Why the name "Sylvester"? #names

Erika Gottfried

In my Grossberg family from (or around) Vilkija, Lithunia, I discovered that there were two or three pairs of brothers and sisters, all with the same first and last names—and all born around the same time in St. Louis (and yes, it is totally maddening to keep them straight). I was able to figure out for whom they were named: my second great grandmother, Sarah Judah Bowes, who died near the end of 1905, right before the first of them was born.   Each sister-brother pair was named Julia  and Sylvester Grossberg.  My question is:  with all the names beginning with S, why was “Sylvester" chosen as a given name for the boys?  And not just once, but twice or three times. It seems like an unusual choice. Sylvester was not a common name (at least in St. Louis in the 1910s--I know because I checked the census).  Was there a Hebrew or Yiddish name it might have been referring to? Or was there perhaps a figure in American or local popular culture named Sylvester—the Brittney Spears, so to speak, of its time, whom it might have been referencing? 

Erika Gottfried
Teaneck, New Jersey


I can't tell you way but Sylvester in  my Levy family dates back to the early 1800 with a family from Koschmin, Pleschen, Posen, Prussia . Now, I believe is Kroroszyn, Powiat krotoszyfiski, Welkoposkie, Poland.  The Hebrew on the tombstone states birth at "Kashfein". It is Sylvester Louis Levy 1808 circa-1868 who is buried in Memphis. He, wife and 4 children arrived in NYC in 1857. Slyvester was used in three generations of his two sons. Its use died out with the last male in each brother's line.

Jane Foss

It may be a variant of Saul or Sol, according to the research I've done..the general meaning of the name refers to forests, and is found in the state's name, PennSYlVANIA, which had lots of forests...janefoss

Lee Hover

I had an uncle, born c. 1900, named Sylvan, probably after his GF, Simon.



New Year's Eve is referred to as Sylvesterabend in German.  You said that your great grandmother died at the end of 1905. Perhaps the children's names refer to the date.

John Anderson

I have a Sylvester King COHEN (12 Jul 1882-08 Sep 1949) who was also born in St. Louis......how common, I have no idea, but Sylvester combined with King! How about that?

John Anderson

EdrieAnne Broughton

The name Sylvester is a Latin origin name meaning 'wooded' or 'wild' without a Christian origin which made it acceptable to languages short on neutral religious origin given names.
                                                                  EdrieAnne Broughton
                                                                  Vacaville, California

Kenneth Ryesky

But Pope Sylvester was, to say the least, not very friendly towards the Jews.  This detracts from the "neutrality" of the name Sylvester.
Here in Israel (as in Europe) the word is often used to refer to New Year's Eve, because it coincides with the feast day of St. Sylvester.
-- KHR

Ken Ryesky
Petach Tikva, ISRAEL


Ukraine:  Yelizavetgrad:  Broad/Brodsky (also Odessa), Gertzig/Gertzog
Ukraine/Russia/Turkey:  Yevpatoriya:  Israelson, Arshenov

Ken Ryesky,  Petach Tikva, Israel     kenneth.ryesky@...

Friedman, H George

"But Pope Sylvester was, to say the least, not very friendly towards the Jews. This detracts from the "neutrality" of the name Sylvester."

There have been at least three popes named Sylvester.

George Friedman

Susan J. Gordon

Re: "Sylvesterabend in German" -- my Hungarian cousin, Eva, who survived the Holocaust in and out of hiding in Budapest, called New Year's Eve "Sylvester Night." This date was particularly harrowing in 1944, when "the Germans and Nyilas [Hungarian Nazis] were fighting against the Russians."
Susan J. Gordon
Ukraine - Zbaraz, Skalat, Chernivitzi, Lvov