Our Baby Name of the Day is Shiloh.
In the Old Testament, Shiloh is a place, older than Jerusalem.
The city served as a sanctuary for the Israelites, prior to the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. It’s existed since the Bronze Age, which is ancient, indeed.
Shiloh may come from the Hebrew shalo – peaceful or tranquil – and given the city’s status, that Hebrew origin tracks.
It’s said the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the city’s tabernacle.
But Shiloh is also sometimes considered another name for the Messiah – Jesus or Mohammed – depending on your faith tradition. This line from Genesis makes the connection: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and unto him the gathering of people be.”
Shiloh could be related to shaluach – messenger. The Vulgate edition of the Bible translates Shiloh as “he who is to be sent.”
Parents seeking an openly religious name might find Shiloh appealing because of this story.
There’s also the Hebrew word for gift, shai, which is sometimes suggested as Shiloh’s origin, and ties it to another Biblical name, Jesse.
And yet, somehow, this name escapes feeling exclusively spiritual.
SHILOH on the MAP
Just as parents find naming inspiration for their children in the Bible, so do settlers of new towns.
Nearly two dozen places in the US are called Shiloh.
The most famous? No question that’s found in southwestern Tennessee. It was named after a log church, Shiloh Methodist, in the small, rural community. The church building was ultimately destroyed in the battle.
Fought in April 1862, the American Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh started with the Confederacy winning, but Union forces ultimately prevailed. General Ulysses S Grant led the Union army. Historians see the battle as a turning point for the war, opening the way to capturing Memphis and New Orleans in the coming months. However, heavy casualties grabbed headlines at the time, and the battle remains one of the most deadly in the Civil War.
The land is now preserved as Shiloh National Military Park.
The story was immortalized in Shelby Foote’s 1952 fictionalized account of the battle, Shiloh: A Novel.
One of the longest-running television Westerns was The Virginian, which aired on NBC from 1962 into 1971.
James Drury played the title character, a young Civil War veteran who goes to work on fictional Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming. We never learn his actual name. The series’ final year was rebranded as The Men from Shiloh.
It’s possible that the series helped parents imagine this name as masculine – though it didn’t lead to any significant use of Shiloh as a baby boy’s name.
Neither the Biblical reference nor the battlefield boosted the baby name Shiloh.
Instead, that’s down to a song.
Neil Diamond recorded “Shilo” back in 1967. It wasn’t immediately released as a single., but the song would eventually became one of Diamond’s standards.
The backstory is well known: Shilo was Diamond’s imaginary friend during his lonely childhood.
The lyrics make it clear that Shilo is a person:
Shilo, when I was young —
I used to call your name
When no one else would come,
Shilo, you always came
The Neil Diamond song gets credit for the name’s earliest popularity.
In 1969, five girls and seven boys received the name Shiloh – the first time it appeared in the US data for either baby boy or baby girl names. Parents must have recognized the name from the Bible or history, and added the H.
A year later, as “Shilo” the song gained more attention, it debuted in the US data, too, given to 38 girls and 9 boys in 1970.
A BEAGLE NAMED SHILOH
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor won a Newberry medal for children’s literature for her novel, Shiloh, first published in 1991. The boy’s name in Marty; the name Shiloh belongs to a beagle. The story explains how Marty rescued the dog from an abusive owner.
Three sequels followed, along with movie adaptations in the 1990s.
It wasn’t enough to boost the name – at least not for human children – but it might have helped keep it on some parents’ minds.
By the year 2000, 97 girls and 74 boys were named Shiloh.
SHILOH NOUVEL JOLIE-PITT
The name might have remained rare, chosen by parents for the song or the Biblical place name, the name of a town – of which there are many, or even the stories about the beagle.
But then in 2006, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt welcomed a daughter together. The new arrival joined Maddox and Zahara, and the family would eventually grow to include six siblings, adding sons Pax and Knox and daughter Vivienne.
Her given name immediately proved popular, more than doubling in use.
In 2006, 183 girls and 103 boys received the name.
By 2007, 367 girls and 142 boys were named Shiloh, enough to rank #787 for girls in the 2007 US popularity data.
Nouvel referenced a favorite architect of dad Brad, Jean Nouvel.
Years later, Angelina revealed the inspiration for her daughter’s first name. It turns out that Angelina’s parents had planned to name their child Shiloh. Her father, Jon Voight, was filming in Georgia during mom Marcheline Bertrand’s pregnancy. Sadly, it ended in miscarriage.
Angelina remembered the name, tough, and when the actress needed to check into hotels under an alias, she chose Shiloh. Years later, she and Brad would pass it on to their daughter.
And many others followed their lead.
BY the NUMBERS
As of 2021, the baby name Shiloh ranked #410 for girls in the US. That’s fairly popular, but not too common.
And while many will think first of the daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, as unusual names go, it’s not completely tied to the celebrity family.
Instead, it’s broadly seen as a gender-neutral name of Hebrew origin.
In fact, in 2021, 768 girls and 477 boys received the name – enough to rank it #581 for our sons.
It’s climbing across genders.
PEACEFUL and POWERFUL
Maybe it’s because so many parents understood the meaning of the name Shiloh from Biblical references. Either peaceful or messenger feel like uplfiting, strong meanings for a child’s name.
Other figures have helped. Actor Shiloh Fernandez and former Houston Texans’ player Shiloh Keo are two, both born in the 1980s.
Singer-songwriter David Berkeley recorded a song called “Shiloh” in 2004, inspired by the Civil War battle.
With Biblical names like Jacob, Noah, Joshua occupying the #1 spot for boys in recent years, it’s no surprise to find Shiloh appealing to modern parents for our sons. The O ending of Leo and Arlo and Beau boost that sound, too.
But then again, Margot and Willow put the O ending on the list of options for our daughters, too.
Combined, it’s clear that peaceful and powerful baby name Shiloh has potential for all of our children, a meaningful choice with ancient roots and twenty-first century style.
First published on January 2, 2013, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on February 14, 2023.