Category: Welsh baby names
by Linda Rosenkrantz
If you’re looking for a name that reflects your Welsh roots, or simply find the soft sound of names from Wales appealing, there are several possible ways to go. You could consider Welsh names that have long been used in the US—some of which have far from obvious roots. Then there those currently popular in Wales which have never made their way through US immigration. And, finally, some other, interesting Welsh names worth considering, including some Welsh versions of classics.
WELSH NAMES WITH US CITIZENSHIP
For most people outside of the UK, “British Names” are typified by the old Victorian legacy of Empire and afternoon tea, or the ethereal mystery of ancient Celtic folklore. The stereotype often favours rarefied aristocratic favourites such as Percival and Araminta, or tongue-twisting indigenous Gaelic choices like Aonghus or Caoimhe.
If you look at the most popular names that are actually used in Britain today you will see a much more varied picture. Like other Western countries there is a large influence from film and television, a popular cult of celebrity, and a growing awareness of global fashions (yes, we have many Neveahs and Jaydens, too). And yet, even in our modernised naming practices, British trends still manage to make a subtle nod to history in a style that feels quite unique.
What marks the Edwardian era of British baby names as distinct from those used in the Victorian period is the sheer number of different names used. In previous centuries the standard practice was to select a child’s name from the immediate family. When an infant died the next child to be born would be given that name, limiting the name pool to five to eight names in a family. Fanciful names were reserved for the aristocracy, and even they kept them permeating along the family line.
The Victorians made a change to this idea. Names borne by a deceased family member were now considered ‘unlucky’. Parents suddenly had to look elsewhere for names and artistic, literary and religious movements provided much needed inspiration. The Victorian love of anything ‘gothic’, and the influence of Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites brought back medieval and mythical names like Lancelot, Ralph, Edgar, Alice, Elaine, Edith and Mabel; the Romantic movement re-introduced names such as Wilfred, Quentin, Cedric, Amy and Rowena; and the religious Tractarian movement revived long lost Saint’s names like Augustine, Benedict, Ignatius, Euphemia and Genevieve.
By the Edwardian era many of these previously obsolete names had become de rigueur and permeated all the social classes. More than at any time before, the gap between the names of the upper classes and those of the lower was considerably contracted. The 1911 census shows that many wealthy household members shared the same names as their domestic servants. For example, Constantia Beatrice Sophia, born 1905, was the daughter of a furniture mover and Lancelot Frederick Charles, born 1907, was a nurseryman’s son, showing that these previously ‘upper class’ names were now being enjoyed throughout the social classes.
One of the biggest trends of the Edwardian era of British baby names was the use of nature names. Some of the most popular names such as, Daisy, Iris, Ivy, Primrose, Beryl, Pearl and Ruby were used sparingly in the first half of the nineteenth century – and, interestingly, equally spread amongst boys and girls. By the 1880s, these names started to became very fashionable (now solely for girls) which led to them becoming the darlings of the Edwardian age.
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.
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/).
In the spirit of friendly, transatlantic competition, I couldn’t let a post about the President’s children go by without taking a look at the naming habits of Prime Ministers past. With a few more years of incumbents to consider(Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister in the modern sense of the position, was appointed in 1721), I discovered a veritable mountain of lovely, classic names.
The most commonly occurring name for the son of a Prime Minister was William, which popped up twelve times. In fact, one PM, William Henry Cavendish-Bentwick used it twice, naming his first two sons (who both survived childhood) William and William Henry. In second place was George, with nine. The middle name Augustus appeared four times.
As for daughters, the most popular name was Mary, which occurred seven times, as well as there being two little Marias. The Catherine variants numbered seven – five Catherines, one Katherine, and, most recently, a Kathryn. Other names which proved surprisingly popular were Hester and Louisa.
Strange naming trends abounded; naming children after relatives and friends, for example. ‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘I named my daughter after so-and-so.’ Well, of course, but not like PM George Canning did when he named his second son William Pitt Canning, after friend and former Prime Minister, William Pitt the younger. Robert Peel also named one of his sons after a former Prime Minister who had supported his career, bestowing upon him the name Arthur Wellesley Peel.