About Names: “Cleveland Evans: As a name, Sylvester has had a ‘Rocky’ run”

Pope Sylvester I, who lived from 285 – 335 CE (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 28th column, he looks at the name Sylvester.

Sylvester’s once again a hero on movie screens.

Sylvester Stallone, who turned 76 in July, became famous writing and starring in 1976’s hit “Rocky”, about a heroic heavyweight boxer. Today, he’s the title character in “Samaritan,” released Aug. 26. There, young Sam (Javon Walton) discovers superhero Samaritan, who disappeared 25 years ago, is secretly living as “Joe Smith.”

Sylvester’s a Latin name meaning “of the forest.” St. Sylvester I (285-335) was Pope from 314 through 335. During his reign, Constantine became Rome’s first Christian emperor.

Not much is known about St. Sylvester. However, about two centuries after his death, the legend developed that Sylvester cured Constantine of leprosy. The grateful emperor then was baptized and gave the Pope temporal power over Rome and the Western empire.

Modern historians know Constantine was baptized on his deathbed in 337, two years after Sylvester died. The legend was used to promote Papal authority.

In 999, French bishop Gerbert, a mathematician who popularized the abacus, became Pope Sylvester II. His fame, along with St. Sylvester legend’s, spread the name throughout Europe. Though never common in medieval England, it was used enough to spawn surnames Silvester, Sylvester and Siveter.