Salem has several competing meaning and Origins.  The chief among them are the following five terms:  Cheram, Sailam, Salya, Seylai and Seelam.  The word cheram (or keralam or seram) indicates that this was the land of the cherams.. Salem is a weaving centre.  Most of the weaving in Salem is still concentrated in producing Saeylai (the Tamil word for sari) the one/piece garment worn by women therefore, Salem is supposed to mean the place where Saeylais are produced.

The city contains two major temples dedicated to Sukavana Isvarar and Soundhararaja Perumal, both on the right bank of the river.  A number of Mari Amman and Kali Amman temples are found in  almost all parts of the city.

Arts and literature flourished and patronized by the rulers of the hills and plains. Avvaiyar and other Sangam poets of Salem were renowned and well respected.