Category: Welsh baby names
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.
The first time I visited Cornwall was at the tender age of one. Sadly, my dad’s abiding memory of that holiday was a grouching baby grizzling all through his long-awaited sailing trip (something he has yet to fully forgive me for to this day). A few years later my parents bravely returned again, one more child in tow, and fortunately much fun and sandcastle-building ensued.
It wasn’t until several years later when I returned to the region as a fifteen year-old that I was truly able to appreciate the breath-taking beauty of the Cornish coast and countryside. In the intervening years since my last visit I had developed an avid, border-line obsessive, passion for names and their meanings. What struck me was that many houses were named instead of numbered, and these place names, along with those adorning road signs, quickly caught my attention both due to the foreign sound to English ears, and the similarity to my greatest name-love: Welsh names.
Because of its relatively small population, Wales has sent fewer immigrants to the US than Ireland and Scotland have–a mere 100,000 between 1820 and 1976–so that Welsh names are not as well known here as the other Celts. Which is a shame, because it’s a lilting, rhythmic language, offering lots of fresh and beguiling choices.
Like the Irish, the Welsh have only rediscovered some of the rich resources of their own language and culture in the past century. Ater the Welsh language was suppressed for hundreds of years, baby namers are now digging back into their native history and myth, traditional literature and legends for inspirational namesakes of ancient heroes, princes and other royalty, for example increasing the popularity of names like the mythological Rhiannon.
Unlike the Irish names, Welsh choices present far fewer pronunciation challenges–their spelling is much closer to phonetic. Also note that the yn ending is usually masculine (even though, for example, Gwyn might sound feminine to us), and the en ending, as in Gwen, is for the most part feminine.
Here, a selection of some rich Welsh possibilities:
FFLUR (FLEER)–Welsh word for flower)
GWENNO (a nickname-name for Gwen names)
SIAM (SHAM)–Welsh form of James
SIARL (SHARL)–Welsh form of Charles
SIOR (SHOR)–Welsh form of George