The Oldest Naming Dilemma in the Book

I feel almost embarrassed to be writing this post. It is the oldest naming dilemma in the book: We’ve had the perfect name for us in mind for years, and now it’s getting really popular. We’re expecting in late August and don’t know the gender, but the boy’s name we settled on ages ago is Silas. 

Popularity per se doesn’t bother me, but excessive trendiness and date-stamping do, so what I’m hoping you can help me figure out is how our chosen name reads and just how much more popular (and, therefore, trendy/date-stamped) it’s going to get.

We decided on Silas for a hypothetical future son because the Biblical association was meaningful for us; because it has a long history; because it’s not aggressively masculine but still distinctively a man’s name; because it’s relatively easy to spell and pronounce and we have a hard-to-spell/-pronounce hyphenated last name. And, like the whole rest of the entire world, we liked that it was familiar but not over-saturated.

But, of course, in the past seven years since we decided on Silas, the name has gone from being ranked in the mid-300s with 937 births to #116 with 3,367 births. In the upper Midwest, where we live, it’s even more popular: #72 in Minnesota, #78 in Iowa, #70 in Wisconsin. (Although I don’t know of any young Silases in our particular town and I wouldn’t even mind of I did know of a few others unless they were going to be on the same block or similar.) I had anticipated it would rise in popularity—I’m a name enthusiast! I understood the trends!—but I did not anticipate Duck Freaking Dynasty, where Uncle Si is a featured character and has given the name a bump I wasn’t expecting (and an association of which I’m not at all fond.) 

Again, it’s not popularity that I mind—it’s the type of popularity or what that popularity will communicate to others. I read (or have read) Silas as being part of a trend of slightly antique Biblical names—like Ezra, Levi, or Micah—and I’m okay with that; I also saw it being connected to those gentler gentlemanly s-ending names, like Miles, Lucas, etc. But with the sharpness of its rise, I’m worried that I’m reading it wrong, or that there are other readings of the name that I don’t see. 

So how do you read the name? What type and how much popularity do you see it gaining? Is Silas going to be the next Elijah? The next Jackson? Please don’t say the next Jace. Do its Biblical roots and long history keep it from being too date-stamped (as my husband insists)? What about that nickname? We don’t love Si—even without Duck Dynasty—but we wouldn’t be opposed to his name being shorted occasionally for ease. It’s only two syllables, but you know that sometimes automatically get shortened all the time almost automatically. Will that happen here? How long—or how loudly—with the Duck Dynasty association follow the name, even if we insist in the full thing?

Sorry for making this so long, but I know I can count on your good sense and name knowledge to guide me through this most mundane but anxiety producing expectant-namer problem.


June 11, 2014 3:49 PM

We have a four year old Silas. A few months before he was born, we saw four birth announcements for other Silases (not from anyone we knew), but we stuck with it and so far the name still seems to be relatively rare, at least where we live. It seems like Silas was a runner-up name for a lot of people. Most people who've asked about his name have assumed the Biblical connection, not the Duck Dynasty one.


June 11, 2014 3:50 PM

Although we did have one person ask if we had named him after someone from The Davinci Code, which surprised me! (apparently the character is pretty creepy)

June 11, 2014 6:30 PM

Silas does have a lot going for it. In addition to the Biblical, ends in S, softer boy names, it also has that crisp "long" i, similar to names like Milo, Eli, Isaac & Wyatt.

I don't think it will be the next Elijah or Jacob (but I could be wrong).  For some reason, Silas seems less accessible than say something like Levi.

I'm curious if you looked at the stats for Cyrus?  Still Biblical, sounds very similar, but is only ranked at #436.  

By EVie
June 11, 2014 7:08 PM

I don't think I'm going to be able to offer any insight that you haven't already considered, but I sympathize. It would be so nice if there really were a baby name "wizard" who could tell the future, wouldn't it? I know that Silas has been discussed around here for quite a long time, since well before Duck Dynasty premiered, and its rise in the charts began several years before Duck Dynasty as well. I've never seen Duck Dynasty and don't care to, so I don't know how much exposure the name Silas has actually gotten from the show, but I would guess that if he's known primarily as Uncle Si and not Silas, the association wouldn't be a long-lasting one. But maybe I'm being overly optimistic--I wish for other reasons that shows like that would just go away and be forgotten.

But whether Duck Dynasty had a significant impact or not, it's undeniably a very sharp spike. I would peg it as part of a larger trend--we all know that Biblical revivals are very hot right now, and Greek New Testament names and Greek variants of Hebrew names are a subset of that trend. I graphed Silas, Elias, Matthias, Tobias and Lucas together on NameVoyager Expert, and their combined popularity is currently almost 5,000 per million--compared to a previous peak of just over 500 per million around 1880. (There's also Jonas, but I omitted that one because the Jonas Brothers did have a very clear effect that interferes with the trend somewhat). So, yes, I do think there's a risk that Silas will be date-stamped, just like any name of a distinctive and currently popular style will be date-stamped. But I think it probably has more to do with an overall trendy sound and the Biblical associations than with Duck Dynasty in particular.

June 13, 2014 4:25 AM

With absolutely no authority whatsoever (have never seen Duck Dynasty either), my first instinct was to tend to agree with EVie that the on-trend sound and the Biblical revival phenomenon are responsible rather than a character that is known by Uncle Si... but -- that is a very sharp increase that Silas just experienced, much more so than Elias or Matthias or Tobias or Lucas. I am really impressed by the recent numbers, and I would tend to think that a pop culture trigger might be involved in that kind of burst... and I think you're probably right that it's Duck Dynasty, layered on top of the general Biblical revival, gentle-strength, long-i, ending-in-S trends.

yob2012.txt:Silas,M,2485 <- Duck Dynasty starts airing in the spring here

I think I started hearing about Duck Dynasty last year, so the most recent big increase from 2012 to 2013 is probably due to the show taking off... and the brouhaha about particularly racist/homophobic comments during an interview with the non-Silas head of family happened at the very end of 2013, and I think that gained the show a lot of additional media exposure (where even people like me who tend to avoid this sort of thing found out more about the show in etail), so I think the boost might continue for the 2014 stats.

For comparison, here is Jase's Duck Dynasty-influenced trajectory:
yob2012.txt:Jase,M,1123 <-DD starts
So, no, Silas is not quite Jase, either -- there's a 10-fold increase rather than a 50% increase over the lifetime of the DD franchise.

This might be an interesting dilemma to write to Swistle about, as what I think I'd want to see is a large poll of people from a wide variety of demographics nationwide. (That's what I did when the Newscorp scandale was giving me qualms about the usability of my son's name a few years ago, and it was very helpful.) I love this forum, but I think we tend to nonrepresentative in some very similar ways (and I suspect not watching much reality TV is one of those ways). Swistle's blog has going for it that it's a popular parenting blog so I think many people read her name blog because they read her main blogs, and you're likely to get input from people who have teenagers who are more plugged into media.

My instinct is to say that if you love the name, you should use it, as you'd probably regret NOT using it more than you'd regret having used it. I think that the current wave notwithstanding, I think the long history that it's had as a known name would keep tend to keep it more in the "timeless classic" category, even if it's experiencing a period of being particularly en-vogue.

June 13, 2014 1:21 PM

I'll second the suggestion to ask Swistle for a poll.  I do think you'll get a more representative sample.  I don't watch reality TV.  I knew about Duck Dynasty and the recent issues about homophobic comments.  I also know about the beards.  That's pretty much the extent of my knowledge.  I had no idea about Uncle Si until your post.

June 11, 2014 10:23 PM

If you check the NameVoyager graph for Micah, it offers some hope that the "semi-obscure Biblical" trend may be peaking.

I agree fully that it's not popularity that's important, it's the why & wherefore behind said popularity. In this particular case, it's kind of a perfect storm: trendy sound, multiple style groupings that are all popular right now, plus a media tie-in that's making the name feel comfortably familiar for many people, overcoming the "what will Grandma think?" hurdle.

I also agree with your husband, though: Silas has never fallen out of the top 1000 names, and it's just too classic to ever really feel dated.

June 13, 2014 12:28 PM

This is the question I ask myself all the time. I can't guarantee my crystal ball is very good at predicting but this is what I think about Silas. It is a name following a popular trend, but at the same time I don't see it becoming super popular. It won't be the next Noah, for instance. So in the future I think it will be somewhat pegged to a time period but it won't be super obvious. By itself, I doubt people will immediately think, "oh that's so 2010's" but in conjunction with other names it will be more noticably trendy, as in if it were to be part of a couple Silas and Lily, people would assume they were of age of each other and around such and such years old.

June 23, 2014 11:05 AM

My feeling is that if you have this much commotion in your head going on over this name, it probably is not the right name for you.

But here are my 2 cents on each of your concerns:

Rising popularity: #382, #72, #2... who cares? Even the #1 most popular name is only given to a small fraction of babies born. I remember it being like 1%, so 1 out of 100 babies are named the #1 name. He will not be 1 of 5 Silas's in his class. Naming is too diverse right now that even the #1 name would not be extremely common.

Time stamp: I see both sides of the coin here. For one, it has biblical roots and a long history of use. It is no Aiden. But then again, Noah will end up being quite time stamped to 2010-2020 I believe, and it is a very well known biblical name. I see Silas like Ezra. It also pop it in the same category/feel as names like Zane. It feels unsual and very "now". I am not sure, as no one can be, how it will feel in 20 years time. I think Silas is more likely to feel time stamped then a name like Lawrence, but less so than Brayden. 

The "feel" of the name: This is SO personal to each person you meet. I have never met a Silas and live in the South East. I am sure there are plenty of them under 5 years old but I haven't met one yet. To me, the name feels like a trendy cowbow name. I see it in a boat with Skylar, Sawyer, Wyatt, Zane, Ezra, etc. I know it is biblical, but it doesn't make me think of the bible like the name Elijah or Isaiah does. I see it as a country/cowboy name only becuase of the association with a Silo (big containers used to store grain on farms). 

What about Cyrus perhaps? I do feel like you could find a name you love as much without all the issues you have found with Silas. But if you go with it, I don't think you will regret it since you have liked the name so long! 

June 23, 2014 3:28 PM

I mostly agree, but I have to say that Cyrus is way more cowboy to me than Silas. :-)

By Viv
June 23, 2014 5:46 PM

I like the name Silas, but it doesn't go with our last name. We named our son Sylvan, which is a variation of Silas> Silvanus>Silvan/Sylvan. Where we live most people have never heard of it, for a name, only as a word. It is used among the Amish, but their stats don't show up in the SSA lists.

Your third-paragraph reasons are good. Silvan/Sylvan is certainly less popular than Silas, and is probably not as solidly masculine, so you might want to weigh that. We've had good feedback on the name. We sometimes shorten it to Syl. (Rhymes with Will) Grandma calls him Silver sometimes.

So, There's my input and recommendation. :) You can use Silas outright or subtly substitute Silvan.

June 29, 2014 3:36 PM

Thank you so much to everyone for these great and thoughtful responses. Although I don't know that it's really settled my thoughts about Silas, it's given me lots of useful information to process as I think about this. I think what I'm hearing here is that Silas may end up feeling somewhat date-stamped but not excessively so thanks to its pedigree, which I think I can live with. I also was weirdly reassured by the lack of consensus on what associations the name called up for people; at least that affirms for me that there might not be one dominant "feel" for the name that 1) may add to that date-stamping or 2) I might not be aware of in naming my child Silas. 

I was especially grateful for the idea of asking Swistle for a poll. That's a great idea, and I hadn't even thought of it. It think you're right that, while this community has tons of wonderful insights about names, we're a pretty specialized group who might not reflect the broader population. (I also went and looked up your question, lucubratrix, and was so delighted to see a picture of your little Rupert. What a handsome little fellow he is!) I've emailed her and I'll keep you posted on what she and her readers suggest (if my question gets picked) and, of course, what we actually decide. 

I've also been finding that, as we get closer to the end of this, it's helpful for me to pretend that our top names (for a boy or a girl) don't exist and go back to the drawing board a bit. What would we choose if the options we're leaning towards weren't options? What I'm finding is that the names I would pick instead have lots in common with our top choices; rather than making me feel like there are more options out there, it's kind of affirming for me that the names we've narrowed down to--including Silas--probably are the ones we like the most. But does anyone else have ideas for late-stage naming processes? Did you have strategies that helped you know you'd found "the one" (or ones)? 

Thank you again so much for this! I appreciate your help.

June 29, 2014 5:18 PM

I never had a late-stage pregnancy naming process.  But we did have post-birth naming process, which I guess about as late as one can get.

We waited for our babies to tell us their names.  With the first, our top pick was confirmed very early on (within moments of birth).  It just felt right & it "matched" our son.  The 2nd was born and we very quickly ruled out both my top names & husband's top names.  We went through names for 2 days.  Everytime we'd find one we'd like, we would look at the baby and go "no, that's just not right."  Once we hit on his name, we knew it was the one.  It just looked like him.  I know this is all very subjective and not nearly as scientific as a poll on Swistle's site.  But I think once you've gathered all the information you possibly can about your top pick or two, it is just a matter of what feels right.  

I also went back and read lucubratix's post on Swistle (BTW, little Rupert is adorable!)  I agree with what she said about Rupert J@mes just seeming right because he didn't look like a Rupert George.  I guess it's something like that-when a name just isn't right, it won't seem to fit the baby.  

I look forward to seeing your question on Swistle's website and of learning what your final decision is.  I'm sure you'll pick the right name.  


June 30, 2014 5:59 PM

This is something I've often wondered about. I regularly hear people--in real life, not necessarily professed name enthusiasts--describe going to the birth with a couple of names in mind and seeing which ones "fit" the baby, so I was fascinated to hear a hard-core namer say so, too!

Maybe this is just my naivete as a not-yet-parent, but...don't all newborns kind of look the same? (I have a friend who jokes that newborns come in only two categories: generic or weird-looking.) Do you really have a sense that a name is or isn't right for that person? Did you have that for other people's children before you became a parent or just your own? Or, to put it another way: Is an innate name sense something you're born with, or something that comes with having a child of your own? Will I develop that skill upon having a child of my own, since, at the moment, I don't think I've ever felt that? I guess I'm also just nervous about this method because I don't necessarily trust myself to be making great decisions immediately after giving birth--even a couple of days after giving birth--when I'm all hopped up on hormones, sleeplessness, new baby smell, and, potentially, drugs. And it's such a big decision!

Have other people had this experience? Or not had it? Did you know you would know beforehand? Did you second guess yourself after (more than normal)? 

By EVie
June 30, 2014 6:48 PM

Postpartum hormones do weird, weird things to you, and labor and the immediate aftermath is such a strange, surreal experience that I imagine people can feel any number of things that they didn't expect to feel when in a more logical and clear-headed frame of mind. I don't think that necessarily invalidates those feelings, though. So I think it kind of depends on how you want to approach the naming process. If you want it to be a logical, clear-headed decision, you're probably better off making the decision beforehand and sticking with it. If you feel it's more of an emotional decision, then wait until after the birth and see where the emotions take you. Some people think they want it the first way, but the experience of birth and meeting the baby changes their mind. There isn't a right way or wrong way to do it--it's your choice.

We went with the name we had decided on ahead of time--I would have liked to take multiple names to the hospital and decide after meeting the baby, but we couldn't agree on more than one name anyway, so that was that. It did take awhile before the name felt like *his* name, and if I had been choosing purely based on what "felt right" for him, I might have gone with something else--and not necessarily one of my previous top choices (I thought at the time that he felt like an Oliver or an Alec, and I still think those would have suited him really well). But those weren't on the table, and we chose his name for other reasons, and now he's grown into it just fine and I don't have any real regrets. 

July 2, 2014 6:58 AM

I don't think I really have a general sense for names being or not-being right for people, but I definitely had a sense for names being right for my kids, both through being the gestational parent and not. I do think that the feeling of what the right name was sort of happened throughout pregnancy - in the case of not taking a name we thought we would use, it just didn't sit right the closer we got to actually bestowing the name.

I will say that our assessments of all three of our children's personalities have been pretty accurate from what we had worked out during the first day or two. I know that isn't just selectively remembering the predictions that later came to fruition because as a part of a second-parent adoption we found ourselves having a home study with a social worker with our four-day-old and I had to answer questions about why I was adopting this particular child and if I could please describe his personality. I totally laughed while answering because hey, he's a newborn BABY, right, and he does BABY things, but when pressed I elaborated and those recorded answers are hilariously on-target five years later. Our second child was in the NICU for a while so the social worker visit was pushed back a bit, but we recorded our impressions of the first few days for posterity because it was so funnily on-target the first time around, and yep, that's also 100% the kid we have today. With our third I likewise feel like we had her number right from the beginning, though we only have 9 months out-of-utero to go by, so I suppose we could be wrong yet. I'm increasingly convinced that children just come installed with factory default conditions and that it's pretty hard to do much of anything about the basic temperament of your kid... and it follows you can pretty well figure out who you're dealing with before you sign the birth certificate.

We also didn't feel up to make big decisions about names after the ordeal of giving birth, and had first names very clearly picked out for our kids in the third trimester. Middle names we felt better about finalizing after the birth, because it seems like a less monumental decision to embark on immediately after delivery. However, it was very much a case of agreeing on a decision that had already been mostly-made before, and it just clicking pleasingly into place.

(And also, the child we wrote to about Swistle was about twice as big as his peers in the NICU, in some cases about eight times as big, and somehow to me a name like George just didn't feel right for a big strapping doorstop of a baby. I think it's something about George and the word gorge, maybe, or the roundness of the o sound and the pleasantly squishy ending of the -rge, perhaps, that just didn't work for that situation. If we had picked a different first name, like our runner-ups Ferdinand or Sylvester, I think we would at that point have changed our mind, too - just too comically over-apt.) (My apologies to anyone who bestowed those names on very large offspring and is now offended.)

Anyway, I am sure you're right that the name list you've got is extremely well-considered and that you are unlikely to come across any brand new names that meet your criteria at this point. To me, that means you've done the logical part of the exercise already in drafting the long list and culling it to what you have now -- for us the remainder of naming is more of an emotional exercise. (Though your mileage may vary, as EVie points out - you can stay in the logical realm throughout too). In our way of approaching naming, though -- I'd think if Silas is just feeling like your kid, that's enough to overrule all the logical objections (this was how naming one of our kids went down). On the other hand, perhaps you are raising these objections because you don't really feel it's the right name, and perhaps you should try out whether one of the other names on your list has a more satisfying resolved feeling if try it out mentally for a few days. 

What was really entertaining to us in our late-stage name-waffling with our last child was to make a name tournament - we put all 32 favorite girl names into an actual used-for-sports tournament website and played a round whenever we felt like a rousing name battle. We picked brackets for effect and expected it to just be silly fun, but it was actually a good exercise because some names that I would have thought were just padding our list ended up being really hard to vote off, and there are some names that I love that just don't feel like my child at all, and those were surprisingly easy to jettison. I think it's a mini version of the "try making a decision one way and seeing how you feel about it" exercise, repeated on a larger scale. Starting with the very long list of names we'd ever liked helped us feel like we had done SO MUCH narrowing down already and that was encouraging as well.

July 7, 2014 12:32 PM

My nieces were due the same day as my oldest son (what a crazy year that was!). Before she knew they were identical, my sister-in-law assumed, since the babies had separate placentas and since doctors are ignorant idiots sometimes, that the girls must be fraternal. When people exclaimed that they looked alike, she replied that all babies sort of look alike anyway. Fast forward ten weeks when they came for a visit to meet their new cousin, who was the exact same size and looked completely different. Completely different. My sister-in-law then agreed that perhaps she should get their cheeks swabbed and a few weeks later she had confirmation that her daughters are identical. As to whether or not babies look like their names I have no idea, but they don't all look alike.

July 2, 2014 3:43 AM

Thanks for the kind words about Rupert, and I'm so glad the suggestion of a Swistle poll was helpful! I look forward to seeing it in my RSS feed, and seeing what that turns up! It was very useful for us, and I hope it likewise helps you feel more reassured about how your name pick will be more broadly received.

July 9, 2014 8:28 PM

Swistle--and her excellent readers--responded to my question! And reading her really thoughtful response, seeing the poll, and hearing all the comments has been enormously reassuring for me. Thanks so much to all of you for suggesting this!

July 10, 2014 5:16 PM

Wonderful news! Please keep up posted when little Silas shows up. :),