Where did the baby name Yuri come from in 1961?

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968)
Yuri Gagarin

Today 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 in his Vostok 1 capsule on April 12, 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 form of George, debuted in the SSA’s baby name data as a boy name in 1961:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 9 baby boys named Yuri
  • 1961: 8 baby boys named Yuri [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

(It had popped up as a girl name in the 1920s; Yuri also happens to be a Japanese female name meaning “lily.”)

Usage of the male version of name first hit double-digits in 1966, after the movie Doctor Zhivago came out. The increase in 1968 could be due to the sad news of the death of Yuri Gagarin, who was killed in a jet crash on March 27th.

  • 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
  • 1966: 10 baby boys named Yuri
  • 1965: unlisted
  • 1964: 6 baby boys named Yuri

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

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