Welsh Names: Happy St. David’s Day!
by Aili Winstanley Channer
Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus! Today is St. David’s Day, the feast of the patron saint of Wales, and a day of particular cultural importance for the Welsh nation. It’s when traditional costumes are worn, leeks and daffodils are wielded, and bara brith (“speckled bread”) is eaten. It’s also a time when the first spring flowers are budding, and so here is a selection of Welsh names inspired by the world of nature.
Blodau’r gardd – Flowers
Eirlys (f) – The dainty name Eirlys means snowdrop. Pronounced AYR-lees, it is given to a handful of baby girls in England and Wales each year. The snowdrop is one of the first flowers to appear at the end of winter, and thus is associated with hope.
Ffion (f) – One of the most popular Welsh names in Wales, Ffion means foxglove. The double F beginning looks distinctive and charming to an English speaker, making this flower fairy particularly appealing.
Lilwen (f) – The Welsh spelling of Lily is Lili, but particularly distinctive is the lovely Lilwen, an Edwardian creation meaning white (or holy) lily. Lilwen would make a beautiful elfin twist on the popular Lillian.
Merywen (f) – The Welsh for juniper, Merywen – meh-RIH-wen – combines a merry sound with the Tolkienesque “wen” ending.
Coed y fforest – Trees
Afallach (m) – Afallach (ah-VA?-ach) derives from the Welsh for apple tree, associated with the Isle of Avalon. In Arthurian legend the name appears in the anglicized form Everlake, which is much easier for English-speakers to pronounce and would make a distinctive alternative to the stylish Everett.
Derwen (f or m) – Derwen (DARE-wen) means oak, the national tree of Wales and thought to have been of particular importance to the druids: indeed, the word druid itself probably originally meant one who has knowledge of oak trees. Two other Welsh tree names are Llwyfen (?oo-EEV-een), elm, and Bedwen (BED-wen), birch.
Owain (m) – One of the most classic Welsh names, Owain (the original spelling of Owen) is now generally thought to mean yew-born–or possibly well-born. It was borne by several kings of Sub-Roman Britain, as well as multiple saints and the Arthurian Sir Owain. The modern Welsh for the yew tree is Ywen (uh-wen), which combines the appeal of Owen with a woodsy, folkloric vibe.
Awyr a môr – Sea and sky
Awel (f) – The dainty Awel, pronounced AH-wel, means breeze and has seen some usage for girls in recent years.
Dylan (m) – Currently the most popular Welsh male name in Wales, Dylan (authentically pronounced DUH-lan rather than DILL-?n) is well-known outside of the UK thanks to Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan. It probably means “receding tide”; an appropriate name for the Mabinogion character, who dives into the ocean and becomes known as the son of the sea.
Eira (f) – The Welsh for snow, lovely Eira is currently enjoying well-deserved popularity in her native country. Along with the witchy Gwyneira and Eirwen, both meaning white snow, Eira would make a fine seasonal choice for a winter baby.
Enfys (f) – Enfys is the Welsh for rainbow, and would therefore be a meaningful name for a baby born after a stormy period in its parents’ lives. Similarly positive is Heulwen (f; HAIL-wen), sunshine.
Hafwen (f) – Hafwen is a combination of the Welsh word for summer, Haf (also used as a name), and gwyn, meaning white or holy.
Morien (m) – More unusual than the traditional Morgan (sea circle) is Morien (sea-born), the name of a knight of the Round Table who was said to be of African ethnicity.
Anifeiliad – Animals
Arthen (m) – Meaning bear-born, Arthen was borne by an 8th century king of Ceredigion and has real potential to take off in 2019, with an appeal somewhere between that of the gentlemanly Arthur and the ruggedly modern Ethan.
Branwen (f) – Branwen, which means white raven, was the daughter of Llyr, one of the most tragic figures in the Mabinogion, who is abused by her husband. When her brother, Bran (raven) tries to rescue her, it leads to a war and his downfall, leaving Branwen to die of grief. In spite of her sad story, she can be considered a feminist heroine, which may appeal to twenty-first century parents.
Eilon (m) – Eilon (AY-lon), an obsolete Welsh word meaning stag, was the name of an obscure Medieval bard, but has since fallen out of use. I think it has plenty of potential for a revival, given the popularity of other Celtic names ending in -n, such as Logan and Owen.
Llew (m) – Llew (?EH-oo) is sometimes used as a nickname for Llywelyn, but is also the Welsh word for a lion. If you can manage the double L sound, it makes a cool choice, balancing a streamlined sound against the heraldic grandeur of its lion imagery.
Note on pronunciation: Welsh pronunciation is infamous, but is actually much more consistent than that of English, once you acquaint yourself with its unique sounds and letters. There are some helpful videos on YouTube that explain how to pronounce the ‘ll’ sound. The “dd” corresponds to the voiced “th” sound of the English word those, not the unvoiced sound of thorn. Rs are rolled, and the “rh” sound is aspirated. All Cs are hard, and the “ch” sound is the same as in German ich. Many of these names are on the audio dictionary Forvo, so I’d recommend that you listen to the name there a few times if you are unsure of the pronunciation.
Note on gender: Many of these names are taken from vocabulary words, so the gender I have listed is not prescriptive, but is meant to give an idea of how the names are most commonly used in Wales.
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