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Sylvia Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

Learn about the name Sylvia including the meaning, gender, origin, popularity, and more.

Sylvia Overview

  • Meaning: Sylvia means woods or forest.
  • Gender: Sylvia is typically used as a girl’s name.
  • Origin: Sylvia comes from the Latin word “Silva.” Its origins go back to the Roman pantheon.
  • Pronunciation: “Sil-VEE-ah.”
  • Popularity: Sylvia is a popular girl name.
  • Nicknames: Silla, Silly, Sly, Syl, Sylv Sylvie, Vi, Vee.
  • Variations: Silvia, Silvie, Silvija, Sylkkä, Sylwia, Szilvia.
  • Namesakes: Sylvia Earle, Sylvia Gruchala, Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Schofield, Sylvia Syms.

What Does Sylvia Mean?

Sylvia means “woods” or “forest” (1). It comes from the Latin word “Silva,” which means “woods.”

What Is the Origin of the Name Sylvia?

Sylvia is a name with Ancient Roman origins. It derives from a Latin word, and as mythology evolved, it developed several associations beyond the initial sylvan connotations of trees and dells.

Sylvia is also a name that became associated with Silvanus (2). He’s a lesser god of the Roman and Greek pantheon and acts as the protector of trees and forests. He sometimes appears in the English pastoral as Silvius, the ubiquitous shepherd.

The other origin for Sylvia comes from Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus. According to the myth, this woodland sprite was ambushed and raped by Mars, and the mythological twins resulted from the union (3).

William Shakespeare first brought the name to England in his poem, “Who is Sylvia?” The song appears in Two Gentlemen of Verona (4).

Many of his plays also integrate the Silvius shepherd figure, most famously in As You Like It, where Rosalind’s Ganymede persona tries to teach shepherd Silvius how to court young women (5).

How Popular Is the Name Sylvia?

Since 2000, Sylvia hovered between being fairly popular to a popular name.

As of 2000, Sylvia was a fairly popular name, ranking 502 out of 1000 most popular girl names. In 2004, it fell to 559 but remained fairly popular.

However, by 2014, Sylvia was a popular name and ranked 493 out of the 500 most popular girl names (6).

Between 2014 and 2021, the name Sylvia oscillated between being fairly popular and popular. At present, it remains a popular name.

In 2020, it was only fairly popular, sitting at 505 out of the 1000 most common girls’ names. At present, it is 467 out of the 500 most popular girls’ names, making Sylvia again a popular choice.

How Do I Pronounce Sylvia?

You pronounce Sylvia: “Sil-VEE-ah.” The stress falls on the middle syllable. The “a” at the end is long, as is the preceding “i.” Conversely, the “y” in the first syllable makes a short “i” sound.

Is Sylvia a Boy or Girl Name?

Sylvia is primarily a girl’s name. That’s because, like Greek and German, Latin genders its nouns. The Latin root of the name, “Silva,” is feminine, as is the minor goddess the name gets most frequently linked with.

Variations of Sylvia

Variations on Sylvia include:

  • Silvia (English, German)
  • Silvie (Croatian)
  • Silvija (Latvian)
  • Silviya (Bulgarian)
  • Sylkkä (Finnish)
  • Sylvie (French)
  • Sylwia (Polish)
  • Szilvia (Hungarian)

Nicknames for Sylvia

There are many ways to shorten Sylvia. Parental favorites include:

  • Silla
  • Silly
  • Sly
  • Syl
  • Sylv
  • Sylvie
  • Vi
  • Vee

Similar Names to Sylvia

If you aren’t sure Sylvia is the right name for your family, names with similar meanings and origins include:

Middle Names for Sylvia

Parents who chose Sylvia as a first name for a child frequently consider the following middle names for her:

Sibling Names for Sylvia

When choosing a name for siblings of Sylvia, parents have many options. Here are some of the most popular choices.

For a Brother

Popular boys’ names for brothers of Sylvia are:

For a Sister

Popular names for sisters of Sylvia include:

Famous People Named Sylvia

History is full of noteworthy women named Sylvia. Some of the best-known include:

  • Queen Sylvia of Sweden: A Swedish Queen.
  • Sylvia Earle: An American oceanographer.
  • Sylvia Gruchala: A Polish fencer.
  • Sylvia Plath: An American novelist and poet.
  • Sylvia Schofield: a British writer and traveler.
  • Sylvia Syms: An English actress.

Sylvia in Popular Culture

There is also a varied selection of fictional Sylvias across television and literature. Some of the most memorable are:

  • Sylvia: A character in the 1960s film La Dolce Vita.
  • Sylvia: A protagonist in the short story A White Heron by Sarah Orne Jewett.
  • Sylvia Costas: A character on NYPD Blue.
  • Sylvia Fine: A character in the TV series The Nanny.
  • Sylvia Goodwin: A character in the British soap opera Coronation Street.
  • Sylvia Lyyneheym: A character in the novel and anime The Asterisk War.

Sylvia FAQs

If you still are undecided about the name Sylvia, here are some other questions parents frequently ask when considering the name for their child.

What Nationality Is Sylvia?

Sylvia derives from Latin, and so its nationality is Italian by way of Ancient Rome. However, several variations on the name exist in other countries.

Who Is Sylvia in Shakespeare?

Sylvia is a character in the Shakespeare play, Two Gentleman of Verona. The famous song to Sylvia comes from this play. It is sung by Sylvia’s suiter Proteus in Act 4, scene 2 (7).

What Is the Male Version of Sylvia?

There are several male versions of the name Sylvia. For years, the male equivalent was Sylvius. However, this has fallen out of fashion, and today you are more likely to hear Sylvio used as the male version of Sylvia.

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