Thanks to Kristin for suggesting Yvette as our Baby Name of the Day.
At first glance, Yvette looks like an invention based on Eve, a creative re-spelling plus a suffix.
Not so. Let’s head back to the Middle Ages. Ivo was in use as a given name, certainly by the eleventh century and possibly earlier. There was an English landowner in Yorkshire, probably from a prominent Anglo-Norman family. In the 1100s, the Bishop of Chartres was called Ivo – he was later canonized. So was a second Ivo, a parish priest from Brittany. He’s now the area’s patron saint.
Ivo comes from iv – yew, as in the tree.
Yews have figured in the history books since before written history. A 400,000 year old spearhead carved from yew was discovered in Essex. They’re used for medicine and poison, longbows and lutes. They’re planted in churchyards, and they can live extraordinarily long lives. The Llangernyw Yew might be as old as 5,000 years – dating back to the Bronze Age.
Ivo became Yves, and a typical French masculine name that peaked in the 1940s. Think of Yves Montand or Yves Saint-Laurent.
Feminine forms abound, including Iveta, Ivette, and Ivona, but Yvonne and Yvette are the most popular in French. Yvette actually peaked in the 1930s in France, some years before Yves.
Guy de Maupassant used the name for a short story back in the nineteenth century. The entire tale is a conversation between two by-standers – gossip, really. The Comtesse Samoris is a lovely woman, wearing mourning for her lost daughter. We learn that the Comtesse is a courtesan, one of elegance and style. Her daughter Yvette was equally lovely, but virtuous – and completely in the dark as to her mother’s profession. When she discovered the truth, she begged her mother to retire and move to the country. Yvette threatened to take her own life if her mother would not agree.
Things end tragically.
There’s also a French cabaret performer from the Belle Époque – Toulouse-Lautrec drew her – born Emma Laure but best known as Yvette Guilbert. That’s her in the poster above.
Other notables, real and fictional, include:
- A thirteenth century Saint Yvette – or possibly Ivetta – who was an anchoress. In brief, that means she spent many years confined to a tiny room, giving counsel to pilgrims.
- Thandie Newton played Yvette, a small character from the Interview with the Vampire.
- In DH Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gypsy, the well-bred young woman is also Yvette.
All of it makes Yvette delightfully French, and we’re wild about French names right now. But in some ways that’s nothing new. Is Yvette in the past with Paulette, Annette, and Suzanne, or keeping up with Genevieve, Vivienne, and Elodie?
On sound alone, I’m tempted to say she’s quite current. We’re wild for Eve names, and her -ette ending matches with Colette and Cosette, two names attracting attention in recent years.
Except that Yvette ranked in the US Top 200 from 1961 through 1972 – more popular than I’d expected. And so she’s still falling in 2012, probably because she feels a little bit dated – more mom name than fresh discovery.
That could change, though. With her sharp sound and French flair, Yvette might be a surprisingly wearable choice for a daughter in 2013.