by Linda Rosenkrantz
Y is one of the loneliest letters in babyname land. I mean when’s the last time you heard someone say they were looking for a name starting with Y? Not that often, I bet! But if you extend the net across many cultures, you can pull together quite a respectable little group.
The rising star among them is surely Yvaine, a Scottish name meaning, appropriately, “evening star,” which came to the fore via Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust, made into a movie starring Claire Danes as the ‘fallen angel.’
Moving on, we’ll start with the two Y choices that have been used often enough in this country to reach the US Top 100:
Yvonne is one of the pair of Y names to make it to that inner circle, which she did through most of the 1930’s. She was on the list from 1892, and is still barely hanging on at Number 937. A dark and sultry name, kinda like the characters Yvonne De Carlo (born Peggy) played in lavish Technicolor epics—before she morphed into Lily Munster. Yvonne Craig portrayed Batgirl in the sixties Batman TV series
Yolanda is the second of two to rank in the Top 100, dropping in for four years in the sixties and seventies, though she’d been there lower on the Social Security list from 1905 to 2002. A name that appeared in several medieval romances, Yolanda was also borne by a Queen of Scotland and a sister-in-law of Henry VI of England. Yolanda is the Spanish language version of Violet, though it has an entirely different feel.
Further down the list:
Yvette is the less popular sister of that striking trio, retaining more of her French accent, having more in common with contemporaries like Paulette, Annette and Claudette. She did reach the Top 200 from 1961 to 1972. Yvette Guilbert was the French cabaret singer immortalized by Toulouse–Lautrec. Thandie Newton played a Yvette in Interview with a Vampire. Trivia tidbit: singer Chaka Khan was born Yvette Stevens.
Yasmin/Yasmine, a Persian name with the same meaning as Jasmine, is yet another exotic (no way to avoid repeating this word) Y name to make a few brief appearances on the list in both spellings—Yasmine reaching as high as Number 384 in 1997. It was popularized by Princess Yasmin Khan, the daughter of Prince Aly Khan and movie star Rita Hayworth (they are shown in the illustration), and is also associated with glamorous British model Yasmine Le Bon and actress Yasmin Bleeth.
Yancy—One of the rare Y-boys to make the list in various scattered years from 1887 to 1973, especially during the 1950’s run of the TV series Yancy Derringer, which was set in post-Civil War New Orleans and featured a dapper gentleman adventurer—a fancy Yancy.
Yael—This unisex Hebrew name, attached to a woman in the Old Testament and pronounced with two syllables, entered the US boys’ list in 2007, and is now at Number 878.
And a few surname choices:
Yale—a preppy Ivy League name associated with the university and its founder, Elihu Yale, a Welsh-born merchant and philanthropist. Yale Pollack is the Woody Allen character’s best friend in Manhattan. The yale is also a mythical beast.
York—a rarely used British place and surname, which did once sneak onto our Top 1000, in 1881. The House of York was a dynasty of English kings in the fifteenth century, giving the name an aristocratic air.
Yardley—An English place name and surname which news anchor Megyn Kelly chose for her daughter. Kelly is the rare parent with two Y-kids–she also has a son named Yates. Yeardley—pronounced Yardley—Smith (born Martha Maria Yeardley) has long been the voice of Lisa Simpson
Two nature options:
Yew—An arboreal name whose fate, unfortunately would be to be misheard as Hugh.
Yarrow—The name of an herb said to have healing powers. There’s a folkloric belief that if you put some yarrow under your pillow, you’ll dream of your true love.
Some international choices—Y is a common beginning initial in several cultures, such as Japanese and Hebrew and Yiddish.
Yves, the French form of Ivor, has had some notable bearers: singer/actor Montand, painter Klein and fashion icon Saint–Lauren (born Henri). Immigration problem: With its silent ‘e’, Yves is pronounced just like the female Eve. Yseult is the medieval French form of Isolde. Yannick, a Breton form of Yann/John, is associated with the flamboyant tennis star Yannick Noah; Jann is a Breton cognate of Jean/John.
Ysabel and Ynez are Spanish versions of familiar names—Ynez via Ines, a form of Agnes, is a saint’s name; the Santa Ynez valley is famous for its wine, as seen in the movie Sideways. Yemena, of Cuban origin, is the goddess of the ocean and motherhood.
Yuri is the Russian form of George, made familiar here via cosmonaut Gagarin and the character of Yuri Zhivago, hero of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, played in the film by Omar Sharif. Yasha (a pet form of Yakov) is a nickname in the Sasha–Dasha family.
Yehudah is the Hebrew form of Judah, made famous in another form by the violinist Yehudi Menhuin, while Yaakov is the Hebrew variation of Jacob, spelled Yakov in Russia. There are many other Hebrew/Jewish Y-names, including Yakim, Yonah, Yehudah, Yisrael, Yitro, and Yardena, while among Muslim/Arabic choices are Yasir and Yasin. Yaffa is a popular modern Hebrew name; Yetta, not so much.
Can you add any others from your culture?