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.
After that it was simply a matter of squirreling away any name I came across in a novel or from television that was “Cornish”. And due to my complete inability to resist buying obscure name books hidden away in second-hand book shops, I now have three books on the subject of Cornish names and language. For me, there is something captivating about this lilting language that harkens back to an ancient Celtic past.
There is no doubt that Celtic names are hot at the moment. Several Gaelic-Celtic favourites have slipped effortlessly into the mainstream and are now widely used. Of these, Irish names have long reigned supreme, and it hasn’t taken long for parents and namers to look to Scotland for alternative Gaelic gems.
Now, in a bid for even fresher choices, the Britannic-Celtic languages are coming to the fore and Welsh names are beginning to look appealing and distinctive. Just lurking behind this spotlight is Cornish: the still relatively undiscovered sister-language.
If you are looking for a name with Celtic heritage and a unique yet oddly familiar ring – then look no further than the offerings from Cornwall.
Traditional Cornish names:
CHESTEN – C. form of Christine
ESELD (ez-ELD)– form of Isolde
JOWANET – C. form of Joan
LAMORNA – place name
LOWENA, LOWENNA (lo-WEN-a) – ‘joy’
CADOR, CADWUR (CAD-ur) – ‘warrior’
CASWORAN (caz-WOR-an) – ‘battle powerful’
KENVER – ‘great chief’
MARGH – C. form of Mark
MASSEN – C. form of Maximus (through the Welsh Macsen)
TREEVE – place name
Those who favour a name seeped with history can look to Cornwall’s multitude of medieval saints and semi-mythical figures for namesakes:
ENDELYN, ENDELLION, ENDELIENTA
IA, EIA, YA (EE-a)
WENN, GWEN, WENNA
BRYOK, BREOK (bree-OK)
GORON, GORRON – ‘hero’
KENEDER (ken-ED-ur) – ‘bold chief’
MADERN – This survives as a Cornish surname, Maddern
For a fresher feel, you could look to names that do not have traditional usage but come from the Cornish vocabulary or are more modern compound creations:
CAJA – ‘daisy’
DELEN – ‘petal’
ELESTREN (el-EST-ren) – ‘iris’
ELOWEN (el-LOW-en) – ‘elm’
ENOR – ‘honour’
GWENNOL –‘ swallow’
KELYNEN (ke-LIN-en) ‘holly’
KENSA (KEN-za) – ‘first’
KERESEN (ke-REZ-en) – ‘cherry’
MELYONEN (mel-YON-en) – ‘violet’
METHEVEN (me-THEV-en) –‘June’
MORGELYN (mor-GEL-in) – ‘sea + holly’
MORENWYN (mor-REN-win) ‘fair + maiden’
MORVOREN (mor-VOR-en) – ‘sea + maiden’ or ‘mermaid’
NESSA – ‘second’
ROSENWYN (roz-EN-win)– ‘rose + fair’
SOWENA, SOWENNA (so-WEN-a) – ‘success’
STEREN – ‘star’
TEGAN (TEGG-en) – ‘pretty thing’/’ornament’
TREGERETH (tre-GAIR-eth) – ‘compassion’ / ‘mercy’
TRESSA – ‘third’
Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a twenty-something primary school teacher living in Coventry, England who, beyond having a name obsession, loves chocolate, reading, travelling and teaching.