The Why Behind Sy

May 29, 2022

When I was pregnant with Aaron, we settled on his name pretty quickly. "Aaron" is Mike's middle name, plus I've always loved the name myself  (there's just something about those double A's. . . ).

When it came to Aaron's middle name, I debated whether I wanted to use my first choice, David, or not. I can actually remember saying these words: "It's one of my favorite names, but what if this is my only son, and I never get the chance to use it again?"

Ha, haha, hahahahahahahahahaha.

If only my 23-year-old self had known I would have six chances to use that name. But I didn't, and so Aaron got it (and I don't mind that he did). 

Naming each of our boys has been a sacred, but also sometimes frustrating, experience. It feels like such an important task to choose a name that each one will, most likely, be known by for the rest of his life. 

Some names have come really easily (Maxwell), and others have been an intense struggle (Ian). I love classic names, but I hesitate to use anything too popular since we have a very common last name. I like to see the baby before finalizing his name, but I don't want to rely only on what he looks like (since all of our babies look the same). I want to have a pretty good idea of his name before he is born but still be open to being flexible if something else feels right.

With that background, we were very serious about the naming of Silas. We knew it was going to be difficult. Not only had we already used ten names ourselves, but there were also twenty-six boy cousins whose names we were trying to avoid.

I knew right away that I wanted his middle name to be Joseph. We had almost used this as a middle name for Clark (but then he was born on Mike's grandpa's birthday, so we used his grandpa's middle name, Elson, instead). In The Book of Mormon, the prophet, Lehi, had six sons, and Joseph was the sixth one (1 Nephi 18:7). Since this was our sixth boy, Joseph seemed like a perfect fit.

As for his first name, we welcomed suggestions from all of our kids. This was the most they have ever been involved in the naming of a new sibling, and their ideas were abundant. Some were rejected quickly, but others made it onto the "short" list.

After several months of gathering, we narrowed down the list to an even 32. 

Would you like to see all of the contenders?

Anders, Miles, Lincoln, Forrest, Anthony, Abel, Wesley, Royal, Felix, Leif, Emil, Linus, Sirius, Pierce, Perry, Sterling, Wilder, Oliver, Mitchell, Graham, Amos, Neville, Saul, Colin, Sean, Kaladin, Cyrus, Alec, Carson, Silas, Shepherd, Foster

You might be able to tell that literature was a definite source of inspiration for us. Of note, we had Royal (Farmer Boy), Sirius and Neville (Harry Potter), and Kaladin (The Stormlight Archive). (Actually, Aaron was the only one who wanted Kaladin, but he fought hard for it.)

Mike put all of the names into a bracket. Each person filled out their own, which resulted in a variety of winners. From there, we took the top sixteen names and filled out one bracket as a family. As each pair of names came up, we all shared our pros and cons; we tried out each name with both the middle and last name; we said it next to the other boys' names to see how it fit. (It might be interesting to note that in this contest, "Silas" lost to "Leif" but then reemerged in the loser's bracket to ultimately take the whole thing.) 

Not only was this exercise fun for our whole family, but it made each person feel like they had a voice in the naming of this baby (although Mike and I were quick to remind them that, at the end of the day, we still got the final say). More and more, we were gravitating towards the name "Silas." It had a literature connection (Silas Marner), a biblical connection (Silas was the mission companion of the Apostle Paul), and a family connection (Mike's dad's name is Paul, so then we'd have our own Paul and Silas duo). 

But as I mulled over the top eight names, I kept wishing we could somehow name the baby after Mike's sister, Alisa. Alisa passed away from cancer seven years ago. Her birthday was in January, which was the same month the baby was due. But unlike Harriet to Harold or Erin to Aaron or even Taylor to Taylor, there wasn't an easy way to turn Alisa into something resembling a boy name. 

We had plenty of "A" names on our list, so I thought we could just keep the first initial the same, but that didn't feel like enough of a connection. Plus, we already had two "A" names in our family, and we were hoping for a name with a unique initial.

And then one day, I suddenly thought of a correlation that I loved. Maybe you have already spotted it since you know what we ended up naming him: "Silas" uses the same letters as "Alisa" but with double S's instead of double A's.

Silas // Alisa

Alisa // Silas

Alisa and baby Clark in 2014; she would have loved holding Silas, I just know it.

I thought of Alisa heavenside preparing Silas to come to earth. I don't know if that actually happens, but it feels like a real possibility, and the image of the two of them together is so sweet and tender. I hope that's what happened. I would love to know that Alisa instilled some of her wisdom in Silas before he entered mortality. 

The name suits him. He is our Big Sy/Spud/Sy Guy. 

But first and forever, he is Silas Joseph. 


  1. What a darling little boy and had a fun way to select a name. He is blessed to come to the Johnson/Nielsen family.

  2. I've always meant to have a webpage where I track fictional first names, so you can look on the page to see books with either the main character or any side characters with your name. I will keep an eye out for any Silas's for him. Lovely story, lovely baby!

  3. Naming kids is hard work! I remember having virtually the same conversation with my husband re: our oldest son's name. We narrowed it down to our 2 favorite names, but we weren't sure we should use our two favorite names on the same kid! What if we had another boy? What then? Thankfully, by the time our 2nd boy came along, we were able to come with names for him that we liked just as well. :) For my first daughter, we had it narrowed down to about 3 names, but when we saw her, my husband and I both independently had the feeling that her name was Rebecca. Fun times!
    Silas is a cute name that will grow with him well! I bet your boys loved the bracket system!


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