Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Sylvia

Sylvia is derived from an Old Roman family name Silvius from the early Latin “silva” meaning “wood, forest”. Three things make the female name Sylvia/Silvia notable. For one, Rhea Silvia was the mythical mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome in the 8th century B.C. She was the daughter of the King of Alba Longa (an ancient city in Latium that predated Rome) who was also descended from Aeneas (mythological hero who defended Troy against the Greeks). Rhea Silvia’s father and brother were killed by her hostile uncle who usurped power in Alba Longer. To ensure she did not procreate a potential rival heir, Rhea Silvia was compelled to become a Vestal Virgin (a virgin priestess to the goddess of hearth and home). However, Silvia became pregnant with Romulus and Remus, seduced by the god of war (Mars) who spotted her in the forest and impregnated her. The name Rhea Silvia means “guilty woman from the forest” composed of the ancient Latin elements “rea” (guilty) and “silva” (“forest”) in reference to her seduction by Mars when she was supposed to remain virginal. In any case, had Silvia not bore her twins, then the founding of Rome many never have taken place (essentially making her the matriarch of Rome). The next Silvia we’ll mention is the 6th century saint (also the mother of Pope Gregory the Great); she was the one who really served to popularize the name Silvia during the Middle Ages (naming children after saints was all the rage in medieval times). Lastly, Silvia is a Shakespearean character and so enjoys a fair amount of literary cachet. In the Bard’s 1591 play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” Silvia is the willful daughter of the Duke of Milan who rebels against her father in an effort to be with her one true love Valentine. So the name Silvia is very multifaceted when it comes to mythology, saintliness and literature. From the 19th century onward, Sylvia became the preferred English spelling of this old Latin beauty.

All About the Baby Name – Sylvia



The number Seven personality is deeply mystical and highly in tune with their spirituality. They operate on a different wavelength than the average joe. Spending time alone comes easily to Sevens, as it gives them time to contemplate philosophical, religious and spiritual ideas in an effort to find "real truth".  Sevens are wise, but often exude mystery as if they are tapped into something the rest of us don't understand. They love the outdoors and are fed by nature. Sevens are constantly seeking to understand human nature, our place in the universe, and the mystery of life in general. This makes them quite artistic and poetic, but they are also keen observers with high intellect - so they are equally scientific-minded. Sevens are charitable and care deeply about the human condition.



Not surprisingly, Sylvia has been around in America since at least the 19th century. In fact, back at the turn of the 20th century, Sylvia was slowly making her way to the Top 100. Between 1909 and 1954 Sylvia did enjoy her place in the sun and was often a popular name choice for American baby girls. Her greatest achievement on the charts came in 1937 when Sylvia was the 50th most commonly used girl’s name in the country. However, by the 1980s, it became clear that Sylvia was going out of style as she continued her quiet descent down the charts. Today Sylvia is used with very little frequency. The name remains familiar and recognizable; it’s just not that common anymore (except maybe on our grandmas and great aunts). Sylvie is the French version which we think is cute, and Silly Sylvia is a possible affectionate nickname. Sylvia is a beautiful, classic, ancient and fairly neglected name today. That’s good news for parents looking for a traditional choice, but one that’s not trendy and overused (for instance, Sylvia instead of Sophia). Sylvia is a name to consider, especially if you can see the forest for the trees.

Quick Facts













From the forest










Cultural References to the Baby Name – Sylvia

Literary Characters


Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Sylvia

Popular Songs


a song by Paul Robeson

Sylvia Plath
a song by Ryan Adams

Son & Sylvia
a song by Eric Clapton

Famous People


Sylvia Plath (writer)
Sylvia Browne (psychic)
Queen Silvia of Sweden (royalty)
Sylvia Crawley (basketball player)
Sylvia Robinson (musician/record executive)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Sylvia

Historic Figures


Sylvia Plath was the much lauded and tormented poet and author of The Bell Jar, who tragically took her own life at the age of thirty. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a professor of German and biology, Otto, and his wife, Aurelia Schober Plath, whom he met while she was his master’s student at Boston University. Otto died when Sylvia was only eight years old, and this seems to have had a profound effect upon the rest of her life. Sylvia was ambitious and driven from the start, writing poetry and journals from an early age. Along with her literary proliferation, Sylvia suffered from bouts of depression and attempted suicide, enduring psychotherapy and electroshock treatments. In 1952, she won the magazine Mademoiselle’s fiction contest, earning her a place as a guest editor for a month the following year, out of which grew her experiences as related in The Bell Jar. Upon graduation from Smith College, she matriculated at Cambridge University in England, where she met and married, in 1956, the man who was to later become England’s Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. Together they embarked upon a golden future of love and poetry, which, as is well documented, fell into ashes before many years passed. While happy about giving birth to her daughter and son, Sylvia was nonetheless still subject to depressions, a state that was not at all helped by Ted’s affair with another woman, for whom he left Sylvia and the children. Deeply awash in her own sorrows, Sylvia committed suicide by oven-gassing herself in her little London flat on February 11, 1963, while her small children slept in a sealed-off bedroom close by. Her prolific output remains to offer some consolation for a life cut so short, but the tragedy of that suicide seems to have recreated itself over again. In 1969, the woman for whom Ted Hughes left Sylvia, Assia Welville, killed herself and their four year old daughter. In 2009, one of those little children in the bedroom, her son, Nicholas, killed himself at the age of 47. In 1970, Ted Hughes married again, to Carol Orchard; they remained married until his death in 1998 and they had no children. Months before Sylvia committed suicide, Ted Hughes wrote to a family member that no one seemed to understand “Sylvia’s particular death-ray”, which apparently made it “… impossible for me to live married to.” Indeed.