There are unusual names, and then there are names that are truly seldom heard.
Thanks to Elle for suggesting a real rarity as our Baby Name of the Day: Peliah.
Peliah brings to mind pelicans and Pellegrino, tempting you to put the emphasis on the first syllable: PELL ee uh. But the emphasis should be on the middle syllable – peh LYE ah, something like Mariah.
Pelia is an equally valid spelling, but invites a two-syllable pronunciation that works in a sentence: “Can I peelya an apple?”
The name has never ranked in the US Top 1000, but does appear in US Census records. Pelia is more plentiful than Peliah, but neither is common.
Most sources indicate that Peliah is a Hebrew name that means miracle of God. After much digging, I found a list of words that were translated as miracle in the Old Testament. Sure enough, way down the list is pela. Kabbalah also gives us a book called Sefar al-Peliyah or Sefer al-Peli’ah, a commentary on Genesis. The writings date to the Middle Ages, but they seem an unlikely source for a child’s name.
There are hints that she’s Greek, too. You’re probably dimly aware that Adonis, myth’s ultimate pretty boy, was a mortal so handsome that he caught the eye of Aphrodite. Melus was one of Adonis’ companions. And Melus’ wife? Pelia. The story is obscure, and unhappy. When Adonis is attacked by a wild boar and dies, both Melus and Pelia committed suicide in grief.
There’s also a tragedy by Eurpides called Peliades, about the daughters of Pelias. Myth tells that Pelias was the son of Poseidon, and the king of Iolcus. He’s the ruler who sends Jason on his search for the Golden Fleece. But Pelias was also the father of seven girls: Acastus, Pisidice, Alcestis, Pelopia, Hippothoe, Asteropia, and Antinoe. Alcestis has quite the story of her own, enough to inspire a sequel of her own, an opera by Gluck, and a modern adaptation by Thornton Wilder.
And yet, Pelia could just be a construction based on other popular names of the era. The US Top 1000 for the 1880s includes lots of ends-in-elia names:
- Amelia, Emilia
Her sound would have fit in with many current names in the nineteenth century, so it wouldn’t have taken much for some parents to discover Pelia. Many of those same names are in vogue again. Amelia has never been more popular than she is today. Factor in Peliah’s meaning, and it is easy to imagine parents considering Peliah.
The only question is whether her pronunciation poses a problem. peh LYE ah has a certain dramatic appeal. It’s downright unexpected, and almost stately. But Peel ya seems far less attractive than Delia, Celia, or even Nelia – and it is likely that most would tend to use the two-syllable pronunciation.
But if you don’t mind explaining your child’s name, Peliah emerges as a true rarity with intriguing roots.