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Category: names from Wales

Welsh Names: Gwen or Gwyn?

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In our never-ending search for enlightenment on the names of various cultures, we turn today to guest blogger Norah Burch of namenerds.com to throw some light on some of the mysteries of Welsh nomenclature.

Though Welsh names haven’t been as popular in the U.S. as names from other parts of the British Isles, we still find them now and then. Many, such as Dylan, Morgan, Owen, and Megan have been used here for years. Several more, such as Reese/Rhys, Rhiannon and Tegan, are currently climbing the charts. So, though they are not as common as Irish or Scottish names, Welsh names are here to stay.

When people think of Welsh names, they probably immediately come up with those containing  gwen or gwyn, and indeed many Welsh names contain that element, which means several things: “white,” “fair-haired,” “beautiful,” “holy,” “blessed,” “pure,” etc. When at the end of a name (e.g., Bronwen, Arianwen, Rhydwyn), the “g” is usually dropped, giving us names ending in -wen or -wyn.

Just as in English where we have different endings for names of different genders (like Julian/Julia, Joseph/Josephine), Welsh names follow gender rules. In Welsh feminine names, the form of gwyn is always Gwen, as in Gwennan, Gwenydd, Arianwen, Bronwen, Carwen, Blodwen etc.  In masculine names, the form is always Gwyn, as in Gwynfor, Caerwyn, and Aelwyn.

Some examples of feminine/masculine versions of the same name are: Aelwen/Aelwyn, Carwen/Carwyn, Gwenfor/Gwynfor, Gwen/Gwyn.

Other names that have become popular in the U.S. for girls are strictly masculine in Welsh: Meredith (in Welsh, Meredydd), Bryn, Glyn, and Morgan.

The Welsh language has some sounds that English-speakers’ ears are not used to; for example, the “rh” in Rhys and Rhiannon sounds something like a rolled “r” with a “h” in front of it. I cannot even begin to explain the “ll” as in Lloyd and Llewellyn — sort of like “H’yuh” with a slight “l” at the end. There are some other anomalies, such as “w” can be a vowel (i.e., the female name Gwawr, meaning “dawn”), “u” can sometimes sound like an “ee” and “f” is  pronounced like “v” (e.g. the woman’s name Tudful /TID vil/).

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