Selah: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 16, 2013

Selah: Baby Name of the Day

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?

Overall:

  • 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.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sela November 13, 2013 at 8:30 PM

My name is Sela! For the record, I very much hate having my name confused with Selah. Not the same, not at all, not related, nope. As you said, Sela means rock or crag in Hebrew, is the Hebrew version of Petra, and the original name of the archaeological site in Jordan called Petra. I pronounce my name See-luh, I was born in 1992, and no, I was not named after Sela Ward. My parents heard about her only after I was born. I have never met another person with my name, and I like it that way ;) I am constantly having to spell and pronounce it, and getting called the wrong name, but that has just made my relationship with my name all the more strong. It does get really annoying when people try to tell me my parents just left the h off the end.
For the record, “Sela” is also found in the Bible, referring to the city. It is also used in one important verse in the New Testament when Jesus is talking to Peter (because they mean the same), which is nice. Everybody I meet seems to love my name, and all in all, it’s pretty great.
I have a brother named Judah Matthew, and a sister named Grace Salome, so obviously, my parents really like the obscure Biblical theme thing, but so do my grandparents/great-grandparents, etc, because I have an aunt named Exa, an uncle named Titus, and several great-grandmothers and on that are named Salome.

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Kaeli January 23, 2013 at 11:11 PM

I love, love Selah! I’m a huge fan of the Christian group, I’m familiar with it in the Psalms, and our friend’s daughter is named Selah (also Evangelical Christian), pronounced SAY-lah….I’ve never heard it pronounced See-lah but the spelling Sela would make more sense for that pronunciation.

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Brea January 21, 2013 at 2:32 AM

There’s a town in Washington named Selah, though we pronounce it “see-lah” which often gets mixed up with another town named Zillah.

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Gillian January 16, 2013 at 11:48 PM

ooooh, i love this name. it’s so soft and delicate to me.

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Sharalyn January 16, 2013 at 7:45 PM

I know 3 little Selah’s. All of the Evangelical Christian faith.

There is also the (very) popular Christian music group Selah:
http://selahonline.com/

One of the men (Todd Smith) is the husband of a prominent Christian blogger and author, Angie Smith.

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Sharalyn January 16, 2013 at 7:46 PM

Oh–and most say it isn’t a pause, but a rest. :-)

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appellationmountain January 16, 2013 at 8:11 PM

Thanks, Sharalyn! I completely missed the band … it probably helps explain how some families first heard the name.

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Julie January 16, 2013 at 7:01 PM

There was a Sela at Maria’s daycare last year. Her siblings are Si3rra and S3bastien, so Sela was a bit of a surprise.

It really does feel like an updated Sarah, I’m confused to why it hasn’t taken off.

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karen January 16, 2013 at 6:25 PM

When I was in college, an orthodox jewish friend explained that selah meant, basically, “right on, God!” I’ve always thought it would make a beautiful name based on that meaning, heh.

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Mary January 16, 2013 at 5:39 PM

Like Beth indicated earlier, I have heard that Selah is usually pronounced “Say-la” and Sela prounounced “See-la”. Either way, I love the meaning and love that it is from the Bible. Selah is also the name of a Christian band.

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Beth January 16, 2013 at 3:31 AM

My almost one year old is named Selah (pronounced like cayla with an s). We love the somewhat uniqueness of it!

But, as for the nickname proof-ness of it, we have the nicknames Lala and lolly (bit of a stretch with lolly, I know).

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