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About the Silvius surname

MINI-THESIS ON THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE NAME SILVIUS by Edia Silvis


The following is not really genealogy. It is a proposed explanation of the etymology or derivation of the name Silvius/Silveus. Although I make no pretense of being a scholar, my "credentials" in this regard include the fact that I speak two foreign languages fluently, and have done translation work, as well as a great deal of public speaking in both languages, over a period of over 25 years. In addition, I have studied two other languages, and taken courses in phonetics. Although I have a good concept of how languages work, I am far from being a linguist or an etymologist.

Fact number one: according to a dictionary that I have, the following definition shows something that might be significant concerning the name Silvius:

Sylvian fissure Anat. See lateral fissure. [named after Sylvi(us). Latinized form of Jacques Dubois (d. 1555), French anatomist; see -an]

Fact number two: the Latin word for woods is "silva" and the Latin word for son is "filius".

Fact number three: du bois means "of the woods" in French.

Fact number four: The name Silvius is found in my dictionary and defined as follows: noun (in the Aeneid) a son of Aeneas. The Aeneid is the Latin epic poem by Vergil, recounting the adventures of Aeneas after the fall of Troy. Also in Roman legend, a king of Alba Longa was named Aeneas Sylvius [alternate spelling, Aeneas Silvius].

Now, working with the above facts, for some tentative conclusions.

1) It seems clear that Silvius is originally a Latin name. If it can be considered a Belgian French name today, we must recognize the proven fact that it was a Latin name over a thousand years earlier (closer to 2,000 ??).

2) The meaning of our name is "of the woods", not "son of the woods". This is shown by the fact that the French name Dubois, meaning literally, "of the woods" (depending on the context, it could also be translated "some wood") translates into Latin as Silvius [actually Sylvius, which is an alternate spelling]. The word "son" is supplied or inferred. It could be "[man] of the woods".

Imagine a conversation between two Romans a couple centuries before the Christian era. It goes something like this. "Who is that guy?" "That's Julius." "Which Julius?" "Oh, that's Julius who lives in the woods [literally, Julius of the woods']." But what he says in Latin is "Julius Silvius". Now, in case you think this is far fetched, let me tell you of a parallel example that I know of in modern times. We have a friend from Quebec who visited us this summer. Her surname is Lapointe. She told us that her family name was originally something else (I can't remember it), but that on the island where her ancestors lived, there were so many people with the same surname that they differentiated some of them by saying that they were the ones who lived on the point of the island, the point being, obviously, "la pointe", in French. And now the original name is lost (in usage at least) and they are just called Lapointe.

Now, going back to our old Romans, there were probably a lot of them who lived in wooded areas and became known as Silvius, i.e. "of the woods."

Maybe sometimes in conversation someone would refer to a mountain and someone else would ask, "Which mountain do you mean?" and the answer would be, "The wooded mountain" {Silvius mountain). Or of a river. They could specify which river was meant by saying, "The river that runs through the woods." (Silvius river). So, in a country with woods and forests, this would be a very common name, both for people and for places. Note that here I am less sure. This would need to be verified by someone who knows Latin.

3) Yes, indeed, Silvius is a very old Roman name, found in the ancient legends, but that probably doesn't mean much, if anything at all, as far as our family genealogy is concerned.

4) The French name Dubois and the Belgian/German/Latin name Silvius/Silveus mean the same thing, but this fact probably has no significance from the point of view of genealogy.

5) As far as any serious genealogy of our family is concerned, we better forget about the Romans, and Pope Pius II as well, for that matter, even though his literary name was Aeneas Sylvius (also according to my dictionary).

All of the above is tentative, but I feel quite sure that I am on solid ground in my reasoning.

NOTE: The definitions given above are taken from the 1983 edition of WEBSTER'S ENCYCLOPEDIC UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE published by Gramercy Books, New York/Avenel, New Jersey. This dictionary is based on the first edition of THE RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, THE UNABRIDGED EDITION, copyright 1983.

Copyright 2000 Edia Monroe Silvis ediasilvis@tbscc.com