Where did the baby name Yannick come from in the early 1980s?

Tennis player Yannick Noah
Yannick Noah

The name Yannick debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1981, and usage jumped upward a few years later, in 1983:

  • 1985: 30 baby boys named Yannick
  • 1984: 26 baby boys named Yannick
  • 1983: 30 baby boys named Yannick
  • 1982: 8 baby boys named Yannick
  • 1981: 9 baby boys named Yannick
  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: unlisted

The reason?

Professional tennis player Yannick (pronounced yah-neek) Noah, who was born in France in 1960, spent his childhood in Cameroon, and was discovered as an 11-year-old by tennis great Arthur Ashe.

Yannick won the French Open in 1983, and he reached career-high rankings of World No. 3 in singles and World No. 1 in doubles during the summer of 1986. But he was certainly getting press in the U.S. earlier than that.

One article from mid-1980, for instance, noted that Yannick — at that time ranked #1 in France and #12 in the world — was still seen as an anomaly in tennis:

In the United States, Yannick Noah is still a novelty. When the Frenchman plays tennis here, spectators flock to his court. Passers-by, upon seeing him, also stop. Someday, Noah hopes, Americans will watch him because he is Noah, not because he is black.

The write-up reminded me of an earlier article about another idiosyncratic tennis player, Torben Ulrich.

Speaking of being idiosyncratic…Yannick Noah, after nearly two decades of pro tennis, switched tracks and became a singer. Since then, he has scored multiple #1 hits in both France and Belgium. (Here’s Yannick’s YouTube channel.)

Usage of the name Yannick — a diminutive of Yann, a French form of John — increased again in the 2010s thanks to one of Yannick Noah’s namesakes, football player Yannick Ngakoue (who pronounces his first name yah-nihk). It saw peak usage in 2016, the same year Ngakoue joined the NFL.

Do you like the name Yannick?

P.S. While playing football at the University of Maryland, Yannick Ngakoue had a teammate named Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. He told one reporter, “It’s not confusing. It’s pretty funny, actually. I never knew somebody’s had my name. I thought my name was very unique.” A few years later, a similar situation occurred at the University of Pittsburgh with a pair of football players named Qadree and Quadree.


Image: Adapted from Yannick Noah photo by Hans van Dijk via Nationaal Archief under CC0.

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