Thanks to Erica for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
THE LITTLE BROTHER
Chances are you know the Old Testament tale of Cain and Abel.
But do you recall the name of their little brother?
The baby name Seth derives from a Hebrew word meaning placed or appointed.
And yes, he’s the third son of Adam and Eve. In the Book of Genesis, Cain is the couple’s firstborn, and a farmer. Their second son, Abel, becomes a shepherd. In a fit of rage and jealousy, Cain murders his brother and is condemned to a life of wandering.
It’s a tragic story, one told and re-told across the years, not only in religious contexts. Many artists have depicted the scene, too.
But Seth isn’t generally mentioned.
Still, he’s the only other child of Adam and Eve mentioned in the Bible. And Seth is the ancestor of Noah, who goes on to save all of humanity, as well as animal life, from the great flood.
That also makes Seth the direct ancestor of Jesus.
A second Seth – also written as Sutekh, Set, and Sethos – was part of the Egyptian pantheon.
This second Seth reigned over chaos and destruction. He ended up banished to the desert.
Modern English generally refers to the figure as Set, so the connection is fuzzy at best.
Like many an Old Testament choice, the baby name Seth rises in use during the Protestant Reformation.
That means we can find men of accomplishment by the name across the years.
During the American Revolution, Seth Warner was one of the Green Mountain Boys, along with his cousin Ethan Allen.
More recently, there’s:
- Actor, animator, and writer Seth MacFarlane
- Seth Rogen and Seth Green, both well-known actors
- Fictional characters on The OC, where Adam Brody played Seth Cohen, and Twilight, which gave us a werewolf named Seth Clearwater, to name just two
- Late night host and comedian Seth Meyers
- Seth Curry plays in the NBA, and yes, he’s the younger brother of Stephen Curry
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, her main character was a female Sethe, pronounced with two syllables: Sethie.
And it’s sometimes a surname, too. It can be derived from the same Biblical story, but lots of other possible origins and meanings attach.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Seth has always ranked in the US Top 1000 for boys. It was fairly uncommon until the 1960s.
What explains the name’s rise? Possibly hit television Western Wagon Train. Major Seth Adams was played by Ward Bond, a well-established character actor. The show’s 1957 debut lines up with a slow, but noticeable increase in the use of the name Seth by the early 1960s.
It also fit right in with names like Kenneth and Keith, as well as more single-syllable boys’ names in general.
By the 1980s, the baby name Seth regularly appeared in the US Top 100. It hovered there for years, peaking at #63 in 2000.
While that sounds fairly common, this is the kind of name that remains nicely under-the-radar. It fits right in with a generation that answered to Jeff and Josh, and it’s equally at home with Theo and Asher.
STRONG and DISTINCTIVE
That makes the baby name Seth distinctive.
It belongs to an undeniably significant Biblical figure. But his story is little-known, unlike his quarrelsome older brothers or his storied descendants.
Sound-wise, Seth is nicely on-trend, but also sounds timeless. It was an appropriate choice during the American Revolution, for settlers headed West on the frontier, or for a celebrated actor or athlete in the twenty-first century.
It’s versatile, nickname-proof, and impossible to pigeon-hole. If you’re crushed that Jude, Theo, and Max are all taken, consider Seth. It’s strong, but gentle – a flexible choice that your son will seldom have to share.
What do you think of the baby name Seth?
First published on November 12, 2008, this post was revised and updated on February 10, 2024.