What’s in a Name?

When someone talks about Fox’s Last Man on Earth, I automatically wonder, Where is the Y?

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan is a critically acclaimed graphic novel. The premise, all animals with the Y chromosome have died, save for one man and his pet monkey.

The title is fascinating. It is simple, and can have multiple meanings, none of which have been confirmed by Vaughan. The title makes you think, with different interpretations adding more depth.

Y is for Y chromosome.

This one is fairly straightforward. The Y chromosome has all but disappeared from Earth. Women are left in charge, attempting to make sense of the genetic genocide. Some want to figure out what happened and fix it; others want to let the human race die out. They actively seek out the title character, Yorick, to kill him. This quest to either save or destroy the human race is the driving plot of the series.

Y is for Yorick.

Yorick is the main character, named for a Shakespearean character in Hamlet. You may know him as the jester who is exhumed from his grave.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?” (Hamlet, V.i)

Poor Yorick only gets eight sentences to his name in Hamlet. Aside from the Y connection, why would Vaughan pick an obscure Shakespearian name? Granted, there are not many other characters in Shakespeare’s plays that have names starting with Y. The plays are important to the story, as Yorick’s sister, Hero, is named for the character from Much Ado About Nothing. There are other references throughout the series.

The name is poetic. Yorick in the play represents the morality of man and how death claims us all. He is the character not allowed to be seen, only his dirty skull. Yorick in the graphic novel was not claimed by death, while everyone else of his gender was. He is the exception to death claims us all, and is seeking to create life. He travels the United States to find scientists, to understand why he survived and maybe find a cure. The man who should have symbolized death becomes hope, promising future life.

Y is for whY.

Whenever I read the title, it becomes Why the Last Man? Why is Yorick the only survivor? Why did this happen? It may just be the brain not used to reading single letters in sentences, human nature to turn things into questions, or our need for answers and understanding.

The maddening thing is we never really find out why he is the last man. Sixty issues are spent following Yorick as he tries to understand the new world, and why he was spared. Some explanations are given, but none are definitive. We are left always asking why? The why isn’t important to the story, for focus is on the characters and not the event. No destination means we follow only the journey.

Y is for anYthing.

Y can be anything. It could be yes, affirming Yorick is indeed the last man. In some cultures Y means peace, questioning whether the world is better with almost no men. A little stretch, but the letter looks like a barren tree, symbolizing death and the possibility of rebirth. One letter can have many different meanings.

Maybe it is one of the above mentioned, maybe it is all, or maybe it is none. Without Vaughan confirming there is no way to know. Each reader picks their own meaning.

I will always ask, why the last man?


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