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?

Sources:


Another Debutante-Inspired Debut: Deyanne

deyanne, wedding, 1950
Deyanne in Woodbury Soap Ad, 1950
Deyanne was a two-hit wonder on the U.S. baby name charts at the start of the 1950s:

  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: 7 baby girls named Deyanne
  • 1950: 13 baby girls named Deyanne
  • 1949: unlisted

Where did the name come from?

A New York debutante named Deyanne O’Neil Farrell.

Deyanne never appeared on the cover of Life (like Brenda Frazier) or on the cover of Jet (like Theonita Cox). But she did appear inside the December 1949 issue of Vogue. She wore a white ball gown designed by Ceil Chapman and the photo was taken by famous fashion photographer Horst P. Horst.

The New York Times announced Deyanne’s engagement the next month, and she married Herbert Miller in St. Patrick’s Cathedral the month after that.

Their wedding photos ended up being part of a marketing campaign for soap made by the Woodbury Soap Company, which regularly featured debutantes and actresses in its advertisements. The image above, for instance, came from a full-page ad in the May 8, 1950, issue of LIFE. I saw other versions of the ad in other magazines (like McCall’s) and in the newspapers (like the Pittsburgh Press) in 1950 and 1951.

The Woodbury ads featuring Deyanne are no doubt what gave the name a boost on the charts during both of those years.

And Deyanne gave one more thing a boost a few years later: Portuguese Water Dogs. In fact, she’s credited with introducing the breed to the United States in 1968. Four decades after that, the Obama family introduced the breed to the White House. (Their Portuguese Water Dogs were named Bo and Sunny.)

But let’s get back to human names now…do you like the name Deyanne? Do you like it more or less than the similar name Diane?

Sources:

The Debut of Shevaun

We revisited the name Shevawn-with-a-W the other day, so today let’s check out another Siobhan variant, Shevaun-with-a-U, which first appeared in the data during the ’50s:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 5 baby girls named Shevaun [debut]
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted

This one might have a distinct influence as well, because it popped up the same year that Life magazine — which was extremely popular in the middle of the 20th century — suggested that readers pronounce the first name of Irish actress Siobhán McKenna as if it were spelled “Shevaun”:

siobhan, shevaun, baby name, irish, 1956
LIFE suggests “Shevaun”

What do you think?

Source: “Siobhan Shows U.S. Her Joan.” Life. 10 Sept. 1956: 59.

An Update on Shevawn

The baby name Shevawn debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1955.

Here’s something I didn’t expect!

A while back I posted about the baby name Siobhan, which was kicked off (in the U.S.) by Irish stage actress Siobhán McKenna in 1956. The curious part was that, in 1955, a handful of phonetic spellings of Siobhán — Shevawn, Shevon, etc. — popped up ahead of the traditional spelling.

My initial assumption was that these had emerged naturally, as often happens with names that have tricky spellings and/or names we hear rather than see. Deirdre is a good example of this.

But one variant, Shevawn, was pretty dominant. In fact, it was the top debut name of 1955.

  • 1958: 9 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1957: 8 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1956: 24 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1955: 36 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1954: unlisted

I just figured “Shevawn” was the most-liked phonetic spelling…because I had no other explanation.

Until now!

I recently came across a blog post that recapped a September 1955 episode of the live drama series The United States Steel Hour (ABC) called “A Wind from the South.” The episode prominently featured a character named Shevawn, amazingly.

Shevawn, played by stage actress Julie Harris, was an Irishwoman who ran an inn with her brother Liam. Here’s a synopsis that ran in a Texas newspaper a few days before the episode aired:

Miss Harris, in a rare television appearance, will portray Shevawn, an imaginative and winsome colleen who, with her brother, runs a country-side inn. Longing to travel to far-away places, where she believes life is full of magic and splendor, the girl becomes hopelessly enamored of an American guest, who is struck with the girl’s delicate and unspoiled nature.

So that explains Shevawn!

But you know what? Siobhán McKenna is still the explanation, ultimately. Because screenwriter James Costigan had written the role with Siobhán McKenna in mind, and hence had given the character her name. But then the show’s producers intervened. They gave the role to the more recognizable Harris and respelled the character’s name “Shevawn” to make it easier for the American audience to connect the spelling and the pronunciation.

What are your thoughts on the name Shevawn? Do you like the simplified spelling, or do you prefer the original form of the name?

P.S. Here’s the full episode, you want to see it:

Sources:

The Baby Name Zarak

movie, zarak, 1956, baby nameIn 1957, the eye-catching name Zarak debuted in the U.S. data:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 8 baby boys named Zarak [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

The inspiration? A Technicolor action film called Zarak, which was released in late 1956.

It starred actor Victor Mature as main character Zarak Khan, the leader of a gang of outlaws on the India-Afghanistan border. His main adversary is an English military man named Ingram, who the British colonial government has sent out to hunt him down.

The movie was based on a 1949 book called The Story of Zarak Khan by Anthony J. Bevan.

Source: Zarak – TCM