According to popular accounts, Sylva is named after William D. Sylva, a Danish handyman who spent a month in the home of General E. R. Hampton, who owned much of the land later developed as downtown Sylva. When the town applied for a post office, Hampton asked his young daughter Mae what the town's name should be. She liked the handyman so much she said, "Sylva." This account is disputed: according to a 21st-century investigation, the handyman William D. Sylva was not Danish, and it is likely that his surname was not Sylva. His last name was "Selvey;" the letter that he wrote to the town was likely in Portuguese, not Danish; and he was probably from the Little Canada Community. His daughter's maiden last name was Selvey according to genealogical archives. Her daughter (who recently came to the town) said that her grandfather's surname was "Selvey" instead.
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