Scrabble Letter Y
Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

No, there’s nothing missing in the post’s title.

Thanks to Alicia for suggesting Y as Baby Name of the Day.

If you’ve never heard of a single letter as a given name, it might be because the Social Security Administration doesn’t know what to do with them.  You must search at least two letters in their database.  Yi – a Chinese name – passes the test.  So does the Greek Io.  But Y is officially one letter short of registering.

The atlas is comfortable with a lone letter.  You can find Y on the map in the US and Europe:

  • Y, Alaska is a tiny speck in vast Alaska, not too far from Anchorage.  With a population of less than a thousand, you don’t hear much about Y.  If you do, you’ll note that the place pronounces Y just like the letter and the word why.
  • Then there’s Y, France, in the northern part of the country.  Once again, it is pronounced just like the letter – only in French, so it is ee, like key or gee.  If you live in Y, you’re an Ypsilonien or Ypsilonienne.

There’s no shortage of other uses of the letter Y, from a nickname for Brigham Young University to the Spanish and.

But the use of the letter Y as a given name is elusive.  When Alicia suggested it, she thought it might be Gaelic.  Was I just missing it, or was it spelled differently in the past?

What about the surname Wye?  It is easier to find in use, though still a rarity.  I found a few references to a Saint Wye.  There are several possible origins:

  • Wye, Kent has been settled since the ninth century, and previously spelled Vaie and Wi.  It likely derives from the Anglo-Saxon weol – a holy place;
  • One English river is thought to be named for the Old English wic – a dairy farm;
  • England’s second River Wye is derived from the Welsh Gwy.  It’s also recorded as Gvoy and Waie.  The element gwyn is oft-used in personal names, from Gwyneth to Gwendolen, meaning fair or blessed.

There’s also the fast-rising Wyatt.  His first syllable is linked to the Old English wig – war – or the French Guyot – little Guy.  If Guyot became Wyot in Norman England did Guy become Y?

That brings to mind surname Wyeth, sometimes listed as a variant of Wyatt, sometimes as a surname related to Wythe.  But that name also leads to a dead end.

It all makes for an unsatisfying mystery.  There have been men, and a few women, who answered to names that sounded like Y over the years.  Doubtless some of them have spelled their names just Y, at least some of the time.  But they’re elusive in the historical record.

I believe it is possible to give a child a single letter for a given name in the US.  But it doesn’t seem like a terribly good idea.  The Name Lady recently weighed in on the idea of naming a child just J.R., and her advice was similar.  Y is intriguing, but perhaps frustrating to wear.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. In my family, the first son of the first son is always named John B with no period needed because the B isn’t an initial. The tradition stretches back many generations. We’re Ulster-Scots, so it probably started when someone at Ellis Island abbreviated a B-somethinghardtopronounce name.