The baby name Selah combines the traditional simplicity of Sarah with a meaning as rich as Harmony or Promise.
Thanks to Christine for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
It’s tempting to refer to the baby name Selah as an Old Testament name.
Except that’s only partially correct.
In the Old Testament Book of Psalms, the word selah appears. It indicates a pause. That makes this more akin to musical names like Cadence than traditional favorites like Naomi or Esther.
And yet, Selah sounds like a name.
Pause can also mean rest, and that feels like a powerful meaning. It’s not exactly a virtue, but it suggests desirable qualities, like patience and calm.
Or at least that’s the way that we hear it today.
There’s also a Sela in the Old Testament, a city stretching from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Because Sela means rock, it was also sometimes referred to as Petra, the Latin translation.
BY the NUMBERS
A handful of women, and even a few men, were named Sela in the 1800s and 1900s. That’s also true for Selah, but in smaller numbers.
Henry James used Selah for the name of a character in his 1886 novel The Bostonians.
Kveller lists Sela as a unisex name meaning rock. Since parents routinely turned to the Bible for naming inspiration, it seems likely that the place name and the term from Psalms might’ve inspired a few families.
That starts to change late in the twentieth century.
In 1990, just seven girls were named Sela. By 1995, that number was 31.
As for Selah, it was given to 11 girls in 1990, and 40 by 1995.
That’s not exactly an unstoppable trend, but it’s clearly the beginning of something.
Credit probably goes to one woman.
Actor Sela Ward’s first roles were in the 1980s.
But it was 1991 when she got her big break, playing Teddy Reed on Sisters. The NBC drama ran through 1996, chronicling the Reed family. The show’s successful run included a Primetime Emmy Award for Ward. Fun fact: George Clooney appeared in later seasons as Teddy’s love interest, and eventual husband.
Ward continued to appear in television series, earning a second Primetime Emmy for her work on Once and Again, and also appearing on House, CSI: NY, and FBI.
Both Sela and Selah begin to rise in the early 1990s, just as Ward’s career flourished. After years of seeing her on our screens week after week, no surprise the name feels familiar.
It’s not just Ward, though.
In 1998, Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley welcomed a daughter named Selah. Rohan is the son of reggae legend Bob Marley. That makes Selah music royalty. In 2011, she also launched a modeling career of her own.
Some parents might’ve stumbled on the name thanks to the high profile family.
For 2002’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Hill contributed a soundtrack song called “Selah,” named after her daughter.
More interesting still, Hill explains the name’s meaning 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
One way or another, it’s possible that Selah Marley probably helped contribute to the name’s rise.
Selah sometimes substitutes for Amen, a sort of spiritual affirmation. It flits on the edges of pop culture, from the letters of Hunter S. Thompson to reggae songs.
It’s possible the meaning was always there. It also seems like we might’ve expanded and added to Selah across the years.
Either way, the baby name Selah feels like a purpose name. It’s not a virtue exactly, like old school Grace. It’s more akin to modern choices like Creed. It signals belief in something higher, but it’s slightly ambiguous, too.
SLEEK and STYLISH
Even without the meaning attached, the baby name Selah might have succeeded on sound.
This is the age of Lyla and Mia, Isla and Sophie. Liquid, flowing sounds, heavy on vowels and short on consonants, define many of the most popular choices for our children today. Short and nickname-proof helps, too.
Plus, long-time favorite Sarah makes Selah feel like an Old Testament name – just one that we’ve overlooked in the past.
That’s no longer true, of course.
The baby name Selah entered the US Top 1000 in 2005 at #943. It has since climbed to #428 in the year 2020. That’s an all-time high.
And yet, Selah’s rise has been slow and steady. Nothing makes this name feel trendy or fleeting. In fact, it still feels nicely uncommon.
If a mix of meaning and sound matter to you, the baby name Selah might be the unexpected choice you’re after.
What do you think of the baby name Selah?
First published on January 16, 2013, this post was revised and re-published on April 27, 2022.
I named. my cat Selah (“SAY-la”); inspired by the Lauryn Hill song about her son of the same same. After several years of correcting nearly everyone on the correct pronunciation of Selah (often “sell-a”), I just used her nickname to make things easier.
Selah was the first pet I named and became a big reason why I chose easy to pronounce, one spelling names for our four kids. ;o)
Sela was the name of a 5th century Viking princess who became a pirate! It’s at the top of my list for my baby girl!
Tiffany Kalliainen says
This name is a Boy’s name in Israel . 95 percent male ratio to 5 percent female. I’m going to totally use this if we have a Boy! I love it! Spelled Sela of course.
I would like to ask you, if you would pronounce the name Seila as see-la or somehow else?
Hmmm … I think I might see it more like Kyla/Lila/Lyla, with a long ‘i’ sound, as in right, light, and kite.
But I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a Seila who says her name with a long ‘ee’ like Selah. Which do you prefer?
Thank you for the answer! I am from Hungary and my mother would like to give me the name Sheila, but the name Sheila can not be given here (annoying), so they say my name as Sheila.
But from these options maybe I would prefer the long ‘ee’ sound.
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.
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.
There’s a town in Washington named Selah, though we pronounce it “see-lah” which often gets mixed up with another town named Zillah.
ooooh, i love this name. it’s so soft and delicate to me.
I know 3 little Selah’s. All of the Evangelical Christian faith.
There is also the (very) popular Christian music group Selah:
One of the men (Todd Smith) is the husband of a prominent Christian blogger and author, Angie Smith.
Oh–and most say it isn’t a pause, but a rest. 🙂
Thanks, Sharalyn! I completely missed the band … it probably helps explain how some families first heard the name.
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.
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.
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.
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).