One of Durham's very early streets, Yancey St. was in place by the 1880s. No contemporaneous 'Yanceys' can be found living in Durham at the time; it was most likely named after Bartlett Yancey, Jr. (19 February 1785 – 30 August 1828,) a Democratic-Republican U.S. Congressman from North Carolina, between 1813 and 1817. It is sometimes (mis)spelled "Yancy" on old maps.
Yancey was elected to the 13th United States Congress in 1812 and re-elected in 1814 to the 14th Congress, serving from March 4, 1813 to March 3, 1817. During both terms, he chaired the Committee on Claims. Refusing to run for Congress again in 1816, Yancey instead ran for the North Carolina Senate and served there for ten years, from 1817 to 1827; he served as Speaker of the North Carolina Senate for his entire tenure in the legislature. He died near Yanceyville in 1828 and is buried in his family cemetery. Yancey County, North Carolina, is named in his honor.