She’s a lovely obscurity, boosted by an actress.
Thanks to Christine for suggesting Selah as our Baby Name of the Day.
Selah is actually two names:
- Sela, no -h, is a Hebrew word meaning rock. In the Old Testament, Sela was a city stretching from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. It was also called Edom.
- Selah, with an -h, is also Hebrew, but it is a musical term, also found in the Old Testament. Though there’s a lively debate about the term’s origins and significance, the simplest explanation is that selah indicates a pause.
I found two noteworthy men named Selah in the 1800s, and more in the Census records. While it was never common, it appears that Selah was a legitimately gender neutral name in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. With names like Ezra and Asa used for boys, an Old Testament place name or term seems like it could work for a son, regardless of the -a ending. Sela is very popular for boys in Israel today, but neither spelling is popular for boys in the US today.
The -h spelling is the one catching for girls on in recent years, but that’s likely thanks to Sela (without the h) Ward.
Ward’s television career spans the 1980s to today. She’s currently part of the cast of CSI: NY. In 2005 – the same year she appeared in House - Selah entered the US Top 1000. Today she stands at #579.
There are more other Selahs who could put the name in the spotlight.
First is Selah Sue, a Belgian-born singer who has made it big in Europe. Her given name is Sanne – a short form of Susannah, just like her stage surname. Should Sue strike it big in the US, she could bring much more attention to her first name.
Then there’s a starbaby – and stargrandbaby – in her own right: Selah Louise Marley.
Rohan Marley is reggae legend Bob Marley’s son. With songstress Lauryn Hill he has five children: Zion, Selah, Joshua, John, and Sarah. Selah just turned fourteen. She’s been dipping her toe into modeling for more than a year and has hinted at singing, too, so it is possible she could embark on a Willow Smith-esque career. Should that happen, we’ll doubtless hear even more of her given name.
For 2002’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Hill contributed a soundtrack song called “Selah,” named after her daughter. The lyrics don’t sound like the song is about a mother-daughter relationship, but they’re interesting because Hill gives a meaning for her daughter’s name in the lyrics:
And then he came, Selah
And it means praise and meditation
And then he came, Selah
And it means did you think about that
While it is tough to read into that, it does seem like Hill is aware of the Old Testament term, doesn’t it?
- Selah feels like a sleek, modern update to Sarah.
- She sounds something like up-and-comers Celia and Cecilia.
- The -lah ending is stylish – think of Lila and Stella and lots of other ends-with-la names we’ve embraced in recent years.
If you’re after a nickname-proof first name that fits current trends but remains uncommon, Selah is a great choice.