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 français. The English adopted the “y” spelling, but kept the “a” ending, and voilà – 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.