By Eleanor Nickerson
Following on from my analysis of the top Welsh names in Wales and the top Scottish names in Scotland, it’s time to have a look at one of the most overlooked, yet up-and-coming, areas of Celtic naming — Cornish names.
Unlike their Irish, Scottish and Welsh cousins, Cornish names are still the relative under-dogs in the world of Celtic names. When you look at the overall statistics for England and Wales, Cornish names—with the exception of long-since-adopted-by-the-western-world Jennifer and Tristan—are pretty well hidden.
However, times are changing, and there are signs of Cornish names such as Elowen, Jago and Lowenna getting more wider exposure and usage every year. Quite possibly some of these choices will be the next Dylans, Ryans, Erins and Megans.
Many of the names we now consider to be Cornish are relatively modern in use, sparked by Cornish revival movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and taken directly from the modern Cornish dictionary. The adoption of many of these modern names is thanks to a little book named Names for the Cornish by Cornish publishers Dyllansow Truran in 1984.
Sadly, there are no official statistics for Cornwall itself, but the closest we can get is the regional data for the South West of England which includes Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon as well as Cornwall. In this data, traditional Cornish names, and modern coinages from the Cornish language, suddenly come to life—and are most likely even higher ranking in Cornwall alone.
Here is a breakdown of the stats from the South West in 2014, 2015 and 2016:
|JAGO||#230 (19)||#193 (24)||#185 (25)||AILLA||#305 (13)||#417 (9)||#395 (9)|
|JOWAN||#221 (20)||#228 (19)||#227 (20)||BRYHER||#847 (3)||#446 (8)||#842 (3)|
|KITTO||#613 (4)||CAJA||#842 (3)|
|LOCRYN||#487 (6)||#474 (6)||DEMELZA||#847 (3)||#842 (3)|
|LOWEN||#360 (9)||#228 (19)||#191 (24)||ELOWEN||#305 (13)||#264 (15)||#200 (22)|
|MAWGAN||#593 (4)||#602 (4)||ELOWYN||#482 (7)|
|PERRAN||#602 (4)||JENNIFER||#191 (23)||#195 (23)||#225 (19)|
|PIRAN||#695 (3)||#406 (8)||#347 (10)||KENSA||#844 (3)||#678 (4)|
|RUAN||#518 (5)||#326 (11)||#313 (12)||KENZA||#718 (4)|
|SENNEN||#466 (6)||#487 (6)||LERRYN||#489 (7)|
|TRISTAN||#139 (38)||#171 (29)||#136 (40)||LOWEN||#844 (3)|
|LOWENNA||#305 (13)||#326 (12)||#243 (17)|
|MERRYN||#292 (14)||#210 (21)||#362 (10)|
|SENARA||#706 (4)||#433 (8)|
|SENNEN||#495 (7)||#446 (8)|
|TAMSIN||#495 (7)||#706 (4)||#678 (4)|
|TAMSYN||#706 (4)||#678 (4)|
|TEGEN||#847 (3)||#538 (6)||#842 (3)|
|Names in bracket represent the birth count.||ZENNOR||#621 (5)|
Ailla – Purportedly meaning “most beautiful” in Cornish, you will be hard pressed to find ailla in a modern Cornish dictionary. It does however, appear in 18th and 19th century sources** which perhaps makes it an archaic dialect form. There are plenty of forum posts on British pregnancy sites showing that Ailla is getting used specifically as a Cornish choice and, in particular, as a variant of Isla.
Bryher (BRY-a) – Sounding just like Briar, Bryher is an island that is part of the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast, following the modern Celtic tradition of using place names (such as Isla, Arran, Skye, Tara, Ailsa etc).
Demelza (de-MEL-za) – The name of a hamlet in Cornwall, famously used by Winston Graham for the name of his feisty and admirable Cornish heroine Demelza Carne in his Poldark novels (1945-2002) and kick-started the name’s use. In the book it was cited as meaning “thy sweetness” but this is almost certainly cod-etymology based on bending the Cornish word melder “sweetness” to this purpose. Most likely the hamlet was named after the Cornish for “eel house” (far more logical for a coastal place name).
Elowen (el-O-en / el-OO-en) – The Cornish word for “elm tree” which, since its first use as a first name in the late 1990s, has seen a rising profile and, as of 2016, is now the most popular Cornish name in Cornwall for girls.
Jago (JAY-go) – Traditionally used as the Cornish form of James / Jacob. It’s origins, however, date right back to the early Middle Ages and beyond — Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about a legendary king of Britain named Jago — and the Welsh form, Iago, has been in use since at least the 6th century, so it most likely represents an ancient Celtic name.
Kitto – Though this looks like a relative of Kit—and has traditionally been used as a Cornish diminutive of Christopher —Kitto most likely started life as a cognate form of the Welsh name Guto (GEE-to), a diminutive of the medieval royal Welsh name Gruffudd (which takes the form Gryffyn in Cornish).
Lerryn – The name of a village in Cornwall which takes its name from the River Lerryn probably meaning “flooding river.”
Locryn (LOK-rin) – A traditional Cornish name which derives from Locrinus, the name of a legendary king of Britain who married Gwendolen, the daughter of Corineus, king of Cornwall. His name derived from the Welsh Lloegr which refers to an ancient kingdom in England which bordered the kingdom of Cornwall.
Lowen (LO-en / LOO-en) – Derived from the Cornish verb lowen meaning “to be happy, to be joyful.” Lowen is used as a unisex name in Cornwall, but is more common for boys.
Lowenna (lo-EN-a) – Related to Lowen but used solely for girls, Lowenna derives from the Cornish noun lowena “joy, happiness, bliss, cheer” and has been in use since the 19th century.
Mawgan – Pronounced like Morgan, Mawgan comes from two place names in Cornwall (St Mawgan-in-Pyder and St Mawgan-in-Meneage) which take their name from an ancient British saint. In medieval records, his name was recorded as Maucant which perhaps makes it related to the Old Welsh mawl “praise.”
Merryn – A Cornish place name, derived from an ancient British saint, whose name most likely derives from the Proto-Celtic *mori “sea” and *geno “born.” It has been in use as a girl’s name since the 19th century and has also seen some use for boys.
Perran / Piran (PEH-run/ PIH-run) – Saint Piran (also known as Perran, Pyran or Peran) is the patron saint of Cornwall, making it a quintessentially Cornish name. Piran was a 6th century Cornish abbot who, tradition says, came from Ireland. From an early time, chroniclers identified this name as being cognate with the Irish Ciaran.
Ruan (ROO-un) – Ruan, also known as Rumon and Rewan, was a 6th century West Country saint who gave his name to Ruan Lanihorne in Cornwall. The name is of uncertain etymology but most likely comes from “Roman“. The name was used in medieval Cornwall.
Senara (sen-AR-a) / Zennor (ZEN-a) – Zennor is a village in Cornwall — famous for its legend of a mermaid —whose name derives from a Cornish saint, Saint Senara. Her name likely stems from the Proto-Celtic *seno “old, ancient” and *waro “hero” but it is also linked to the Breton name Azenor. Senara, Zennor and variant Zenna are used for girls, but Zennor is also sometimes used for boys in Cornwall.
Sennen (SEN-en) – The name of a village in Cornwall which also takes its name from a Cornish saint.
Tamsyn (TAM-zin) – The Cornish spelling of Tamsin, a medieval English form of Thomasine/Thomasina. Though it isn’t specifically Cornish in origin, Tamsin/Tamsyn/Tamzin survived, and was rather common, in Cornwall into the 18th century.
Tegen – We’re now familiar with Tegan, Teigan, Teigan and the like, but Tegen is a specifically Cornish word meaning “ornament.”
Ysella (iz-EL-a) – Taken from the Cornish vocabulary word meaning “modest, unpretentious”. It has been used as a name since the 1970s.