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Cleveland Evans: As a name, Sylvester has had a 'Rocky' run

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Stallone Works Out

Actor Sylvester Stallone works over a punching bag in Los Angeles, Feb. 9, 1981.

In a new documentary titled 'The Making of Rocky vs. Drago,' Stallone described being flown to an intensive care unit after filming with Dolph Lundgren for the 1985 sports drama.

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.”

Cleveland Evans

Cleveland Evans

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.

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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.

Puritans avoided most non-Biblical saints’ names. It’s therefore surprising that in the 18th century, Sylvester became vastly commoner in New England than old England. The 1851 census of Great Britain found only 172 Sylvesters, while in the United States 1850 census, there were 10,371 when the two nations’ populations were about equal.

Sylvester was especially common in the North: 25.5% of the Sylvesters were born in New York and 6.6% in Massachusetts, though in 1850 only 15.5% and 5.0% of all Americans lived in those states.

It’s a mystery why Sylvester was so popular in America. There were well-known Sylvester families in the northeast. For example, Shelter Island, at Long Island’s eastern end, was bought by Nathaniel Sylvester (1610-1680) in 1651. Sylvester Manor, built by his grandson, Brinley, in 1735, attracts tourists today. Perhaps 19th-century parents saw Sylvester as an updated version of Silvanus, name of a companion of the Apostle Paul mentioned four times in the New Testament.

The most famous 19th century Sylvester was Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), a Presbyterian minister who promoted vegetarianism and coarse-ground flour as the basis for good health. His lectures attracted thousands. Graham crackers were named after him, though he didn’t invent or profit from them.

Before Stallone, the famous 20th century Sylvester was Sylvester Pussycat. Created in 1938, the cartoon feline wasn’t named until 1948, in honor of Felis silvestrus, scientific name of the European wildcat, closet wild relative of the domestic cat. Sylvester starred in three Oscar-winning animated shorts (1947, 1955 and 1957), more than any other Looney Tunes character. His latest role was in 2021’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Sylvester ranked 139th in 1901. The cat didn’t help the name’s popularity, and in 1976 it was down to 590th. Stallone’s fame bumped that to 542nd in 1979. Sylvester then resumed falling, disappearing from the top thousand in 1995.

Today’s Sylvesters are mostly of African American, Italian or Polish descent. Neither its sound or image fit contemporary tastes. Sixty-eight Sylvesters were born in 2021, about the same as every year since 2004. It’ll be quite a while before Sylvester’s a hero of baby name lists again.

What's in a name? Cleveland Evans takes a look

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Liam’s finally No. 1 no matter how you spell it.

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Will Spencer’s team win the state championship? Tomorrow fans find out.

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When the custom of giving boys surnames as first names was established, Bretts began to appear. The oldest in the 1850 United States census, Brett Stovall of Patrick County, Virginia, was born in 1766.

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Meredith first entered the girl’s top thousand in 1910. The first year it was more common for girls than boys was 1932, perhaps helped by Meredith Reed, who published her first novel “The Glory Trail” in 1931.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, compiled around 890, claim that the kingdom of Wessex in southwestern England was founded by Cerdic in 519. The name Cedric first appears in "Ivanhoe" in 1819.

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The first Laceys came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. One branch included John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln (1192-1240), a leader of those who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

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Right now on movie screens a Guy is saving his world. “Free Guy” premiered Friday. By making its everyday Guy a hero, will the film inspire more American Guy babies? We’ll know in a couple of years.

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As Herman declined in general, it became popular with African-Americans. This was because of Benjamin Rucker (1889-1934). Virginia-born Rucker became assistant to a stage magician called Prince Herman.

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The name Margot peaked at 581st in 1936. Margo’s top at 295th came in 1951, actress Margo Martindale’s birth year.

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Until 1950, the name Simon was more common in the United States. The 1850 U.S. Census found 14,281 Simons, while the 1851 British Census, when populations were about equal, had 6,513.

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Will “Good Vibrations” give you “Fun, Fun, Fun” “All Summer Long”?

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Olympic hopeful Melanie Margalis, due in Omaha for the U.S. Swim Trials, inspires a look at the origins of her first name. 

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Will you stay up late to see hometown boy Andrew?

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Know anyone prescribed cortisone, testosterone or another steroid? If so they should thank Percy Julian (1899-1975), who discovered how to synthesize steroids from plants. Here's a look at other Percys who have distinguished themselves through the centuries.

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Kara is super again, thanks to “Supergirl,” the CW series starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers. 

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Tuesday Dwayne’s life becomes a sitcom.

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Who’s the most admired woman in Gallup’s annual poll the last three years?

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Tonight on CBS, “Garth and Trisha Live! A Holiday Concert Event” features country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood performing view…

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Avant-garde parents in the United States started to notice Harriet around 2006.

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The name Scarlett’s real boom began along with Johansson’s career around 2002.

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Norman is a Germanic name meaning “North man.” It became common as a given name in England after Danish Vikings invaded Britain in the ninth century.

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Find out more about the history and popularity of the name Jack from Cleveland Evans.

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The Social Security Administration counts every spelling separately. I added together spellings pronounced the same, creating lists I believe more accurately indicate popularity.

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