Salem: Baby Name of the DaySalem takes center stage for a Halloween-inspired Baby Name of the Day.

Salem: Bible

Like many a popular place name, this one traces its roots to the Bible.

We know that Melchizedek reigned there as king. The Old Testament mentions other places, too.

My Biblical geography fails me, so let’s just say it might – or might not – be the same place as Jerusalem.

Places named for the original are found all over the world. You can find them throughout the US and the UK, Canada, South Africa, Germany and Sweden. But one stands out from the rest.

Salem: Tragic

The Massachusetts city would be historic even without the witch trials. European settlers arrived in 1626. Native Americans traded there earlier. It became a significant port for the newcomers, too.

The events of 1692 make the town world famous. Witch trials took place in Europe, and elsewhere in the colonies, before 1692. But the mass hysteria associated with the Massachusetts events was especially dramatic. Twenty lost their lives to execution, and more died in prison.

The tragic lessons live on, in part thanks to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Miller wrote the account of the witch trials during the 1950s Red Scare. It won a Tony Award, became one of the foundational works of American drama, and resulted in an investigation of Miller by the McCarthy-era Committee on Un-American Activities.

Salem embraces the history, in ways both serious and playful. Multiple officials acts have exonerated the victims, and memorials now stand throughout the region. The high school sports teams are called the Witches, and tourism booms.

Salem: Elsewhere

An Oregon town by the name is nearly as well known.

North Carolina’s Winston-Salem made its reputation on tobacco. Menthol cigarettes called Salem were marketed for many years.

Will this give parents pause? Maybe. But as cigarettes disappear from mainstream advertising, it seems like less of a consideration.

Salem: Salim

Of course, this might also be viewed as an alternate spelling of the Arabic masculine name Salim.

Salim is pronounced differently, with a short ‘a’ and long ‘e’ sound.

Like the place name, it comes from the same roots as the word shalom.

Hebrew speakers use shalom as a greeting, meaning peace. It ultimately comes from a word meaning complete, or in good health. The Arabic salaam carries the same meaning.

Given names Absalom and Solomon also share the same roots.

Salem: Pop Culture

Besides the witch trials, there’s a second bewitching association you might make with the name.

Comic strip-turned-90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch gave us a cat by the name. Sabrina’s cat started out as a witch intent on taking over the world and ended as a reluctant houseguest of the Spellman family.

Salem: By the Numbers

The name saw sparing use for boys in the early twentieth century, perhaps thanks to the Arabic name, or use as a surname.

By the 1970s, it charted in small numbers for girls. That might reflect the soap opera Days of Our Lives. Debuting in 1965, Days takes place in a fictional town by the name.

Since then, it has quietly gained in use. I first heard it mentioned in 2004; 110 children were named Salem that year, split between boys and girls.

As of 2015, 162 girls and 139 boys were given the name. It follows other place names, like Brooklyn and London, into wider use.

Salem: Edgy Virtue Place Name?

It’s tough to pin down Salem. The witchcraft trials make this name edgy, but the meaning is appealing, and our affection for place names is clear.

Overall, this name remains daring – but increasingly wearable.

Do you think Salem works as a child’s name? Is it better for a boy or a girl?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I just named my son Salem. We honeymooned in Salem, Ma in October of ’15, and my husband is a descent of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Most love his name! One questioned why I’d name my baby after cigarettes, but her son’s name is Bentley, do I just replied that is no different than naming him after a car I’ll never afford.

  2. The only Salem I know is a one-year-old boy. His big sis is Stella; the pairing really works for their family.

    Between him and Sabrina’s cat, the name is all boy to me.

  3. My son’s name is Salem. He is now an adult. We chose this name for it’s meaning– ‘peace’. One person did ask me why I gave my child a witch name . Another person wanted to know why I named him after a cigarette. Other than those comments, our experiences have been mostly positive. I love it’s African/Middle Eastern connections– it was helpful when he was younger. Salem also seems to be popular among African Americans. It seems to be a family name for some folks in our town. Salem Poor was a former slave who became a war hero during the American Revolution.

    1. Thank you for adding the info about Salem Poor – I’m so sorry I didn’t find it for the original post. It makes this a hero name, to be sure. Glad to hear it has worn well!

  4. Other pop culture references I think of: the current TV show called Salem inspired by the witch trials [the third season starts in a couple of days], and Stephen King’s story/movie ‘Salem’s Lot.

    I quite like Salem as a sort of nickname for Solomon/Suleiman — I would say for Absalom as well, but that already has the “rocking” short form Axel/Aksel. 😉