Crispina ffrench - The History of My Name! - For Realz

Hi my name is Crispina ffrench - which by now, I’m sure you all know - but HEY! That’s just how I introduce myself. I consider myself an empowerment, motivation, and goal chasing teacher, textile recycler, screen-printer, mom, wife, sister, and friend.

One of the questions I am most often asked is about the history of my name.

See I was born in Ireland.  My parents were both artists; my mom, Primm Turner ffrench was an accomplished painter from Virginia and John ffrench, my father, was an Irish ceramicist of notoriety.  They met while studying art in Florence, Italy while they were both engaged to other people.  Best friends for 10 years, when the time was finally right, they fell in love.  They married and had three kids and were living in Ireland sort of a world away from the whole hippie nation here.  Nevertheless, they went a little crazy with their kids names.  My elder sister is Johanna Felicitas ffrench.  She was always called, Felicitas, by family. I’m next in line born Teodora Crispina ffrench, and always called Crispina.  Funny, my younger sister, Sofie who’s is my business partner for The Dolphin Studio and dear friend, got the super short end of the stick in the name department.  She was named Dorcas Sofia ffrench – and we called her Dorcas – Dorky for short.  It was a good thing that we went to the same school from Kindergarten through 12th grade so by the time Dorcas made it to about 4th grade all the kids had had their fill of making fun of her. Her middle name is Sofia – after our dad’s mom.  What a beautiful name and person our sweet Granny Sofia Bramilla was!  As an adult Sofia decided to use her middle name and I am so glad she did, no more lengthy explanations!  No more cringes when asked her name.  It was truly a very difficult aspect of her childhood.

So, my parents were roman-catholic church-going artists who felt compelled to find the most esoteric yet meaningful saints to name their kids.  It was all cool within their community as these strange names were, after all, saints names.  And maybe in Ireland people are more used to names they are not immediately familiar with.  Over there saints are big!  Dorcas is the patron saint of seamtresses – which is so super cool!  Too bad the name just sucks. 

I was named for an empress named Teodora who died in 548 AD.  She was an early champion of women’s rights and is featured in a famous mosaic housed in San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna Italy.   Crispina was a an Italian empress in the year 178, and Saint Crispina died in 304 AD, was from northern Africa and was sainted 300 years before St. Crispin.  She was a martyr and was beheaded – Arg!  God, what a way to go!

Johanna Felicitas was named for our parents’ best friends.  Johannes and Fe Sagesser of Bern Switzerland.  Remembering the fun summer nights we spent together on the shores of the beautiful lake right outside their door.  These dearhearts had an impact on me that surpasses the disloyalty that unfolded and kinda changed everything around.  They were my parents’ homies – their dearhearts.  I mean John and Primm named their first born child for them.   

The ffrench part is a whole, ‘nother story.  The ffrenches are one of the ’14 tribes’ of Co. Galway, Ireland.  Castle ffrench, where my father grew up still stands in a little town called Ahasgragh in the central rolling hills of Co. Galway.  No longer the family house, it is owned my Americans who are in the equine industry and run it as a bed and breakfast.  My eldest cousin, and last male ffrench descendant, lives near-by so we go and visit the grounds every couple of years. 

Apparently, the ffrenches were originally from Normandy.  They settled on the west coast of Ireland in the year 1169.  Around that time, the rest of Europe and the Roman Alphabet using cultures were toying around with the use of a capital alphabet to signify proper nouns and the use of surnames was on the upswing to help clarify heritage.  The idea caught on and spread across globe with the exception of Ireland and parts of the uk that were under Viking occupation.  So, we kept spelling our name with two lower case Fs.  If you go to Ireland you see this type of unusual spelling with other names too.  A lot of families have co-opted their spellings to assimilate by using a capital and then a lower case character. (Think Aaron and Lloyd).  At any rate, it is a bear to have some computer systems to be able to correctly spell my name.  Data entry peeps often ‘incorrect’ my first and last names to Christina French.  I always thank my lucky stars that I am not a stutterer.

Oh, and I get it, who would want to tell a Viking what to do?!


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