The Baby Name Yul

Yul Brynner, actor
Yul Brynner

The birth name of Russian-born actor Yul Brynner has been transcribed various ways: Yuli, Yuly, Yuliy. He was named after his Swiss-German grandfather Julius (pronounced yoo-lee-us). He started going by “Yul” after immigrating to the U.S. as young man in 1940:

[H]e initially spelled his named “Youl Bryner,” but a New York theatrical agent told him that “Youl” sounded too much like “you-all” and “Bryner” as though he was soaked in brine and pickled. To clarify the pronunciation, the actor respelled his name as Yul Brynner, pronounced “Yool Brinner.”

He didn’t see much acting success during the ’40s. (He had more luck working as a TV director during this time.) But everything changed in the early ’50s after he landed the lead role in the hit Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” (1951-1954). The Broadway production earned multiple Tony Awards in early 1952, including one for Brynner.

Mainstream audiences were introduced to Yul in 1956, the year he starred in three big films: The King and I (released in June), The Ten Commandments (October), and Anastasia (December).

In 1957, Yul not only won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in (the film version of) The King and I, but his distinctive first name appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first time:

  • 1961: 29 baby boys named Yul
  • 1960: 32 baby boys named Yul [peak usage]
  • 1959: 24 baby boys named Yul
  • 1958: 24 baby boys named Yul
  • 1957: 31 baby boys named Yul [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Yul was the second most popular debut name for baby boys that year, just barely losing to Maverick.

Since then, the trajectories of the two names have been very different. Trendy Maverick is now given to thousands of baby boys per year, whereas unusual Yul is given to fewer than a dozen per year. Which name do you prefer, Yul or Maverick?

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