Y So Few Y Names?: There may be more than you think

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 EnglandYolanda 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 ToulouseLautrecThandie 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.

YancyOne 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.

YaelThis 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.

Yorka 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.

YeatsPoetry lovers might want to consider this surname of the great Irish poet, William Butler Y. Homonym Yates is another possibility.

YardleyAn 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 YardleySmith (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.

YarrowThe 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.

Yoko is one Japanese name that has become almost a single-owner appellation outside its native culture.  Some other Japanese Y-names: Yoshi, Yuki, Yukio

Yves, the French form of Ivor, has had some notable bearers: singer/actor Montand, painter Klein and fashion icon SaintLauren (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 SashaDasha 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.

Yul is the Mongolian name adopted and given a shaved-head Imperial image by Yul Brynner.  Yule is strictly for Christmas babes.

Yalenais a popular Russian name meaning light; Yuliya is the Russian cognate of Julia, Yana is found in several cultures.

 Can you add any others from your culture? 

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36 Responses to “Y So Few Y Names?: There may be more than you think”

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KateMP91 Says:

September 18th, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Of all of these, I really only like Yardley.

augusta_lee Says:

September 18th, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Yasmin is so lush and shiveringly gorgeous. I really like Yarrow, though I’d be more likely to use it on a character before a person. I have a family member named Yvette; it has a certain Gallic charm, though that -ette ending is decidedly dated. Speaking of Gallic charm, I unfortunately can’t divorce Yves from a character in a decidedly-not-for-children online story I used to follow — it’s a fantastic name, but the associations make it totally unusable for me. Yvaine, on the other hand, is strengthened in my estimation by the Stardust association. I do love that book.

As for Y names not on this list…I’ve always admired the arctic, imperial Yseult, though I do prefer Isolde. Ysanne is interesting, if a bit hissy. Yessica is the Yiddish version of Jessica, and I’ve always liked it better than the original. I think Yalena is interesting, and there’s always the stoic Germanic Yan.

Dantea Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 3:15 am

Yvaine is my favorite mentioned. I, like the previous poster, really like Yseult. The problem with Y names is that so many of them are just variant spellings of J names. I’m much more interested in X and Z names since I can’t find many X names and Z names are just cool in general.

Others not mentioned that I like:

Yakira — Hebrew for “precious” — female
Yamuna — derived from the name of an Indian river and possibly from the goddess Yami — female
Yana — Bulgarian and Russian female form of John
Ylva — “she wolf” in Swedish/Norwegian — female

And pulling some from my Native American side:

Yamka — Hopi for “blossom” — female
Yanaba — Navajo “she meets the enemy — female
Yona — Cherokee “bear” — female
Yaholo — Creek “crier” — male
Yakez — Carrier “Heaven” — male

maggiemary Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 4:54 am

I like Yvaine.

EmmaF Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 6:11 am

I have a friend named Yelena; I prefer that version to Yalena.

doulajulie Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 7:44 am

I have two grandchildren with Y names…Yuna and Yoris. Mom is Lithuanian, dad American, Yuna is from Japanese and Yoris (spelled with a J) is both from Lithuanian mythology and Dutch/Frisian/Belgian.

Kibby Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 8:23 am

A quick unsafe Google image search will provide a lot of reasons to not name your child Yuri haha Also, wasn’t Yancy Frys brother on Futurama??

kewitzler Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 9:34 am

I love Yara and have met several young Hispanic girls named Yareli. I think Yamileth and Yaretzi are also common “Y” Hispanic names for girls.

Ysabeau is a memorable character in Deborah Harkness’s “A Discovery of Witches”.

Yoko would be a great hipster/boho name for a girl.

York and Yeats – fantastic pair of brothers.

WrenMaple Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 9:54 am

I really like Yana and Yvaine, Yale and York.

ashthedreamer Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 10:04 am

A dear friend of mine used Ysaline, nn Ysa, (ee-sah-leen; ee-sah), which I find adorable. I also like the related Ysanne mentioned above.

I’ve always had an affinity for Yasmin(e) and Yasmina, as well!

rosamonte Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 10:33 am

Yolanda may mean violet flower, but the Spanish version of Violet is certainly Violeta, as violeta is the Spanish word for both the flower and the color.
Y-names are not used frequently across the board in Spanish-speaking countries. I know they were popular in Cuba for a while and I think of the famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez with her blog “Generation Y.” From the site: “Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a “Y”. Born in Cuba in the ’70s and ’80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others who carry their “Y’s” to read me and to write to me.”

maggiefromcanada Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 11:22 am

There aren’t too many that I like on this list, unfortunately. I do enjoy Yuri, as well as Yevgeny (also spelled Evgenii or Evgeny), the Russian version of Eugene.

Also, it’s Yves Saint-Laurent (not Saint-Lauren).

maggiefromcanada Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 11:23 am

Oh, and I love Yannick as well! It’s not uncommon in French Canada.

jpruitt76 Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 11:55 am

I like Yardley and Yvette and Yvaine – I think the latter two would lend themselves nicely to the nickname Yvie (pronounced ee-vie).

iamamiam Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

In the US I wouldn’t use Yasmin…have seen too many “if you have taken the drug Yasmin and also had blood clots, etc then you may be entitled to compensation…call the law firm of…” lately

iamamiam Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 12:09 pm

*oops I meant commercials saying that ^

Entangler Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Alas, poor Yorrick.

Mary-la Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Yorick of course! From both Hamlet and Y: The Last Man!

iheartnames Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Yesenia is a Spanish name that currently ranks at #899. I’ve also always adored Yarden/Yardan, a form of the name Jordan.

gipro2003 Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I like Yeates, Yeardley, and York! One name that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Yatziri. It is my brother’s girlfriend’s name. Her family is Hispanic.

msrealvilla Says:

September 19th, 2013 at 7:36 pm

I teach on the border, and in my community (Mexican-American), there are a plethora of Y girl names — Yesenia, Yaritza, Yolanda, Yadira, Yanelli, Ytzel; also “Y” varieties of standards: Yoselyn, Yessica, Yasmin, etc.

KirstGee Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 6:31 am

Ysabeau or alternatively Isabeau is one my favorite names! I prefer the y spelling and I love it as a middle name.

kgoodell Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 9:45 am

My daughter’s BFF is named Yara and she is a lovely, delightful girl. I think it’s cool that her parents found a name from their culture (they are Syrian) which is so easily managed by Americans (not always the case – my kids’ class lists are filled with challenging monikers). If you like the “Y” sound but it doesn’t have to be out in front, there is Yara’s big sister Aya -which is also beautiful and interesting and a little exotic but easy to pronounce.

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Yesenia, Yasmin, Yareli, and Yanelli are names I hear regularly in the Mexican-American (Hispanic, or whatever is considered PC these days) communities. I had a childhood friend whose nickname was Yani, but I don’t remember what it was short for. I don’t think I’m fond of the spelling Yael, I much rather prefer Jael, but that could just be me.

roseymaam Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I love, love, love Yael.

tori101 Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Interesting read! I noticed that Yvaine is all over nameberry forums I’m beginning to really love it.

Actually really love a lot of the names on the list.

But the thing with me is even though I like names beginning with Y I could never really see myself with a daughter/son that has a name beginning with Y. Strange I know. This most likely would change!!

Brigid16 Says:

September 20th, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I love Yvaine and like Yseult, and I grew up with a Yeva (pron Yay-va to rhyme with Ava).

Poppy528 Says:

September 22nd, 2013 at 9:59 pm

You left out Yaya (cute nickname)… maybe Yogi or Yankee (half kidding). I think most of this list is a hot mess, but I love Yves, Yarrow, and Yardley (even though Yardley is so pretentious it nearly puts my husband in convulsions, I still love it). I’d rather see most of these names spelled with their authentic J.

Taz Says:

September 23rd, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Yolanda is a name that my dear grandfather suggested when I was pregnant. I was taken by surprise since he named his own children 1950 clean cut classics. He said he had heard it once in passing and thought it was gorgeous. Now I wonder if my mother & uncles would’ve had more interesting names if he had had full naming rights with no say from my grandmother. I also have to wonder if any kids born in 2013 will be named Yolo!!

wickedjr89 Says:

November 8th, 2013 at 3:49 am

I love Yvette! I also like Yasmin and Yolanda. I knew a Yolanda when I was in school.

RainstreamofSpiritClan Says:

April 1st, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Y names I know not listed:
Yuki- Japanese, a character in Vampire Knight

Yaxley- a character in Harry Potter

Yorath- a character in Charlie Bone

RainstreamofSpiritClan Says:

April 1st, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Y names I know not listed:
Yuki- Japanese, a character in Vampire Knight

Yaxley- a character in Harry Potter

Yorath- a character in Charlie Bone

RainstreamofSpiritClan Says:

April 1st, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Y names I know not listed:
Yuki- Japanese, a character in Vampire Knight

Yaxley- a character in Harry Potter

Yorath- a character in Charlie Bone

spring13 Says:

October 31st, 2014 at 9:10 am

Just a couple of comments about the Hebrew names on this list:

Jael is not “more authentic” than Yael, as someone commented: Yael is actually how the name is pronounced in Hebrew (yah-EHL), there’s no letter or sound for J in Hebrew. Any biblical name spelled with a J is actually a secondary version: Yonatan came before Jonathan, Eliyah rather than Elijah, and so on. The Y might look less familiar but that doesn’t make it less “authentic.”

Judah comes from Yehudah, not Yehudi (although obviously the names share a root). Yehudah is actually a very common name for Orthodox Jewish boys, with Yehudit as the feminine origin of Judith.

Yaffa and Yakira are two of my favorite names for girls, and Yochanan (the source of John, the “ch” is like the one in loch) is at the top of my list for boys. I like Yigal also but my husband would never go for it. His favorite name for a boy is actually Yehoshua (Joshua).

Yavanna Says:

February 23rd, 2017 at 11:27 pm

Lots of names to like there. My name is Yavanna, from a Tolkien book. I’ve never met another one!

londonspys Says:

March 14th, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Of course I adore Yvaine, and Yvonne is also a gorgeous name.

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