X is for Xavier

St. Francis Xavier, missionary, saint, and eponym!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… X is for Xavier. While Xavier as a first name has gained popularity in the last decade or two, for centuries it was used as a middle name combined with Francis. Why? The first-middle name combination of “Francis Xavier” comes from the man first known to use it, St. Francis Xavier.

Francis Xavier was a Catholic missionary priest and co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506 to 1552. Although he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Navarre (present-day Spain), he came to be called Francisco Xavier because of his family castle named Xavier (or Javier, or Xabier). The name is derived from the Basque word etxaberri, which means “new house.” While studying in Paris, Francis met Ignatius Loyola – they and five others founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as “Jesuits,” in 1534. He was ordained a priest three years later. He is remembered for his years as a missionary in India, Indonesia, and Japan where he brought Christianity to thousands.

It is not uncommon for a surname to become a given name, but what I find amazing is the widespread use of “Francis Xavier” together. The name “Francis” was always popular, and many men (or women) named Francis (or Frances) might be named after another popular Catholic saint, St. Francis Assisi. As popular as St. Francis of Assisi is, however, I’ve never seen “Assisi” – another place-name “surname” – used as a middle name. Likewise, I have many men named “Ignatius” in my family tree in either the German form of Ignaz or the Polish form of Ignacy – but none of these use “Loyola” as a middle name which would imply they were named after St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Francis Xavier, however, seems to have something rather unique about him in that both of his names are often used together. This would make more sense if perhaps the names were popular in either his home country, present day Spain, or in the countries where he ministered like India. Many names gain popularity in certain areas due to a local saint with the name.  But the names “Francis Xavier” seem to be popular worldwide. The name combination appears as Francisco Javier in Spanish-speaking countries, Francesco Saverio in Italy, Francisco Xavier in Portugal, François Xavier in France, Franciszek Ksawery in Poland, and Franz Xaver in Germany.

A little over two hundred years after St. Francis Xavier lived, his names were used in my family in Bavaria. Franz Xaver Gürtner, my 4th great-grandfather, was born on 04 September 1781 in Reichertshofen, Bavaria. His daughter, Barbara, would grow up to marry Franz Xaver Fischer (born 06 October 1813 in Agelsberg, Bavaria) in 1841. Both men are found in records listed by both “Franz Xaver” or “Fr. Xaver” as well as by just “Xaver.” In German, the name is pronounced as Ksaber.

Another Bavarian 4th great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer (born 26 July 1765 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria), had a brother named Franz Xaver Echerer. Although St. Francis Xavier traveled around the world, as far as I can tell he never visited Germany – yet his name is very popular throughout the country centuries later.

St. Francis Xavier had a big impact on the world, especially in the countries he worked like India. However, his name had an even bigger impact in my opinion. I even have a distant cousin living today with the name Francis Xavier. Xavier is one of the only English names beginning with “X” so it stands out as unique despite the centuries of other men named F.X. How many Francis Xaviers (or just plain Xavier) are in your family tree?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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6 thoughts on “X is for Xavier

  1. Donna: I’ve been following your alphabet series with great interest, especially when you share information about your ancestors from Bavaria. I’ve been searching for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Louis Fischer for over forty years without success. He left very few clues and died young. I know he was born in 1837 in Bavaria, was protestant, lived near the Black Forest, and visited Heidelberg. Could you tell me how you discovered that Franz Xaver Fischer was born in Agelsberg?

  2. Hi, Barbara,

    Thanks for commenting. I am glad you are enjoying my posts. Finding FX Fischer’s birthplace was merely a matter of following the paper trail backwards. I am not familiar with Protestant church records since all of my Bavarians so far were Catholic, but the Catholic records – at least in the 1800s – were pretty good about providing details. Marriage records provided the bride and groom’s birth dates, birth places, and parents’ names which made it easy to find their birth records. Then I would search backwards for that person’s parents’ marriage and get further back. From what you wrote I’m not sure if Louis is your immigrant ancestor or not – if he was, I know finding details on their origin in US records in the 1800s was a lot harder than in the 1900s. My great-grandparents didn’t come until 1900 – once I found their hometown in US records, I was fortunate in that the town and surrounding towns have a VERY GOOD paper trail to follow. Although I am currently stuck on FX’s father, Wolfgang Fischer, who was born in 1775. I need to get back to my Bavarian research soon. I was also fortunate in that the Catholic records for the towns I needed were all filmed by the LDS, so the records are available at Family History Libraries. Feel free to add another comment with more details on Louis – maybe I or one of my readers will have an idea or two for you to pursue. Good luck!

  3. Pingback: Family History Through the Alphabet – X is for … | Genealogy & History News

  4. Another great post, Donna! I have a lot of ancestors named François, but since I haven’t found all their baptismal records, I’m not sure if any are really named François-Xavier.

  5. Sorry, but the German “Xaver” is NOT as Ksaber. That would be Russian. A German V is the English F, and in this case it would be a regular V sound, taken from the Latin.

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