Name of the Day: Sylvia

Looking for a subtle nature name that’s been worn by a saint and a queen, with mythological and literary associations, too? Today’s Name of the Day fulfills each and every requirement.

Thanks to Kim and Another for suggesting Sylvia.

If you love the great outdoors, but find Willow, Ocean or Skye too hippie chic for your tastes, Sylvia might appeal. The Latin silva means forest. Sylvester and Silas also trace their roots to these green and verdant Latin terms.

Two of the earliest bearers of the name are known best for the accomplishments of their sons. Rhea Silvia gave birth to Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome. In the sixth century, Saint Silvia was the mother of Pope Saint Gregory the Great.

Even farther back, legend has it that several kings of Alba Longa – a city that flourished from the 12th to 7th centuries BC – bore the name Silvio, so we can assume that both masculine and feminine versions were in use. Certainly by the Middle Ages, we find plenty of Silvios and Silvias in Italy.

In English, the name first attracted attention when William Shakespeare used it in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Between the 1590s and the 19th century, the favored spelling shifted. The French adjective sylvain described all things woodsy. Sylvaine and Sylvie became feminine forms en franΓ§ais. The English adopted the “y” spelling, but kept the “a” ending, and voilΓ  – Sylvia.

Sylvia peaked at #62 in the US in 1939 and 1940. Today she’s at #532 and falling fast. Silvia was also in use, but tumbled right out of the rankings after 2005.

Her fading status tracks with other popular girls names from the 1930s and 40s, like Dorothy, Carol, Joan, Doris, Barbara, Patricia, Shirley, Helen, Ruth, Nancy, Sharon, Judith and Joyce.

But Sylvia has an advantage many of those names lack – she ends in an a. Chart-toppers like Olivia, Sophia and Isabella all sound right with Sylvia. It makes her a candidate for revival, even if Joan and Shirley seem fusty.

Starting next week, we’ll be hearing a variant of this name on the big screen. George Cukor’s classic 1939 The Women – a sort of proto-Sex In the City – has gotten an update. In the original, Rosalind Russell played Sylvia, who helps her friend cope with a cheating husband. Starting next week, we can watch Meg Ryan as the heroine and Annette Bening as the friend – now called Sylvie.

We’d be remiss if we failed to mention poet and author Sylvia Plath. Her tragic 1963 suicide might’ve put some parents off the name, but it was already on the decline in favor of peppy monikers like Lisa and Tammy.

Today, Silvia ranks in the Top 50 in Spain. It’s a bright spot for the name’s use, as is Queen Silvia, the reigning Queen Consort of Sweden.

While we can’t call Sylvia fashionable, we wonder if Sylvie, with her French style, might actually make a comeback first. As an independent given name, Sylvie has never ranked in the US Top 1000, and all the variants of this name are out of favor in France, too. But given the name’s long history of use and literary cred, we imagine that it is only a matter of time before we hear this name – in some form – on playgrounds once more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

42 Comments

My daughter (Dec 2011) is a Silvia. I picked it especially because it’s like the Stellas, Olivias and Sophias, but not nearly as common. We get a lot of ‘Sylvia’ on her preschool artwork, but I’m sure Sophia/Sofia gets that too. I also love that it’s pronounced the same almost everywhere, important to us since we’re bilingual at home. (Dutch as well as English.).

My daughter (turns 5 in 2015) is named Sylvia Grace. We call her many variations, including Syl and Sylly. But never Sylvie. She is a very vivacious and outgoing child and, actually quite silly, so the NN fits.

I much rather prefer Sylvia than Sylvie. Sylvie is already shortened, you don’t need to shorten it further. And Silver is beautiful …

hi, my name is Sylvie, i’m 14, not shortened. it can be annoying sometimes but it fits in well, I am english but my last name is french. it is a good name to have, you don’t really grow out of it, but it is harder to experiment with, their aren’t really any good nicknames for it.

and just to say, having Sylvie shortened to Silver all the time is so annoying…

Sylvia Rose is one ofmy top names for a DD. I love that she would be a forest rose. And whilst it’s uncommon in the UK, the influx of European immigrants means I tend to associate the name with beautiful, young polish women rather than middle aged frumpy. NN would definitely be Sylvie. Although I definitely agree that Sylvie can stand on its own

There is also a short story “A White Heron” whose main character is named Sylvia. She’s an 11(?) year old girl and the protector of the forest. That story is considered literary cannon (often studied in lit classes) and what originally put me on to the name. The character, Sylvia, is sweet. kind, and still powerful.

I think I’m going to go with Sylvie though, because like Sarah, I’m a bit francophile in my name tastes (I prefer Sophie to Sophia as well).

Hello this is Silvia. I never knew that Silvia is such an old lady in American ears! I am 21 and I do have a friend Sylvia who is one month older than me.
I am Chinese hence my name Silvia was not picked by my parents to be written on the birth certificate. I picked it myself when I was in grade seven or eight and I always love it! I came to the states three years ago for college and have had so much complements for my name =] However, I do feel that Americans are a little bit surprised when I tell them to spell it as s-i-l-via instead of s-y-l-via. Frankly speaking, I didn’t know that there is a more common spelling with the y when I pick the name. I did feel a little bad in the past three years about the uncommon spelling but now I LOVE it, choosing “more ancient” over “more common”=]! I wouldn’t mind being imagined as a more sophisticated lady older than I am LOL.
Regarding nn, my boyfriend calls me Sil. Yes, it’s a little bit weird for Chinese couple to call each other by English name-.- But I do love it. And my boyfriend actually prohibits anyone else from calling me Sil LOL

My 15mo DD is Sylvie. I have yet to be asked if it is a NN for Sylvia. Instead, most people look at me like I have three heads and ask me to repeat it. I always just say it’s like Sylvia with an -e. That always clears things right up. I chose it because a) I tend to be a francophile when it comes to names, and b) I find it effervescent and sweet, but not cloying.

That’s true, Expectant Mom. But I think this is one of those issues like Caitlin. Yes, it is the most authentic spelling – but use it, and you’ll hear “Oh, what an interesting spelling! I’ve never seen Kaitlyn with a C before!” Or try to convince someone that Aubrey and Avery are boys’ names when they’re both so popular for girls …

Sylvie stands nicely on her own because, as you say, she’s a perfectly legit choice in French. But just like there are plenty of girls christened Sophia and called Sophie, I think we’ll see girls named Sylvia and called Sylvie. It might not be technically correct, but that’s only a tiny part of the picture in how we use given names.

I know more than one Julia who answers to Julie …

Sylvie is not a nickname for Sylvia anymore than Olivier is not a nickname for Oliver; it is simply the French form of the name. Maybe in the U.S. people are not accustomed to hearing (totally legitimate) French forms of names.

wow i didn’t know that my name meand all these things now i know why i like nature !in the beginings i didn’t like my name cuz nobody knew or have it but now i like it cuz its special !

As I mentioned above, I DID name my daughter Sylvia. She’s now 13 months and feisty as can be. I’ve been toying with nicknames recently and I’ve come up with Syl, Sylvie, Liv, Via, Viv, Vivi, and Sivi…. None have seemed to stick yet. I guess I’ll see how she pronounces her own name as she learns to speak and maybe we’ll find something there. πŸ™‚

(And as predicted, our own parents didn’t like the name, but have since gotten over it. I can’t imagine her as anything else and have gotten nothing but compliments from everyone else.)

hello, this is Silvia from Spain. I like my name very much but i have just recently had a girl and i’ve named her like me… now i am thinking that it was a mistake because, although i like my name because now is not very used but it is not an strange name, now i see that two silvias in the same family is a little dificult. i don

I used to like Sylvia, very much, especially since it’s my mom’s middle name, but not anymore since I learned this was the middle name of Evil Elinor, a person from grade school (described her a bit too much on the NOTD post on Elinor).

Even though I don’t like now, I can see myself changing my mind and naming a daughter Sylvia, maybe Silvia?

I really liked Sylvia – a lot. πŸ™‚

But my husband said no, in 2005, because it was “too old-lady sounding.” I’d bring it up again, if we ever have another girl.

I guess my only issue with the name is that I have to think about how I’m spelling it, when I write it, because of the ‘y’ in there.

Oh and I do like the writing of Sylvia Plath and her suicide wouldn’t put me off using the name.

My name is Sylvia. I just turned 30 and yes, there were very few other Sylvia’s that I ever met growing up that were not either my mother’s or grandmother’s age. Actually I only know 1 who is about 5 years older then me. Being because I am of italian heritage that is the only reason that I probably ran into as many Silvia’s as I did at all!

I have always LOVED my name. I loved that it was unique (yet not unknown or uncommon)… I wasn’t just another Jessica or Katie which seemed so popular in my age group. I didn’t need to use my last initial at the end of my name to dicipher myself from the other kids in my class. I always thought it was beautiful and very sophisticated. And I have gotten many complements on my name over the years.

Funny though, a lot of people that maybe talk to me on the phone, or hear someone talk about me and then meet me are surprised becasue they automatically expect someone about 30 years older simply because of my name.

I too am very surprised that this name has not taken off along with the Sophia, Olivia, etc. popularity that has just spun out of control. I love both of those names as well but would never call my child that because they are such a trend name right now (that includes sophie). I like unique but not bizzar or unknown. So far my boys are Domenico Mario and Massimo Lorenzo (yes, very italian) and we are keeping our fingers crossed for the bun currently in the oven to be a girl. If I was not a Sylvia myself, I would definitly be considering it for my girl.

I am a 46 year old British Sylvia. I was always the youngest Sylvia I knew. I have never met another British Sylvia less than 20 years older than myself. When growing up the name was not old enough to be fashionable, just old fashioned.

Then there was a period when in popular UK television all the old prostitutes in various police series seemed to me be called Sylvia or Gloria. Sadly, likewise, the shortened name Sylvie became associated with a very popular “art” series of films in the 70s. Also in the 70s, a brewery in Scotland used to have pictures of scantily clad women on the outside of their tins of lager and one of them was called Sylvie.

I have never enjoyed the name. I can never remember a time when anyone has complimented me on my name. Perhaps now with the 70s and 80s gone from memory, the name will have a revival.

My 2-year-old son has a playground friend named Sylvie, but her parents moved to Texas from Bulgaria. Is the name popular in Eastern Europe? I really like the name, but it was the name of our gray cat when I was growing up. The cat passed on when I was only 3, so it doesn’t hold particular meaning for me, but I think it might be challenging for my sisters to get their heads around a child in the family who shares the name with a past beloved pet.

I was so happy to find this on your website! We’ve recently come across Silvia as a strong contender for a name for Baby Girl, due 9/5. I’m baffled that it hasn’t re-exploded in popularity in today’s naming world. After I went searching for it on Nameberry earlier today, here’s the comment I left (because I don’t think I can say it better than this!):

We are seriously considering Sylvia; although we prefer the Shakespearean spelling Silvia. I

Sylvia is our choice for our new arrival due in early May! It fits all of our criteria – and there were a LOT! It’s pretty and feminine – a big requirement on my part since I grew up with a “boy’s” name. It flows well with our last name, no bizarre nicknames, and it’s uncommon without being unusual. Love the natural meaning and that it’s a solid name with lots of history behind it. I’m sure my parents and IL’s will HATE it, but that’s OK with me, too – they had their chance to name their kids 20-something years ago and I’m not a huge fan of what they picked, so I take their opinions with a large grain of salt.

Smismar, that’s the right attitude, LOL! It’s so interesting to me that some grandparents-to-be want to know what happened to the “normal” names like Jason and Melissa. It’s as if our tastes freeze in time when we’re of child-bearing age and never evolve. Fortunately, surveys suggest that 100% of grandparents fall head over heels with their new little descendants, be they Jennifer, Zelda, Harriet, Thayer, Baylee or Sylvia. πŸ™‚

Sylvie is my nickname in the US, and that’s what Americans call me once they feel very close to me, and it actually does sound little, cute, and happy. I love it! πŸ™‚ But it does not sound French at all to me, Danielle and Giselle are french and they do sound French on this side of the globe, but not Sylvie. If said by my French cousin though, then it does sound it’s actually being pronounced in French. I guess it’s a combination of the language, and accent, or I might just be biased because she’s French πŸ™‚

I do have old lady names, Silvia In

I’m with Lola, Sylvia is pushing as an old lady name πŸ™‚
I adore her, but I am truly in love with Sylvie. She’s in one of my top 3 spots too, as Sylvie Viola Jane / Sylvie Elisabeth Pearl.
I just wish I still had my French maiden name.. Sylvie Delacroix is way cooler than Sylvie Graham!

What a debate!

I tend to dislike two syllable names that end in the “ee” sound unless they’re unusual – Xanthe is one of the few that I would consider. (Once upon a time, Zoe was on that list, too.) But that’s a very personal bias – I hated being an Amy.

Many of them do tend to sound like nicknames – Tracy, Stacey, Molly, Sadie – and I find them pleasing only when they *are* nicknames. But then, there are others that certainly stand on their own. How can we forget Mary? And, of course, there are all those stolen-from-the-boys appellations: Ashley, Kelly, Riley, Bailey.

I think Sylvie is the kind of name that could stand on her own, mostly because it is a valid option in France. I’m less generous with names of recent invention. To my ear, Kayla seems less than sophisticated, but Kaylie is truly dreadful.

Still, I’d probably opt for Sylvia on the birth certificate. I far prefer names with options, and I’ve never been one of those “name her EXACTLY what you’ll call her” types.

I like the idea of Natasha as a NotD, DH – let me dig out my calendar and find her a day!

I think it’s just one of those irrational things, Lola. Even though I KNOW Sylvie and Sophie are full, legit names, the “ie” ending is perpetually cute because it’s used in diminutives.

It kind of reminds me of my Ukrainian friend whose name was Natalia nn Natasha. She couldn’t believe that people in the US actually gave their daughters the full name Natasha because, in her home country, Natasha was strictly a nickname and very common one at that. Natalia nn Natasha in the Ukraine = Jennifer nn Jenny in the US.

That might make for an interesting NOTD, AM: Natalia and or Natasha.

Another, I’m totally with you (and yes, I’m Kayt). Lola, to my very American ear, if there is a name ending in something else, but especially A, like Sylvia, Sophia, Emma, Jenna, etc. have corresponding nicknames: Sylvie, Sophie, Emmy, Jenny, etc. If you’re French, it makes sense to be Sylvie or Sophie, but most people will assume it’s a nickname for a more common, longer name.

It just sounds the same as if you were to name your child Mikey, Davey, or Debbie. To an ear used to nicknames ending in -ie, Sylvie fits right in. It doesn’t sound like a formal name; it sounds like a nickname.

I must learn to word things so Brits don’t get offended by my typical American sensibilites.

Yeah, but not everywhere, Another. I should have asked “Why are Americans unable to remember that Sylvie & Sophie (in particular) are French names, a la Danielle, Michelle, Renee et al”? I really must remember to word things more precisely. My fault. sorry!

Lola, typically, names that end in -ie, -y, or -i are nicknames:
Jenny
Dani
Charlie
Kenny
Stewie
Stevie
Margie
Connie
etc.

Sylvie fits in there, too.

Hey DH! Sylvia’s not middle aged, she’s almost seriously Old Lady! Like I said before, Sylvia’s pushing 75 for me! Sylvia in my head is friends/playmates with Evelyn, Susan, Brenda, Geraldine, Phyllis, Barbara & Carol (Rhonda was way down in the 800’s in 1940) But I’ll give you Linda ! πŸ˜€

Why does everyone feel Sylvie’s a nickname? It’s the French version of old lady Sylvia. (Just as Sophie is the French version of Sophia, which I still think is old lady!) And Silvia is strictly hispanic for me (I live in an area witha huge Brasilian community and Siliva is there in spades amongst the 20 somethings. I hear it frequently downtown).

I still don’t get why most feel Sylvie’s a nickname, *sigh* That’s just wrong to me. Would someone try to explain it? I always end up odd man out on one level or another. Well, that’s normal at least. Count me odd, I prefer lighthearted, happy, silvery Sylvie and that’s just the way I roll… apparently. πŸ˜†

Sylvia has so much that makes it perfect for my family—the meaning, the Italian connection, the Shakespeare connection, the poetic connection—that I want to love it passionately. BUT, I have to agree with Lola that it still feels a bit middle-aged to me. Sylvia is best buds with Rhonda and Linda, right?

Silvia actually freshens it up a bit for me. It looks a little more multi-cultural and *now* to me. However, I don’t know that I would ever want to saddle a kid with the less common spelling of a name.

Sylvie is adorable but sounds too much like a nickname to me to stand on its own. So many variables with this one . . . I don’t know if it’s something I could make work or if I should just let it go.

I like Sylvia. I like that she reminds me of the woods – I picture dappled sunlight on a bed of pine needles when I say the name out loud. I also like the way her name sounds silvery. It’s a nice homophonic link if nothing else. I have a great-aunt Sylvia – but we’ve never called her that. She’s always been Aunt Sissy. I don’t think this is a good nickname for today’s standards – especially since in our house “sissy” is what we do on the toilet. I’m with Kayt (I think that’s who that is) on the nickname front. I don’t think Silvie and Sophie are good stand-alones. But I’d be charmed to meet a young Sylvia. The only other one I’veknown was my mid 30s OB/GYN. It seemed out of place on an adult around my age, but I think it works for a modern tot.

I adore Sylvia. It’s my second choice for a girl’s name, after Daphne. I think that Sylvia will come back with a vengence because of its natural meaning and its similarity in sound to Olivia and Sophia. Parents that want that modern but classic sound might hear it and use it without giving much thought to the meaning or background.

I think Sylvie is a cute nickname, but I wouldn’t really want to see it come back on its own. I can’t stand Sylvie and Sophie as given names. They’re nicknames!

I think you’ve got it right, light, peppy Sylivie will lead for this name. Maybe because my mother had several friends names Sylvia (My mother was born in 1940), I still feel Sylvia’s age. I like her history but Sylvia feels positively ponderous to me. Sylvie is what appeals, both visually and audibly. I’m also very partial to the masculine French version: Sylvain. I’m a huge animation buff and easily one of the best I’ve seen is ” Les Triplettes de Belleville ” by Sylvain Chomet (he’s working on a new one now and I can’t wait to see it, Belleville blew me away).

I toy with Sylvie for a girl myself. the other half will not entertain Sylvain on a boy. πŸ™‚ but Sylvie is sweet. Light, fresh, almost peppy and yes, happy feeling. She’s great. I think she feels suitably Frech and meshes well with my surname I just worry, would a little Sylvie of mine feels shortchanged next to opulent sister Josephine (wo really does get Josephine more often than any nickname)? Anyone have a thought or two on this? Also, How aweome would twins Remus & Sylvie be? πŸ˜‰

I’m not so sure I’ll like the remake of “the Women”. Sultry Rosalind Russell’s character being played by Annette Bening? I just can’t wrap my head around it. Annette Bening’s alright but she’s no Rosalind Russell! Sylvia Plath was a modern woman stuck in an era she didn’t belong in. I’ve always felt sorry for her and have always thrilled to see inside her head with her poetry. She made me like the name back when my friends were naming dolls things like Jill and Karen. Mine were Sylvia, Charlote and Helen. πŸ˜€

Either way, I’d love to see Sylvie/Syliva come back.. as long as she doesn’t pull a Sophia/Sophie. Sophie is a standalone name as is Sylvie! that drive me bananas.

And an aside for Verity… how are you holding up, dear? The heat must really be getting to you. Hope all’s well!