Etymology of Names Beginning with Flav- or Silv- (Sylv-)



This article proposes to show an etymological relationship between the feminine names Flavia and Silvia (and similar ones), and their male counterparts. It argues that the Proto-Indo-European root of the “Silvia” group – whatever it may be – is identical to that of the Flavia series. The procedure considers any hypothetical root; then takes advantage of disagreements which exist on word origins to support the present thesis; and finally suggests – though it be a minor point – that the number of Indo-European roots could be reduced. By so doing, further coincidental relationships between the two words become even more prominent. As a web-based article – with the intention of attracting the general reader through subjective interpretations such as could be derived through word associations made through popular psychological analyses – it goes beyond both the format and rigor strictly appropriate to a journal, and thus dispenses with the necessary empirically substantiated and properly marshalled evidence. If the associations and the other assumptions herein made are correct, we find a surprising repetition of two colours which touch one another when light is broken through a prism – yellow and green, but the casual reader is offered gold and silver.

[It is expected that this article will be expanded and improved, once a laborous review has been conducted.]


Since the first time I met someone with a name which sounded strange to my ears – back in 1972 – I have made efforts to find out what that name might mean. This interest later included words in general. On this page, two sets of names are presented, a pair beginning with “Fla”, another with “Sil”, which, through association by sound, should include “Syl”.

The basic origin of these words can, of course, be found elsewhere, so the reader can check the truth of what is herein stated. At least one web-page goes into what kind of personality a person with a certain name would have. This is insufficiently serious for us, but we do not deny that a person might be psychologically affected by known associations of a name, to persons who had the same one – for this reason the name Adolf is avoided in Anglo-Saxon countries. Likewise, the original meaning of a name might influence an individual’s self-esteem.

Some of the following may be too technical for the casual reader, who might just want to go on directly to the section for Flavia or Silvia. Beyond that, everything is our explanation of how the conclusions of this article were reached.

Taking into consideration what was just explained, this article proposes to be different from others in at least two ways: firstly, we propose that there exists a relationship between the two groups of words herein under discussion. It may be fanciful as an idea, but the arguments we present are based on facts. Many of the strands of thought we have had may have been the result of mere coincidence, but we do find, in some cases, three or more disagreements about the origin of a specific word. Our sources do not justify their conclusions, while in this document the reasons are shown for the present writer’s assertions. Others might care to comment on their validity.

Of course, our primary audience, – by which I mean that group of people who will be giving this web page the most hits – does not want to read something overly technical, and certainly does not want words of a negative connotation to abound. So, our second objective, somewhat in line with what is found on more fanciful web-pages on the meaning of names, is to emphasize positive associations derived from the roots to common expressions. However, the average reader is warned, that avoiding the negative is not always convenient. Any ill-sounding association need not necessarily be considered as demeaning a name, because even some words which are eschewed in polite speech have affinities with perfectly innocent ones (particularly fruitful is the root of the word “section”, and Carl Sagan suggested a Dutch word meaning “to fight” as the origin of one of our more notorious (usually) taboo words in his book, The Dragons of Eden.

To use a more common example, the Indo-European root “bhad-”, from which the word “better” is derived, means “good”. Ghetto slang accidently was right, in that sense. (The comparative of bhad– must be bhadder!)

While this is not the place to discuss principles such as Grimm’s Law, we do make some effort to show that the applicability of the definitions we are about to enunciate do extend beyond Indo-European languages. At least a passing reference is made to languages as diverse as Arabic, Chinese, and even an item from the original inhabitants of Australia. It would have been desirable to find similar results in Amerindian or Sub-Saharan languages, but the author has no access to material allowing the necessary research.

A word of warning about the so-called roots that we quote: these are not written in the same way in all works. For example, one reference work may use a gw-, while another uses gu-, this one may use ghu-, that one, ku-. When it is difficult to understand some speech variants in one’s own language, we can certainly expect differences of interpretation of the approximate sound of a word as it was pronounced thousands of years ago.

Furthermore, because of a slow computer, questions of time, and the quality of the OCR interpretation of some of our sources, we may have omitted some noteworthy items – not to mention that we may have been inconsistent in appraising some of the more obscure “possible” roots of the names.

Finally, this writer holds that any false etymology also has its uses, in that the casual reader who might want to study a foreign language can copy the techniques used here to create mnemonics to help in learning new vocabulary.

We are reminded of the theory of Edenics, which suggests that the Indo-European languages came from the Hebrew. True or not, the reading of such a work would be more fruitful than attention paid to sports or fashion.


Let us begin by giving the definitions as they will be used herein.

The preceding word, “definitions”, is adopted from mathematics, not from linguistic studies. These definitions are like those of a dot, a line, and a circle, and are given for the general reader as a simplified starting point to understanding the arguments presented below. One may be assured that these “definitions” are based on fact. We might substitute the words “postulates” – which is more accurate, or “rules”, which is how these are applied in specific arguments of the following. While we head each of these numerically, for ease in remembering, they have an alphabetical counterpart, to be used as a mnemonic.

Definition 0. Important: Languages mentioned in the following definitions are for indicative purposes only, to show that a certain letter can be substituted, but is not limited to our examples, nor guaranteed to have happened in any specific instance, including those given in our arguments.

Definition 1. “*”: This represents the presence or absence of a vowel or a diphthong, which may be clearly pronounced, fleetingly; or not at all. All vowels are equal, although as shown in the American Heritage Dictionary (1981, this reference henceforth given as AH), the original forms come from “e”, and then “o”. Henceforth, this will simply be marked “*”, without the quotation marks. As representative of a vowel, and our first definition, this is Def. A.

Definition 2. “B”, as derived from a root “bh” can be shown in Russian by a letter which looks exactly the same, but is pronounced as “V”. In some Hebrew textbooks, the letter “beth” is given the aspirate transliteration “bh”, while the hard version is “b”. It is possible in Spanish, that certain speakers pronounce both letters in the same way. A “B” in the final position, in Russian, Turkish, and German, is pronounced “P”, while a final “V” in the same languages would be pronounced “F” through the influence of “bh” to “Ph” in words derived from Greek. This will be marked as Def. Bh.

A difficult to understand transformation is found in this pair of English words, bellicose and duel, supposedly both derived from a common source, the “b” being the original letter. The illustration below does not include this rarity. Let us call this Def. B(d)

Definition 3. “C”, which has different pronunciations in “Can” and “Circle”, is representative of the split between Satem and Centum languages, the former having the “S” sound, the latter the “K” sound. To simplify, we will consider the former to be sibilants, and the latter as guttural sounds. We thus have the same relation between circle-can as in Chinese choir. This phenomenon is noted in languages as different from English and each other as Chinese and Arabic, where dialectical Peking is Beijing, or the word for “republic” in Arabic is more or less pronounced joomhooree-yah officially, but goomhooree-yah in some countries. “H” is sometimes in the “K” group. [Lacking the “H” sound, Russian substitutes the “G” ( Г).]

Definition 4. In final positions, “D” is pronounced “T” in German, Russian, and Turkish. The “D” may take on a “Th” quality in Spanish. This may be compared to the Hebrew letter daleth when aspirated. When German preferred to use a final “T” sound years preceding the Prussian spelling reform at the beginning of the 20th Century, it was represented by “th”. This is retained (by order of the then-ruling Kaiser) in the word “Thron”, recognizable as “throne”. Another example which would have been found in both languages is the name “Thomas”. This specific sound would approximate the aspirate taw of Hebrew.

Definition 5. “F” presents some complications. It is not found in the AH as an Indo-European root. We have already put it into Def. B, but there is a further possibility, that it replaces an “H”, in Iberian languages, e.g. pairs such as “harina” (flour) and “farina”, “hierro” and “fierro” (iron); “haz” and “faz” (both with the possible translation “face”), “formosa” (Portuguese) and “hermosa”, (Spanish: both mean “beautiful”).

“G”: This letter, a guttural, really belongs to def. C. We only wish to give an example here of the word “cat”, which is “gato” in Spanish, “gatto” in Italian. Final “G” of Russian and German are pronounced “k”, giving a further connection to def. C.

“H” did not exist in Proto-Indo-European, as shown in the AH. We apply Def. C or Def. F, as required. Nevertheless, an aspirate sound did exist in ancient Greek, and the study of French is slightly complicated by having to learn when this letter should be considered aspirate.

“J” is a deformation, in English, of Latin “I”. There exists, in a localized version of Spanish, what one calls the Greek “I”, translated as “Y”, and which happens to be the sound of “J” in German. In Spanish, the sound, according to some texts, or local dialects, is “H”, but more correctly, it is similar to the Scottish “loch” or German “Ich” [IPA symbol “x”]. The English “yellow”, and the German word of the same meaning, “gelb”, come from the same Indo-European root, but one ended up with the sound similar to a vowel, and the other guttural. Italian “giallo” of the same meaning gives us the English-type “J” sound again. Therefore, no new definition is given here.

Definition 6. “L” might convert to “R”, or vice-versa. Most people are familiar with the difficulty that may be encountered by people of the Far East, but an element of that phenomenon also exists in Iberian languages. “South”, a word of Germanic origin, “Süd”, is “sul” in Portuguese, and “sud” or “sur” in Spanish. We thus see an additional possible change for the letter “D” to have come from “R”. Some upper class inhabitants of the British Isles supposedly pronounce “very” very similar to “veddy”, and the correct Spanish pronunciation requires an element of something similar.

Definition 7. “N” is for nasal-infix – either the French nasal sound, or the equivalent with a vowel + “n” in English. This can also become “M”. Any word with a spoken vowel could then, if the following letters permit, become *n. Examples in English, all from the same root are “plant” and “place, and by Def. B, “flat”, which is found in the compound form “flatfish”, also known as “flounder”. The clearest example tying “N” to “M”, which need not be an infix, is our word for the symbol “7”: seven, which in Latin is septum, from which “September”, originally the seventh month, is derived, by applying definitions 1 and 2, and adding a suffix. In some Spanish-speaking regions, the final “n” is pronounced with the mouth closed, thus giving the “m” sound. For this author, who was confronted with this pronunciation without prior knowledge of its existence, the experience was disconcerting, and originally attributed to incorrect usage among the local population.

Definition 8. An final “S” or “SS” converts to “T” or “ST” in Low German or English, examples “Fuss” to “foot”, “Hass” to “hate” and “Nuss” to “nut”. This suggests that the “Th” of “Martha”, pronounced and written “Marta” in Spanish by Def. 4, could have an “S” or other sibilant component. We can see this in Spanish “marcial”, which is English “martial”, the root being the name of the warrior god, Mars. Through Def. 3, we have the Centum version, Mark. While “Martha” seems to be a word derived, not from Indo-European, but from Aramaic, it presents us with a phenomenon found in some Russian words, in that the “Th” converts to “F”. This writer once had a geography teacher of German-Yugoslav ancestry in Canada who spoke English imperfectly, always referring to “duh earf”, instead of “the earth”. Clearly, he was both influenced by the Slavic language and the German – this writer at a young age, was pronouncing “th” as “d”. A primary school teacher mocked him for saying “mudder” and “fodder” – how would she have reacted to a secondary school teacher with an even worse pronunciation? Should, by the remotest of chances, she still be alive and reading this, the writer has no hard feelings, even with political correctness rules, there will always be individuals who will mock foreign accents, but perfectionists will be pleased at the corrections offered.

While mixing definitions 3 and 4 together might make them sound very connected with the present one, this separation is necessary for clarity.

Definition 9. The “W” is so important to Indo-European, that, in spite of sharing characteristics with V (Latin “U” being written thus, and the name after all is Double-you in English, but in German, Fau (Fow!), obvious from its writing similar to a pair of Vs: VV), it also has a vocalic component – compare the French word for “yes”, “oui”. The form of this letter is strongly reminiscent of its Middle-Eastern origins, where we have in Arabic and Hebrew, the waw, vav, or the vau; with which one is led back to our “o”, “oo”, or “u”, as in “rue”. We might even compare the interjections “wow!” with “oh!”

Definition 10. By a phenomenon called metathesis, any combination represented by *c1*c2*c3*[–], where “c” is any consonant, can have the position of one of these consonants moved into the position of another. This rule must be applied sparingly. We give an example in our arguments below, which gives results which somewhat coincide with our arguments, but there are no other supporting reasons to have that argument taken seriously. When we look at potential Hebrew roots, we ignore this process completely.

Mnemonic Rules

Most of the above definitions can be remembered through mnemonics: A = 1, or all vowels, represented by the first letter of the alphabet; B, the second letter, represents partially similar looking P and F, and in other languages or sound, the V and perhaps W; C, the 3rd letter, represents the Satem and Centum languages, the S and the K (with H), the sibilants and the gutturals.

D, the 4th letter, represents D, Th, T (and separately, the R and maybe L); F, the 5th, shares its final sound with the first of fifth, and the weaker pronunciation in some words of “H”. Definition 6, “six”, beginning with “s”, could be remembered by our 3 examples of “south” in Iberian languages, or by the fact that R is 6 letters removed from L (which gave rise to the compound designation “LR”). Seven, with the last letter “N”, is about that nasalized vowel, and its companion “M”. It might also be remembered by considering the M written as IVI, then changing the positions to VII, giving the Roman numeral for 7. The “S” might be imprinted upon the number 8. Where we talk about “W”, in Def. 9, we have something looking like the Arabic “waaw”: “و”. Definition 10 might be remembered through the rule that 1+0 = 0 +1, which is the commutative rule for mathematics, which functions the same as metathesis does.



6 Names

Flavia and Silvia, Flavius and Silvio, etc., Names Associated as Outlined in the Accompanying Article



Justification for Non-Orthodox Etymologies

Originally, this author meant to hew as closely to standard etymologies as circumstances warranted, yet, there were word associations seemingly so adaptable, that ignoring them seemed to be an act of omission. Nevertheless, we were constrained by the necessity of avoiding ridicule for presenting what might seem to be far-fetched ideas. Therefore, in order to avoid being attacked for some material included here, we present two justifications:

  • The average reader, should that person chance upon the more technical explanations, is given a “light” tool by which [s]he might begin similar explorations. Even when false analogies are made, these can often be useful in the acquisition of further vocabulary, especially when studying foreign languages.
  • We believe that there are too many Indo-European roots. In the author’s incomplete compilation of a database of these, containing only 158 items up to the bhoso in the AT, there are 7 words meaning “to shine”. However, the completed database would have more than 1000 items, which exceeds the number of root words, if not the vocabulary, of a primitive people, and may be more than sufficient for even many inhabitants of the modern world. By way of illustration, we can point out the highly technical developments of contemporary Chinese society, which bases its language upon around 300 radicals. Since these are diagrams, rather than phonemes, they become the undeniable roots of the language. It would seem that Indo-European could not pretend to more, without at least falling liable to the accusation of a certain type of intellectual arrogance. This author can think of a way around this possible conundrum, but prefers to let others think about it for the time being.


Meanings of the “Flavia” Group of Names “Flavia”, “Flavian”, “Flaviana”,“Flavio”, “Flavius”

The “Flavia” group of names includes Flaviana, Flavienne, and the masculine counterparts, Flavio, Flavien, and Flavius

I really like this name. I once knew a Flavia, and immediately checked to see what the name meant. This was easy, as she worked in an Internet Cafe, at the time that these were everywhere, and I did not have an Internet connection. [The author still does not, and the availability of usable public connections is diminishing rapidly, for which reason replies and updates to articles may not be as prompt as they should be.]

The meaning of the name is “blond”, “blonde”, and sometimes found as “yellow”. “My” Flavia was raven-haired, but then parents do not always check into the meanings of the name they choose. This choice is most apropos when both the name is appealing, and the matching physical characteristic is present.

The New College Latin & English Dictionary by John C. Traupman gives additional translations, “reddish-yellow” and “golden”. We note that the colours mentioned can be applied to the sun, at one or another time of the day. Furthermore, if the last two colours named can be used as a description of the colour of amber, we may be on the track of another potential root. [See further below.]

The name, in a variant form is found in history. To the Flavian clan belonged the Roman Caesars Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. In this sense, we might say that the name is one of emperors, of majesty.

The name is derived from the Indo-European root bhel-1, according the AH. We select the more interesting meanings and derivations of this word – “to shine”, “shining white”, and “various bright colours”. Surprising derivations are “blue”, “black”, “to glow red”, “blush”, and “flamingo”. A diagram has been made to show this and other associations (see further below).

These colour words suggest kinship with the Proto-Indo-European word *pol-uo, from where we get blue, blond’, f. pláva, n. plávo; Sln. plàv ‘blue, pale, blond’ in Serbo-Croatian, and white, pale yellow, and yellow in one or more other Balto-Slavic languages. A note in the source for this paragraph [Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon] suggests that the one-time assumed Sanskrit root bradhná, which shares with bhel– the meanings ‘[pale] red, ruddy, yellowish, (plus “bay”) is incorrect. Our word “pallid” is a supposed cognate. Be that as it may, Wasserzieher, under “blond”, gives the Sanskrit word just mentioned as the possible root – meaning “reddish”. The older Dictionnaire gives the origin of “blond” as uncertain, and pel-6 as the root of pallid, which in the AH has pel-2 as a root. (The numbering is arbitrary, and is only given as an aid for anyone who cares to check the information provided.) A derivative is the French word “fauve”, meaning a yellow with suggestions of red.

We have suggested further above that Indo-European might have an excessive number of roots. If this thesis can be considered true, then we can postulate [an]other possible root[s], which, in translation, give[s] almost the exact colours represented by the name Flavia. That would be the root *poig-1, peig-1-, (variant peik), which gives us, in a cognate of Sanskrit, adjectives of the colours ‘reddish brown, reddish yellow, greenish yellow’; The first of these is from the Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon, [Rick Dirksen, (Leiden: Brill, 2008)] henceforth EDSIL.

In an effort to please those who carry the name under question, we mainly take a philosophical-literary analyis to the question, but we would also like to point out, that as a further supposition, we take the Indo-European roots (at least for the present purpose), to be of the form, C* (consonant plus vowel[s]). We have some paragraphs about this in our article, Biblical Hebrew Considered as Independent of 3-Consonant Root Structure, so the concepts will not be repeated here.

Insofar as orange is a colour between red and yellow, i.e. possibly reddish-yellow, we are reminded of amber, which, according to a Webster Collegiate Dictionary, is, on average, of a dark orange yellow – that would make it, speaking redundantly, a dark reddish-yellow yellow! We will come back to “amber” further below.

Our problem now is to show that this root has some relation with the one presented near the beginning of this section. Let us start by eliminating the pesky “g” ending. It is explained above, between def. 5 and 6, under “J”. The “p” to “bh” can be found under def. 2. Applying def. 2 and 10, we do find a derivation, the English word “file”, in the sense of the tool. In truth, this word has nothing to do with colour, but with the decoration of objects. A Latin derivative of the word means to embroider, tattoo, picture. We are surprised to see that the word of compound origin, “filigree”, is not included. By definition, it shares with embroider the idea of ornamental work, and adds, in its primary sense, gold and silver. The first of these 2 words has already been shown to be a meaning of Flavia, while the latter, through the root, is “shiny white”. And what a coincidence we have, in that the root of filigree also gives us the word “file”, in its other sense. But why should this be – if the root of filigree means thread, is that not what is used to embroider, which was a word found under peig-1?

Let us illustrate how we bundle the words beginning with pei. [Those interested in the positive attributes of the names of the Flavia group should remember to ignore the negative meanings of the following roots, which predate the name, but may explain some of the colour associations thereof.] That root alone means “to hurt”, and includes derivatives such as fiend, and possibly, according to the AT, passion (suggesting the colour red, as do various types of hurting). Peig-1 means to cut by incision, which, if done to the human body without anaesthetic, is to hurt. Peig-2 has meanings evil-minded and hostile, giving us a derivative of one who would hurt us, a foe, which thus ties in with pei. We give a “p” to “bh” transformation, and get the root bhei, giving us the word “bee”, and an Indo-European word meaning “to strike”. Both of these can be associated with hurting. If bhei can have the “i” converted to “l”, as is a common association between Spanish and Italian words, e.g. blanco, bianco (respectively), for “white”, we are back to our root bhel-1, from which an Old English word, blencan, meaning “to deceive” is derived. This can be comparable with Old English ficol, i.e. treacherous, from our peig-2. Now, the filagree requires twisting of materials, while deception requires the twisting of meaning. So, we have gone back and forth between different roots several times, and also found common bonds – through transformations of the letters, and through the idea of twisting.

Furthermore, we might note that the word “blanco” also means target, a thing struck. Yet our word target comes from French, reflected in Spanish by the word “tarjeta”, a card, usually white. This author prefers to believe that the origin is Semitic, like the Arabic for “to throw leaves”, “leaf”, or “paper”. What would be the target of throwing such an object is a strange question, but we could easily see a leaf (included in the definition is the idea of the leaves of a book) used as something to be aimed at.

We believe that we cannot trace etymological development of a language such as one might try to understand the acquisition of a ready-made language by a new-born, but must understand, by imagining how the original grunts of the first humans branched out into the necessary vocabulary for interaction with others. Were we to take the original “e” and “o” vowels, and some plosive sounds such as “bh” and “gh”, with the occasional nasalization, depending upon the position of the vowel, and limiting these to 4 sounds, we get, according to the rules previously more than enough possible words for any primitive language. This can be proven by applying the mathematics of permutations and combinations to the limited selection of consonants and vowels given in our definitions. While it is an oversimplification to suggest that if we used only 7 of the most productive letters, we could derive 5040 words in all (without reduplication, that is, mathematically, 7!), we get an idea of how potent the right choice would be. We might compare the preceding to the limited alphabet of the original Hawaiian language.

For those not frightened by a bit of science – chemistry or physics – we have here all the colours of a flame, whether derived from coal (black), natural gas (blue, red), and oxyacetylene – capable of burning some metals white hot. The blackness of coal should not be considered negative – pure carbon is transformed into the shiny (white) diamond.

That one word can signify various colours need not surprise us. We once saw a text which claimed that a certain Arabic word represented about 6 different colours. It does not seem to be in this author`s library, but what we have found to substantiate the point, is that the Chinese word qīng can mean blue, green, or black. Just imagine how useless such a word would be in describing a get-a-way car!

Now, considering possible Semitic roots, we have found the possibility of ambar, mentioned further above, and cited by Ali Nourai, (An Etymological Dictionary of Persian, English, and other Indo-European Languages). Be it said, we are not very convinced, and have no idea how the conclusions were reached, but in some way, these are usable, if only for us to think about. “A.N.B” under “An4”, “anbar”, is the Arabic root of our amber, the “yellow-red yellow” substance mentioned further above. What is not convincing is that “an” is associated with a prefix, “ne 1”, Be that as it may, were we to take the “bar” component, and modify it to “b*r”, and then “bhr*” and “bhl*” or bh*l, we are on to something. (See bhel-1 above and further discussion below.)

Another notable root of the required idea, as given in the above-quoted work, is “embhi”, (p. 123) meaning honey or the honey-bee. We wonder why this root should not be related to “n.b.r”, amber, not only because of its similarity with the nasal plus “b” plus suffix, but also because of the colour of the product. (“Bee” has already been mentioned in a different context further above, when considering the root bhei.) We could also consider that between the bee’s black bands on its abdomen, are amber-coloured stripes.

An idea that to us seems very slightly more reasonable than the n.b.r. root is that of the Arabic word for yellow, root “s.f.r”, asfar, from which we get the English word saffron. Here we apply our rule 10, commutation, and convert *sf*r(*) into s*f*r(*). This type of transformation is very common in Arabic, in order to distinguish between masculine and feminine adjectives. We now apply Definition 6 to get s*f*l (unproductive results in Arabic, our argument is for English!), apply Definition 10, commutation, for s*l*f, then Definition 2, to get a root for “Silv-”, retaining the idea of a yellow colour, or blond. Whether this derivation of “silv-” from the Arabic is valid or not, we give a more probable argument for our reasoning that Silv- must be related to Fla- further below. To do so, as suggested in this paragraph through the root of saffron, would be through the flimsiest of justifications.

Persons of this name might adapt a version of a flame as a sort of crest, including if wanted, red, blue, and white in addition to the yellow colour. [Continue reading about the “Silvia” group in the next paragraph, or go on to remaining non-technical material.]

Meanings of the “Sylvia” Group of Names

This group includes “Sylvia”, “Sylvie”, “Silvana”, “Silvio”, and “Sylvester”.

This set of names is more familiar to the English-speaking world, with the exception of the masculine form, “Silvio”, found in Mediterranean countries. Students of English literature, especially if exposed to poetry, might guess the meaning through “silvan” or “sylvan”, that is, pertaining to the woods. Traupman (op. cit.) gives many translations, of “silva”, the most important for our purposes being “woods”, “forest”, and “foliage” – this latter, rightly understood (see further below) suggesting a personal crest of ornamental leaves and flowers.

“Sylvanus” was god of the woods for the Romans. A related word is “sylph”, “a slim, graceful woman or girl”, a word, according to AH, probably coined by Paracelsus, [1493-1541] through a contraction of the words sylvestris nympha. In its most literal sense, then, the name would be suitable for the offspring of a woodsman, a forest ranger, or the like, but also for someone who lives in or near wooded surroundings – and enjoys it. It might be suitable if the beauty of a sylph is to be expected. We would never exclude, of course, the possibility of using the name for the simple reason of its melodious sound, or that an illustrious ancestor had this name – true of any name of course, including those mentioned in our “Fla” series.

The AH gives no Proto-Indo-European root for the word, tracing it only to the Latin meanings already given above. The same result is shown in Dictionnaire des racines des langues européennes (Larousse, 1948), giving the Latin root silva, and only scarce information. [Go on to remaining non-technical material.]

Apparent Connections between the Flav- and Sylv- Roots

How Genealogy Helps to Understand Valid Word Root Relationships

This section, as mentioned in the Introduction, is based on facts, but may not be justified chronologically or geographically, only through probability.

As I have emphasized in another article on a name, we usually ignore vowels in our analysis. As in higher mathematics, they may be any vowel, or none at all – here we stated it as def. 1. This gives us Fl*v** *and S*lv**, but since 2 vowels might even merge – giving the possibilities F*l*v*, F*lv*, Fl*v* and Fl*v on the one hand, and S*l*v*, S*lv*, Sl*v* and Sl*v on the other. Some possible derivations clearly are irrelevant, such as Slav or slave. [Even that might not necessarily be true, for example, the Arabic name Abdul, with the first 3 letters can mean “slave, servant, one faithful (to God), man, or creature (Corriente). We see, however, a shared –*l*v* pattern, with or without a vowel in any position indicated by the asterisk. We must therefore show, if possible, a relationship between the “F” and the “S”. If this is non-productive, we go on to look for further possible letter changes.

Blushing Flavia

For our purposes, we look at a word we examined many years ago, probably in a thesaurus. It is a colour, one we found associated with “Flavia”: red.

Just off the top of my head, I can give the following words, with the hypothetical root “r*–“ from that colour, including foreign words: rouge, Rufus, roux, Rossi, Russian, rose, ruby, ruddy, rubeola, rust, Ruß (German word for “soot”), rubio and rojo (both Spanish), The AH offers some additional, uncommon words from the root reudh-, excluding our Rossi and Russian, (but giving Latin russus as red, which, according to a Russian history lesson, was a colour associated somehow with that Slavic race, as descendants of Vikings, [compare Eric the Red!], and our German and Spanish words. The Diccionario de la lengua española gives “rubeus” as the root of “rubio”, defining it as a colour similar to gold. The standard translation is blond, but in American Spanish, this might mean fair-haired.

Unfortunately, Traupman only offers a translation “of brambles” for the Latin rubeus.

Depending upon our sources in German (Duden, Wasserzieher), the German word given above is either of unknown origin, or from Persian kari. (If it is this latter one, we are onto something more solid – see below.) So, little relationship is seen between the “r*– “group of words and the translation of “soot”, that we must discount it. Nevertheless, that substance, though black (already found under bhel-), is red when heated sufficiently, and is capable of combustion at a high enough temperature, hence, we have a connection between red and black (and we do not refer to a work by Stendhal!)

“Rossi” is the Italian plural form of “rosso”, “red”. It is mentioned because the reader might know something which has this word as a component of its brand name.

It may be asked, what, if anything, reudh– has to do with the root bhleu-. At first glance, not much, and perhaps nothing, but it is worthy of note that the bramble – a shrub, is found in brush, and these latter two words are possible translations of silva. With some legerdemain, many, though probably merely coincidental connections could be derived – that fact we offer, but dare not have ourselves, at least at this moment, expose ourselves to ridicule by further explanation. [Anyone who cares to do so might start with Def. 10, and apply B(d), L, and A.] So, the connection is through meanings of words, not etymology.

But we can go one better, not attested in our available sources as having any Indo-European root; hence, not shown to have any of the relationships to what we propose. We take the word xylophone, a wood-based musical instrument, the root being from Greek xulon, wood. We came to this word by thinking about the possibility of the “gs” or “ks” sound of words in “x” such as in “exact”, and “extra”, respectively. Looking specifically at the “ks”, we wanted to consider the following:

That one of the two letters is dropped, giving rise to a centum or satem word. This gives rise to the theoretical word roots, such as k*l*–, or s*l*–.

We now apply definitions 2(Bh) and 9. To repeat: in the Semitic languages, vowel “o” is represented by a letter related to “w”, which in turn (consider the German pronunciation) is related to “v”, in English to “u” (written “v” by the Romans), and pronounced as “f” in German. There is a further relationship of the letter “v” to “b” (notice the forms of these respective letters in Russian), and in final “b” of German and Russian, the pronunciation becomes “p”.

It is noticed then, that x*lo(+n) > ks*l*o- > s*lo- > s*lw- > s*lv- > silva, > sylph: the latter two words already having been discussed. We have then, a clear relationship between the Greek word for “wood”, and the unattested origin of our word for “woods”, silva.

The other line of new words which could hypothetically be derived from xylo-, then, is k*l*–. We could point to a Finnish word derived from the root to be discussed, but we will keep to the more common, which requires the change to g*l*–. Using transformations such as in the previous paragraph, we get g*lw– > g*lv– > g*lb- > gelb , > into English, ge > y, hence > ye*lw– > yellow, through gemination.

We see a possibility of simplifying the preceding: part of this is based on true etymology, and part is an unsubstantiated assumption, but the coincidences are astounding. Let us take the root xylo-, and the Greek word xulon, “wood” again, and consider that the Hellenic language has yet another word for that cellulose material, now just meaning “material”, but not originally: hyle. [The Spanish word for wood, madera, itself comes from the Latin for material, the root being the word for mother (madre in Spanish, mater in Latin)!] Now, if we take the Greek root found in English, heli-, we are talking about the sun, which is red in the morning, usually yellow, giving life to all that is green, including the sunflower, a plant with the behaviour of the heliotrope – a plant with a flower facing the sun – the Spanish definition including the idea of a green agate. (One of this author’s old Spanish dictionaries appears to illustrate heliotropo with a sunflower, but this does not concur with definitions found in other authoritative sources.)

We are then left with three possibilities, to consider the yellowish colour of wood, or its amber-like resinous exudates or saps, as compared with the hue of the sun, or to compare the greenery of woods, with that of green agate. Our comparison of the two words is through h*l*-.

Let us connect the preceding with the contemporary Greek word for wood. An unofficial connection to h*l*- to x*l* would break the latter down to gs*l*- or ks*l*-, where the ks may have been the Greek prefix “ex(o)”, meaning the same as “ex” in English, out of, that is, xylo > hyle, wood out of wood! We might also consider the eventual failure to pronounce the “s”, and the softening of the “k” to the aspirate “h”. In the end, this Centum letter might have gone back to the Satem version, giving us sylo- > sylw- > sylv* > sylvia.

Now, to show the connection to the fla- group of words, let us consider that Centum “h”, is related to “f”. Thus we get a possible k*l*– > h*l*– > f*l*–> f*l*w– > fl**w– > flav**. Hence, we have derived “yellow” from the “xyl-” root in two different ways.

As if that were little, derivative “xylan” is a yellow substance of wood. This latter material itself has a yellowish colour, but can have all the colours associated with “flavius”: white, pink, rose, (rosewood), black (ebony), and less probably, a bluish tint.

“Blush”, as already stated, is derived from the same root as “Flavia”.

Taking an entirely different route, we see that Fl is the chemical symbol for fluorine. The root is given as bhleu-, a variant of bhel-2. It is not convenient in this article to distinguish between bhel-1 and bhel-2, and reasons for doing so are not found in our sources. The fact is, fluorine is a pale yellow gas, so we retain a colour connection, which unfortunately is not substantiated as we would like it to be through pure etymology. But, staying with the chemical connections, we get fluorescein, a red or yellow dye which can emit a bright yellow-green fluorescence under the proper conditions. Finally, there is chlorine, a greenish-yellow gas.

While we would like to believe that all forms of bhel are related (and we could present an argument for this, especially since our source already suggests that a 3rd form is probably related to the 2nd, where we would prefer the 1st), the reader must accept that these are just conjectures on the present author’s part. Nevertheless, when we discuss the Sl*- root, we must look at the 3rd form of bhleu- again, as it is not entirely inseparable, even if through coincidence.

How Initial “F” changes to “S”, or Vice Versa

While the transformations which I am about to mention have more validity at the end of words (but “red” is already a short word), we can see transformations possible between F, S, B, D, ST, G (J-sound), J, SS. The X, silent in the word given, nevertheless can be compared in the two spellings of the same place, México and Méjico. Of course, none of these changes is necessary for the change from Flavia to Silvia, but we might put this change at the beginning of the word. Such examples would be rare to find, but as I have pointed out in another article on this web site, the word “duel” comes from the Latin “bellum”, and the transformation from “D” to “B” is not as clear-cut as the ones that have just been illustrated. However, a look at words derived from initial “B” might give us a word beginning with “F”, or “PH”, maybe “B”, but “S” seems to be excluded.

There is the possibility of the “S” sound in Satem languages becoming “K”. This is where one can get into an argument about the correct pronunciation of “Celtic”.

I’ll offer this wild shot. The Spanish word “sondear” means “to sound”, “to fathom”; that is, to determine the depth of water. Our sources disagree on the etymology, which allows for the current observations.

AH suggests the origin as an Old English word for “sea”, which also gives us the word “swim”. We prefer the Diccionario de la lengua española, which gives the Latin “subundare”. Without going to one of our larger references, we see a logical “sub”: under, and “unda” – wave – hence, a going under the waves (our own on-the-fly definition). Now, the English word “fond” meaning “foundation”, or “basis”, comes from Lain “fundus”, “bottom”, to fathom means to get to the bottom with a measuring device, or to the bottom of something by investigation (but the authorized root is pet-), to founder, according to AH, comes from French fondrer, meaning submerge; it, in turn, from Vulgar Latin, “fondorare”, probably from “fundus”, “bottom”. Granted, any attempt to find more examples gives only the most tenuous and unconvincing results.

A better possibility is through the Indo-European root swel-2, meaning to shine or burn, meanings shared with bhel-. Under “S”, we have the derivative “swelter”, under “H”, Helen, coming from the Greek word for torch.

Surprisingly, in spite of an apparent connection between the verb to shine, and the colour white, the only tint found under S is the Indo-European “sli-“, meaning “bluish”, from which “livid”, “sloe”, and “slivovitz” are derived. It helps our argument about a colour relationship somewhat in that “white” is suggested through the definitions “ashen” and “pallid” for “livid”.

A better possibility is afforded us through the transformation of the “S” of the Satem languages into the “K” of the Centum languages. While that, at first glance, this is not what is needed, the “H” is included in the “K” group. So we have words of similar meaning, “lord”: English “sir”, French “sieur”, Greek “kyrie”, and German “Herr”. [Initial “K” or “H” for a “K” is substituted by the letter “S” in English and Romance languages, and then followed by a vowel plus “R” and any final letters.] Now we only need to change one of these into “F”. It can be done in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula, where we get pairs such as “harina” (flour) and “farina”, “hierro” and “fierro” (iron); “haz” and “faz” (both with the possible translation “face”), “formosa” (Portuguese) and “hermosa”, (Spanish: both mean “beautiful”.)

We have now shown that the “S” of “Silvia” can come from a “K”, represented by an alternate guttural, the strongly aspirated “H”, which can be interpreted in some languages as the aspirated “F”. (That in turn, could be derived directly from the original aspirated “bh” of “bhel-”, but our argument is not meant to show chronological change, but change according to geographical region.


It is just a coincidence that this Japanese expression comes into the article, but it has its lure. Further above, we mentioned the possible (according to a cited source) connection between the colour yellow, and a word of Persian origin, “kari”. Now, the AT and Wasserzieher, under the “chlorine” group of words, send us, directly or indirectly, to etymological references which give us the Indo-European Sanskrit root hari or háriš, respectively, but in essence, forms of the same word meaning “green”. Duden writes the same root as hári-h, where the final “h” has a dot underneath, the meanings of which are given as golden yellow, blond, and greenish yellow. After this entry, it follows with the Greek root of chlorine, which, if we use a dictionary of that language, gives us some additional colour information.

From A Greek-English Lexicon [Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, New York: American Book Company, ? 1882], in the vicinity of the Greek word under discussion, we find two different birds, one: which is a greenish or yellowish bird, the other; pronounced something like clorios, is identified as the golden oriole, and still another, just as a bird which is yellow underneath, perhaps the yellow wagtail. Going beyond birds, we find a word, chlooörótes, which may mean beauty, youth, or verdure. [Zarza]


Chloro- words (Greek)

Page from copyright-free Greek-english Dictionary showing predominance of colours green, then yellow, under words in the “chloro-” group.


As for the “kari” part of this section, it may be stated that in our search for the German word Russ, Duden gave no satisfaction, except that the word was related to “red”, while Wasserzieher gave us “kari”, not meaning anything similar, to red, unless sootiness were that colour.

Q.E.D. — “Flavia” is “Silvia.”.

A third root ghel-, (the second being the one discussed in the preceding section) means “to cut”, just by chance, the meaning of the Japanese “kari”. [Some researchers do look for words which might be common among different language families – we could even point out that version 1 of the AT’s ghel-, to call, is the root of “yell” (why not “call”?), and the word “call”, as “voice”, is “kol” in Hebrew.

Semitic Origins?

It is not expected that the academic will attach much attention to the following, but for the other readers, we provide some ideas on words which could be associated with the roots under discussion in this text.

Because of the limited Semitic literature available to us, the only source we can use is the Hebrew of the time that the pre-Christian Scriptures were written. As in the case of Indo-European roots, we find many words with definitions that repeat, such as “bright”. Our search was limited to words which approximate the Satem and Centum letters. What did we find?

Five words (at least) suggested green, including the idea of pasture or grass. Excluding repetitions of the preceding, 3 suggested fruit or blossoms. Another 3 gave ideas of shining, glittering, and glowing, with the latter including the idea of a “flush of the countenance” (cf. blush, above). From Canticles, 4. 13, we get a Persian word which is translated as Paradise in one of our dictionaries, a park or pleasure garden in another. That our word Paradise is of Iranian origin (more precisely, Avestan), is found in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This definition fits in perfectly with our ideas in the next section (written a month before these words!)

Extended Meanings of the Flav- and Silv- Words

For the pleasure of those who who look for more of the beauty of the girl’s names Flavia and Silvia, or for the virtues of their counterparts, we here go into some completely fantastical assumptions, but always based on what we have already presented.

Let us take the idea of a forest, verdant, in the summer. The leaves are their allotted colour. Should they still allow the passage of sunlight, we now have the required yellow or blond colour. Once the leaves lose contact with the bright sun, they will in turn be yellow, and perhaps, depending on the type of tree, revealing red, or rose tinges. The best place for the blue is to consider it as an extension of green on the spectrum, as green is the extension of yellow. It is pointed out in Duden’s Die Grammatik (1973) that there are (were, we now imagine) people in the German countryside who were not acquainted with the names of the colours which we know as violet and orange. Meanwhile, our forest, when the sun goes down, shows what Duden calls a non-colour, black. So everything in this paragraph points to the meanings of its root word.

Let us now have a strong wind blow the through the forest. Leaves of certain trees, the birch and the poplar, for example, will show a silvery underside. We have now come from “flavus”, the blond”, to silv-, [not an Indo-European root] “the silvery”. The “blond” was also gold, so here we have the second precious metal. Some medieval writers presented these metals as male and female, represented in symbols for the sun and the moon, Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature, Elisabeth Wåghäll Nivre, Camden House, 2004]. In both French and Spanish, these words are masculine and feminine, respectively. German, strangely, reverses the genders.

There is an ore which ties in both the two colours, and their metals – sylvanite, described as pale brass-yellow (i.e. blond, or gold) to silver-white / silver, bright-white) material containing gold and silver, together with tellurium. It is found in Transylvania. Look at the name of that place again, and you see the reference to forests.

We might consider another possibility, a more metaphorical translation of “silva”: “foliage”, which can be considered as a combination of leaves and flowers. Both the word “foliage” and “flower” (as well as “bloom” go back to the root bhel-3. We have previously objected to having this placed separately from the root of “flavius”, without going into details.

Summation: Positive Ideas to Associate with Flavia and Silvia, etc.

For Flavia, we have, if wanted, “blond”, “blonde”. At any rate, we have the idea of shiny. Through “to burn”, we can get ardour, fervour, passion. We found the colour “golden”, hence, a golden boy, a golden girl. Checking for the word “golden” in a good dictionary will offer a number of positive associations, which we omit here to avoid plagiarism. The name was associated with a Roman ruling family. All-in-all, the name conjures up ideas of light, warmth, radiance, richness, and nobility.

For Silvia, through the association with woods, we get another with nature, the pristine environment. By sound, though not etymology, we get a connection with the precious metal silver. Might the person be silver-tongued? Born with a silver-spoon in her mouth, she is born wealthy, and there is no reason to limit this to the literal meaning. As an adjective, silver also includes the idea of eloquent, thus we have another tie-in with golden (golden-tongued). A further analogy, through s*l, gives “sol”, the sun, the golden orb, shiny, like “flavius”, but with the freshness of the forest associated with it. Through “foliage”, we get flowers, and another Latin dictionary, this one in Spanish, suggests the translation “park”, which means a place for recreation with gardens, trees, and plants. We thus get an association with Paradise, and going back, through the word “flavius”, to a Golden Age.

A famous person of this name is a one-time billionaire president of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. Sylvester Stallone is probably even better known, at least internationally.

We leave the reader with the following idea about Transylvania, whose fame in the Anglo-Saxon world rests upon nothing more than a novel by Bram Stoker. Our association with the region would be completely different if we considered the literal meaning, “the region which crosses a forest”. If we add to that that golden ore, we get, “the gold (and silver)-bearing region which crosses a forest”. Putting this back into some kind of poetical Latin, it becomes, Transflavsylvania, or Transsylvaflavia, something of a mouthful, to be sure, but a way to bundle up everything stated above into one word. Were one of these ever to be adopted (which won’t happen), it would eventually be simplified to something more pronounceable, like Transflassylvania, or Transylflavia (which now specifically includes our earlier-referenced “sylph”).

Now, to a different matter, we would like to point out the intertwining of the colours gold and green in the medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In Fit 8, we see

All green was this man and his clothing; … hose of the same green, … bright gold upon silk bands … all his vesture verily was clean verdure, .. [b]auds [sic (for “bands”] of green, —the gold ever in the middle; … and … glinted all of green stones. The horse that he rode on was of the same colour too, a green horse; …

while in Fit 9, we describe the horse,

The mane of that great horse was … very curly and combed, with knots full many folded in with gold wire about the fair green, — always one knot of the hair, another of gold. The tail and the forelock were twined in the same way, and both bound with a band of bright green, set with full precious stones …, and then tied up with a thong in a tight knot; where rang many bells full bright of burnished gold. (From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Piers the Ploughman, authors unknown, trans./ed. K.G.T. Webster & W. A. Nielson; Cambridge, Mass.: University Press, 1917)

We must not overlook that this was forced upon the author of the verse by a need for alliteration, but it also reflects the facts of an environment which was not yet deforested, and the kind of wealth to be displayed in the home of King Arthur. These colours repeat in Robin Hood (forest, uniform, green clearings – and the gold to be taken in favour of the poor).


We have looked at a number of Indo-European roots, and shown that in meaning, they are very similar. We have suggested that in the case of at least one Proto-Indo-European root, the homonyms could be combined into one, while other roots could also be reduced, if Satem and Centum equivalents were merged into one. This would reduce the number of roots even further, which is a secondary observation we have made in this work, but one which is essential to an understanding of how the conclusion that Silvia/Silvio are quasi-equivalents of Flavia/Flavius. Be that as it may, we have shown that the names “Flavia” and “Silvia”, and their masculine counterparts, are probably of similar roots. For those who want to know the meaning of their name, or who contemplate christening someone with one of the series herein presented, we have given some ideas beyond the strictly etymological.

November 26, 2017 – January 28, 29 2018. Rev. 2.

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller

Works consulted: pending, but mostly referenced within the article.

%d bloggers like this: