SylkeWeb – Sylke’s mutterings to herself on an island not so far away


I've been asked by people about the name Sylke, so here is an explanation.

Listen to the name, if you would like to know how to pronounce it:

Sylke is a popular name for women in Germany, where I am from. I've noticed that it is also in use in the Frisian dialect area in the Netherlands (seems to get more and more), in the USA (rare), and in its original form of Silke it is also a common name in Denmark (there is even a city called Silkeborg).

First of all, the ending -KE indicates that it is from Northern Germany or a Northern Germanic dialect. This sort of suffix is generally used to express that something is small. In other parts of Germany -CHEN or -LEIN is used for the same effect. However, there are no such names as Sylchen or Syllein, whereas you find Anke (from Anna) and Ännchen (but again no Ännlein). There are also quite a number of other names ending on -KE, for example Elke (my sister's name incidently), Heike, Inke, Hauke (male), Frauke and possibly more.

I've looked around on the internet to see which explanations there are out there for this name. One German site used to explain that it comes from the old Roman family name 'Caecilius' and that this name is related to the latin word for 'blind' (caecus). The site has been changed in the meantime and I now find similar information to what I present below.

Years ago, I looked up the name in a book and I found two different possible roots for the 'syl' part of the word, which I found more likely to believe:

Sylke (or more commonly Silke) comes very probably from the name Gisela (Gisèle in French). According to that book, Gisela meant a "young woman of a noble family". I actually knew a Gisela who is called 'Giselchen' which could be 'Giselke' in Northern Germany. Well, from there it is a short way to 'Silke' or 'Sylke'…

In another theory from the book, it is said that Cäcilie (Cecily in English) is the root – and according to that book this apparently means "lily from heaven". This goes along with the 'Caecilius' theory, but not with the meaning attributed above. Naturally I prefer the 'lily from heaven'. :)

Taking this further: The -KE ending means this is the diminutive form, so I'm either a "little young woman of a noble family" or a "little lily from heaven"…

Of course, hardly anybody knows about these connections nowadays, as this was only with meaning for people who understood early Germanic dialects or Latin.

Back home in Germany I never liked my name, there simply were too many women with the same name around. Having moved away, I changed my opinion: I especially like that many English native speakers connect it with 'silk' and pronounce it as 'silky'.

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