Yuri, the Space Age Baby Name

Yuri GagarinToday marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight.

The person who took that first flight was 27-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin [pronounced guh-GAH-rin]. He completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.

The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. may have been in the middle of a Cold War/Space Race at the time, but that didn’t prevent Yuri’s flight — and instant, international fame — from having a slight impact on U.S. baby names. Yuri, which is a Russian (Ukrainian?) form of George, debuted on the SSA’s baby name list as a boy name in 1961:

  • 1966: 10 baby boys named Yuri
  • 1965: unlisted
  • 1964: 6 baby boys named Yuri
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 9 baby boys named Yuri
  • 1961: 8 baby boys named Yuri [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted

(Yuri also happens to be a Japanese name meaning “lily.” It appeared on the list as a girl name during the 1920s.)

Usage of the name increased around 1968, the year Gagarin was killed in a jet crash.

  • 1972: 26 baby boys and 6 baby girls named Yuri
  • 1971: 28 baby boys and 10 baby girls named Yuri
  • 1970: 33 baby boys and 11 baby girls named Yuri
  • 1969: 24 baby boys and 10 baby girls named Yuri
  • 1968: 31 baby boys and 8 baby girls named Yuri
  • 1967: 15 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Yuri

And the name has been in use ever since. A total of 59 baby boys were named either Yuri or Yuriy in 2009.

P.S. Did you know that the first chimp to go into orbit was named Enos?

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