Baby Name of the Day: Peliah


Green P in the grass

Green P in the grass by Hilary Perkins

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 pelaKabbalah 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 AphroditeMelus 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
  • Delia
  • Celia
  • Lelia
  • Cecelia
  • Cornelia
  • Ophelia
  • Cordelia
  • Adelia
  • Aurelia
  • Nelia
  • Odelia

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.

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15 Comments

We named our daughter Peliah, pronounce it “Pay-lee-ah” more of a European ‘i’ sounding like ‘ee’, and emphasis on the second syllable. We call her Peli (Pay-lee) for short.
She is our miracle baby!

Yay! Thanks again for taking this name! I adore the little Peliah in my life and it’s great to get a little background on a completely unusual name, even for a girl from the Norhtwest where the unusual is more common. Thanks again for taking on my suggestion and still love your site!

Coming out of lurkerdom!

I like Pelia… but I keep wanting to say it Peh-LEE-ah, lol. Interesting name. I think I prefer Celia, though. (and I say that SEEL-ee-ah, with most -lia names I say it like Leah, not just Ya.)

Nice to see you in the light of day, Laura Rose! I know a little Celia – but with the two syllable pronunciation. I’m partial to Cicely, but it is a great cluster of names.

Peliah is pretty. It definitely looks like an obscure Hebrew name when it is spelled with the H ending — reminds me of a cross between Peninah and Keziah and Delilah and Zillah and such.

I instinctively said “pee-LYE-ah when I said it upon seeing it, but it looks familiar to me, probably from myth. I read a lot and file all sorts of things away. *shrug*

It’s not the most pleasant sound but I’m not convulsing in horror either. But overall, I prefer Dinah & Peninah to Peliah.

Never heard of this name before, but upon reading the title I immediately thought of two things: it rhymes with pariah, and the pronunciation of the last two syllables is exactly the same as the pronunciation of the word ‘liar’. Neither are particularly nice associations.

I pronounce the r in liar too. But yes, when I read the article on this name I thought, “It’s pretty, but my friends whose linguistic backgrounds make it difficult for them to enunciate their l’s will end up saying Pariah.”