francis name had already become evident in outlying parishes such as Llansamlet and Llangfelach by the mid-18th century.

One notable Francis family there had English origins, coming from Castle Cary in Somerset. John Francis left Somerset for Swansea in 1811 and prospered there as a coach-builder:

  • his elder son Grant was an antiquarian, active in local Swansea issues
  • while his younger son Duffett was an accomplished portrait painter whose legacy in Swansea is the Deffett Francis Art Gallery.

Ireland. A Dublin-based Anglo-Irish family from Devon included among their number:

  • the Rev. John Francis, the rector of St. Mary’s church in Dublin in the early 1700’s.
  • his three sons – Tench who emigrated to America, Richard an eminent lawyer, and Philip a clergyman now remembered for his translations of Horace.
  • and Philip’s son Sir Philip, a well-known pamphleteer and Whig politician in London in the late 1700’s.

Elsewhere the Francis name in Ireland was mainly found in Armagh and Down. James Francis was born in Armagh around 1755, Jacob Francis in Down in 1781. Both had descendants who emigrated to America.

America. The Francis name was first notable in New England and then out of Maryland and Virginia.

New England.  There were three early sightings of Francis in New England, all apparently from Norfolk:

  • John Francis by 1631 in Braintree, Massachusetts
  • Richard Francis by 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • and Robert Francis by 1651 in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Robert Francis and his wife Joan had one son, John, who had fourteen children by his second wife Mercy, including their eldest son John.  

“John Francis, born in 1684, was a man of great muscular strength. Many stories were related of his extraordinary athletic feats. He was the owner and landlord of the old Wethersfield Inn. He was three times married.”  

In 1829 five descendant brothers left Wethersfield, Connecticut for points west, three of them ending up in Springfield, Illinois. Another brother Charles was a pioneer settler in northern Indiana. The family line was covered in Charles Francis’ 1906 book Descendants of Robert Francis.

Maryland.  There were two notable Francis lines that started out from Maryland.

Tench Francis from Ireland had arrived there around 1720 as an attorney for Lord Baltimore. He later moved to Philadelphia where he was the attorney general for Pennsylvania from 1741 to 1755. His son Tench Jr. was a prominent Philadelphia merchant. The line through his son John then moved to Rhode Island. John’s son John Brown Francis was Governor of that state from 1833 to 1838.

William Francis, possibly of Welsh origins, had come to Cecil county sometime in the early 1730’s. His son Henry fought and died during the Revolutionary War.

“Captain Henry Francis was shot through the head and died at the Battle of Shallow Ford in 1780. His sons Henry and John also fought in the battle. Henry Jr. was only a few feet away from his father when he fell. John then shot the soldier who had killed his father.”  

Henry migrated to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and his son Pearl to Missouri in the late 1820’s. Pearl’s son William Francis set off for California at the time of the Gold Rush, but then returned. He died at the end of the century, a respected county judge in Clay county, Missouri.

Virginia.  There was one notable line out of Virginia. Thomas Francis had come from Virginia to Kentucky in the late 1700’s, marrying Polly Broaddus in Kentucky in 1815. While Polly was giving birth to twelve children in Richmond, Thomas bought and ran a popular tavern there. He later became the local sheriff.

His grandson David Francis, born in Richmond in 1850, was to distinguish himself nationally as a politician and diplomat. He held several positions, from Mayor of St. Louis to Governor of Missouri and US Secretary of the Interior. He was the US Ambassador to Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution.

Meanwhile Joseph Francis, of reported German extraction, migrated from Virginia to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and later settled in Clay county, Indiana. His son and grandson, both named William, were farmers there.

Elsewhere.  Josiah Francis, known as the Prophet, was the charismatic leader of the Creek Indians who opposed white land expansion.  He was captured and hanged by General Andrew Jackson in Florida in 1818.  Josiah was the son of a love match between an Indian princess and David Francis, born around 1750, who was a frontier blacksmith and silversmith in South Carolina.

South Africa. Thomas Francis and his family from London were among the 1820 British settlers to South Africa, sailing there with Willson’s party on La Belle Alliance. He made his home at Grahamstown on the Eastern Cape:

  • his eldest son Thomas, nine years old when they left England, became a tailor there.
  • while a younger son Frederick, born in South Africa, moved to the Orange Free State and died an old man in a Boer concentration camp in 1901.

Australia. Thomas Francis was a convict from Warwickshire who arrived in NSW on the Admiral Barrington in 1791. He married Honora Collins, a fellow convict from Ireland, a few years after the birth of their first child.

They seemingly had a fiery marriage. Some of their children were registered as Francis, others as Collins. Both Thomas and Honora were buried in Castlereagh cemetery. Their descendants are now spread over every state in Australia and in many locations overseas. Jack McNamara, a fifth-generation descendant, published a family line in 1998.

Arthur Morley Francis, also from Warwickshire, was a pioneer in Queensland, arriving there in 1862 and living at first with his family in tents on the coast. Francis Lookout near Brisbane was named after them.

Francis Surname Miscellany

Sir Adam Francis, Lord Mayor of London.  Sir Adam Francis, born in London around 1315, started out with his cousin Simon as a mercer. He was active both in trade with the Continent and with shipping.

He was by the mid-14th century one of the richest and most powerful men in London. He lived through the Black Death which had reached London in 1348 and resulted in upwards of 30,000 deaths.

After a long and successful career during which he was twice Lord Mayor of London and represented the City in at least seven Parliaments, he retired to live on his country estates outside of London.  He died in 1375.  Sir Adam was buried at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate.

He was survived by his widow Agnes, who was still living in 1394, his son Adam (Adam the younger), and his daughter Maud, who was later to be the Countess of Salisbury.

Adam the younger was elected as a shire knight in 1380. He lived most of his life on his father’s inheritance in Edmonton as a country gentleman.  He died in 1417.

Reader Feedback – Francis from Essex.  My surname Francis originated with my great great grandfather in Dedham, Essex.  His son somehow arrived in Sunderland. The Sunderland Francis line will end with me and my only male cousin. But my grandfather’s nephew emigrated to America around 1918 and I’m pleased to say the Francis line continues in the US.

Francis (

Henry and Absalom Francis Were Cornish Miners.  Henry and Absalom Francis from Goldsithney in Cornwall were both heavily involved in the Cornish mining industry from their youth.

Absalom moved to Flintshire in 1826 to manage the Duke of Westminster’s lead mines on Halkyn Mountain.   He also managed the lead mines on the Lisburne estate in Cardiganshire, but fell out with his employers there, the Taylor family, and was dismissed in 1840.  His three sons – Henry, Absalom and William – all followed their father into the Welsh mining industry.

Absalom’s brother Henry remained in Cornwall.  It was said that he adopted something of a moonlighting approach to mining, being involved in many enterprises and then dropping them quickly for the next caper in speculation. He was the manager of the Wheal Virgin mine near Relubbus for many years before opening the Wheal Guskus mine in 1849.

Of his four sons, the most prominent was Matthew who spent a number of years in the mines of Aroa in South America before following his uncle to Wales in 1834, settling in Cardiganshire to manage the Lisburne mines.  But he too fell out with the Taylors and was dismissed in 1842.  He lived in London after that, inspecting mines in different locations.

Enoch Francis, Welsh Baptist Minister.  Enoch’s family and religious roots came from Rhydwilym in Pembrokeshire.  He himself was born in 1688 in Carmarthenshire, at Pantyllaethdy on the banks of the river Teify.  His upbringing was in the so-called Tivy-side church.

He began preaching in 1707, before he was twenty, at Llanllwni.  Over time he acquired great fame as a preacher.  Judging from the comments of his contemporaries, it would appear that authority and sobriety, rather than revivalist emotionalism, were the principal hallmarks of his oratory.  His preaching was on the Calvinist side.  In 1733 he published Gair yn ei Bryd, a defence of Calvinism.  He died in 1740.

He was not the only Baptist minister of his family.  It was recorded that at least eleven became ministers. They included his cousin Abel, who left the Baptists in 1735 to join the Presbyterian-Independents, and two of Enoch’s sons, Jonathan and Benjamin.  And three of Jonathan’s sons – Enoch, Jonathan, and David – were ministers as well.

David Francis and Isaqueena.  The Indian maiden Isaqueena fell in love with David Francis, a silversmith who lived near what is now Ninety Six, South Carolina.

Learning that her tribe planned a surprise attack on her lover’s settlement, Isaqueena mounted her pony and hastened to warn the settlers. On that fleet silent ride through the forest, she mentally named the landmarks she passed en route – from Six Mile to Ninety Six Mile.  Today in South Carolina there are the post offices of Six Mile and Ninety Six and the creeks bearing these names that Isaqueena conferred upon them.

Isaqueena and David, according to the legend, fled into the mountains to escape the fury of her betrayed tribe. The lovers lived in a large hollow tree or stumphouse. Finally tracked down by her tribesmen, Isaqueena raced to a nearby falls (now the Isaqueena Falls) and plunged out of sight. Believing her to be dead, the warriors gave up the search.  But Isaqueena later joined her husband and fled to Alabama to live happily ever after.

Reader Feedback – Josiah Francis the Prophet.  Looking for the father of David Francis who was a half-breed who married Tecumseh’s first cousin.  He had a son named Josiah Francis called the Prophet who was hanged in Florida by Andrew Jackson in 1818.

I have found his grandfather Francis who was the only Wylie Francis born around the mid-1600s in South Carolina. I cannot find Wylie Francis’ father. He was listed in one of the Indian lists as black.

Rhonda Francis Stout (

The Francis Brothers Who Migrated West from Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1829.  Five Francis brothers and two of their sisters, after the death of their parents, decided to leave their old home in Wethersfield and seek a new home in the West.

In 1829 they embarked on the sloop Falcon at Hartford, traveling down the Connecticut river to New York and then up the Hudson and along the Erie Canal to Buffalo.  They subsequently traversed Lake Erie and then procured wagons to cross Ohio.  After a journey fraught with much exposure and a lack of proper nourishment, they reached Cincinnati. From there they were borne by a small steamboat down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to St. Louis, barely escaping with their lives through the wrecking of one of the boats.

In 1831 three of the brothers – Simeon, Josiah, and John – proceeded onwards to Springfield, Illinois, taking with them a little old printing press that they had brought from Connecticut.  That year they brought out the first edition of the Sangamon Journal.

Simeon and Allen Francis fostered the youthful ambitions of Abraham Lincoln by loaning him books and by introducing him to the leading figures in Springfield.  It was at Allen’s home that Lincoln met his future wife Mary Todd.  Lincoln later reciprocated when President by appointing both Simeon and Allen to Government positions in the Pacific Northwest.  Simeon stayed on in Portland, Oregon.

William Francis to California and Back.  His father Pearl and elder brother Henry had set off from Missouri overland to California in 1850.  However, both died of cholera during the journey and were buried in a common grave at Fort Laramie.

Henry’s brother William, a veteran of the Mexican War, did make it a year earlier.  He was about four and a half months on the crossing.  He mined on the Yuba river and later had some success in trading.

But the family deaths were influential in his decision not to stay in California. In 1850, aboard a sailing vessel he crossed at Panama and proceeded upon his homeward way by steamer to New York.  From there he journeyed via Philadelphia to Baltimore and then to the Monongahela River and Ohio to Cairo, thence by boat to St. Louis, and from that city by boat to his home in Missouri.

A short time later he bought a farm near Jefferson City and married. There he was to remain for the next fifty years, a respected farmer and county judge. 

Arthur Morley Francis in Queensland.  Arthur Morley Francis from Warwickshire arrived with his family in Queensland on the sailing ship Saldanha in January 1862 after a voyage of four months.

They were truly pioneers.  They cleared a patch and pitched their tents on the banks of the Brisbane river. His wife Angela wrote home about their companions at the time:

“Thousands of frogs in the waterholes, the parrots, curlews, wagtails, hawks, butcher-birds, laughing jackasses, satin, and stockwhip birds lived all round us.”

The climate killed off three of their children in the first four years, the first to die being their youngest son Clement in 1863.  They were buried in a family cemetery on a prominent hilltop overlooking Corinda, now known as Francis Lookout.

Arthur was nothing if not resourceful.  He pioneered sugar planting along the Brisbane river and started a small mill.  In this he was unsuccessful.  Later he became a police magistrate in outback Queensland and a representative for East Moreton in the first Queensland Parliament.

When Arthur died in 1902, his wife Angela erected a lynchgate at the cemetery on Francis Outlook in memory of her husband. It bore the inscription “Rest for the Weary.”  The cemetery was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 2004.  Their son Alexander, born in 1863, moved back to England in 1902.  In 1935 he published an account of their early life in Queensland entitled Then and Now: The Story of a Queenslander.

Francis Names

  • Sir Adam Francis who twice served as the Lord Mayor of London was one of its richest men in the mid-1300’s. 
  • Enoch Francis was a prominent Welsh Baptist minister and preacher in the first half of the 18th century. 
  • David Francis was an American politician and diplomat who served as Governor of Missouri, US Secretary of the Interior, and US Ambassador to Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution. 
  • Connie Francis, born Concetta Franconero, was a chart-topping American pop singer of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. 
  • Dick Francis was a steeplechase jockey who became a widely-read British crime writer. His books were set around horse racing.

Francis Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 27,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Francis and Like Surnames

These were names originally given to outsiders in the British Isles that became surnames.  Thus Walter the Scot became Walter Scott.  Outsiders could also have been Welsh, Irish, French or Flemish.  These are some of the “outsider” surnames which are covered here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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