Welsh Names: Gwen or Gwyn?

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/).

So, if you’d like a Welsh name, but aren’t up to pronouncing something like, say, Fflamddwyn, here are a few shorter names for you. These aren’t necessarily the most common Welsh names, but they are all fairly easy to pronounce for English speakers.

GIRLS:

BOYS:

Thanks to LJandRJ for the pronunciation help!

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21 Responses to “Welsh Names: Gwen or Gwyn?”

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spotlightstarlit Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 3:09 am

Thank you for this; I am going to change my characters name post-haste! I had no idea that Gwyn would be masculine! And my character was named by her authentically welsh mother too… whoops! So now she is Gwenyfer.

caitydaisy Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 7:55 am

My grandpa was Welsh (Lloyd)- he had the best accent!- and I plan to use Welsh names when I have children (Carys and Dylan and Lleyton are my long time favorites). thank you for this post! 🙂

LJandRL Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 10:15 am

Great post, I live in Wales and speak Welsh. Just a few minor corrections:

Aelwen/Aelwyn – the first syllable is pronounced Ale not Ile
Arianwen is 4 syllables pronounced Ar-ee-an-wen
Bronwen is said as its spelt, Bron-wen. Branwen is as per your pronunciation above
Tegan is Teg-an not in. But thats closer than tee-gan which most people say!
Bedwyr’s not quite right but its too difficult to write phonetically lol!
Cadwgan is ca-doo-gan

Also Tudfil is more like tid-vil.

I’d love to say more people use a variety of Welsh names! We have some beautiful ones to offer 🙂 Some of my favs are Eflyn, Eirlys, Ffion, Enid, Seren and Rhoslyn for girls. Arthur, Teifion, Osian and Gruffydd for boys.

Mindy Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 11:06 am

Thanks for the post. I named my DD Gwyneth. I decided to spell her nn as “Gwyn” knowing that it was the masculine version of Gwen. Originally we were spelling her nn as “Gwen”, but all it did was confuse people (we live in the U.S.). I was asked several times why we weren’t shortening Gwyneth to Gwyn. It does still bother me a little that we are using the masculine form of Gwen, but alas, most people where we live aren’t Welsh name savvy. And logically Gwyn seems to be the natural shortening for Gwyneth. Forgive me Wales!

ashesofroses Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 11:17 am

Thanks for the article–I love Welsh names! My son’s name is Rhys….I read it in a book when I was 12 (back in the mid-80’s before it was quite as popular in the US as it is now) and held onto it in the back of my mind until I had a chance to use it. 🙂

I found a beautiful Welsh girl’s name on an online name forum but it didn’t have much information about it other than it meant “bird”. It’s Aderyn. Is it really Welsh, is it really a girl’s name, and is the meaning a particular sort of bird or just “bird” in general? I’d be interested to know.

Jen Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 11:54 am

One name that I LOVE that Husband doesn’t appreciate is Cambria. It’s not Welsh, but it’s Latin for “Wales”.

Love the Welsh names! I suspect that if you wanted to hear a lot of these names in use, watch Lord of the Rings. 🙂

JLH

Jen Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 11:57 am

Also, I feel that while the rule holds true on a traditional sense as far as using slightly different spellings for a boy or a girl’s name, nowadays, parents go for spelling over “supposed to’s”. Gwyn, for example, still sounds like “Gwen”, and anybody glancing at that name will think it’s a girl. That, and Gwen for a girl looks slightly more “exotic” when it’s spelled with a Y.

Great list, btw!

JLH

LJandRL Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi Ashes of roses –

Aderyn is the Welsh word for bird. It’s by no means a common Welsh name and I’d probably liken it to naming your child Storm, Star or River. I have seen many sources that list it as a name along with the shortened Deryn but I’ve never personally met one. I’m sure they’re out there though! I’d describe it as a unisex name as it’s a nature name and with the exception of flowers I tend to think these can work for either gender. It’s pronounced uh-DE-rin.

Hope thats of some help! 🙂

ashesofroses Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Hi LJandRL,

That is a great help, thanks so much for the info about “Aderyn”! I’ve been curious about that name for years. 🙂

Kathleen Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

great post! I’ve long hated the “change it to a ‘y'” school of baby naming. I think that’s why I love Welsh names so much. 😉

Elle Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Yeah Norah! I have been frequenting your website for years and I was so excited to see you on the nameberry blog today!

I love your Welsh names on your website. Some of my favorites are…

Brychan
Cecil – this was my grandfather’s name
Cynan
Emrys
Evan – my husband’s name
Gareth

Briallen
Bronwen
Eirlys
Eleri
Gwyneth
Meleri

linda Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 7:49 pm

LJandRL: Thanks so much for your help–we’ve made your suggested adjustments.

babynamesrule Says:

January 25th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

really interesting! My favourite Welsh name is almost never listed…Tirian? I worked with a little girl with this name and she was adorable. Her mother told me it was a Welsh name and special to her but I can never find the meaning.

LJandRL Says:

January 26th, 2011 at 5:35 am

Hi Babynamesrules –

Tirion is a Welsh word meaning kind/gentle. So I guess Tirian could be an alternative spelling for this?

Hope that helps!

Linda: You’re welcome, thanks to your guest blogger for another wonderful post! I obviously particularly love this one! 🙂

Laura

Jessica Says:

January 26th, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Seren is a pretty and increasingly popular choice, it means ‘star’. I also like Sioned (shon-ed) and Cerys. BBC Wales have a reporter named Betsan which would be cute on a little girl, a kind of fusion of Betsy and Bethan.

I knew a Sian who was brought up in England and kept getting called Sy-an, so I’m not sure whether it’s really one of the easiest names for English speakers to grasp.

Sunshinetina Says:

January 26th, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Arianwyn, Rhonwyn and Olwyn are three of my favourite names.

Expecting Says:

March 15th, 2011 at 12:20 am

Hi – I have about 3 weeks to go and was planning on using Wyn as a middle name for a girl (as a shortening of her dad’s non-Welsh name). A Welsh friend told me this was a girl’s name but you have it listed for a boy? Is it unisex? I could use the English Wynn instead as I like to spell things correctly! Please let me know….

linda Says:

March 15th, 2011 at 1:18 am

The source I just checked has Wyn as a male name.

Aislidh Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 11:49 pm

The double D (“dd”) is pronounced kind of like the “th” in the word “the” in English. I heard someone refer to a kid (theirs, maybe?) as “Blade”- but spelled Blaidd because they had Welsh ancestry. AUGH. It’s pronounced more like the name Blythe than Blade, actually!

Leslie Owen Says:

March 24th, 2011 at 11:21 pm

My favorite Welsh name for a girl is Angharad. And I was always told it was Brangwen…is that different from Branwen? I also like Dafydd for a boy as well as Emlyn and Geraint. And Huw.

Coolcombination Says:

August 29th, 2013 at 11:03 am

I’m welsh but not welsh speaking so I know how to pronounce the names but don’t know how the grammar works! Llewellyn is said like lue-ell-in but the lue has more of a guttural sound like thlue.

And dafydd is said like da-vth

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