A primer on Welsh names

Though my most passionate onomastic love is for Slavic names, followed by Semitic, Germanic, and Finno–Ugric names, I’ve gotten really into Welsh names over the last 15 years or so. I’ve used Welsh names (forename, surname, or both) for several minor characters, as well as creating an unplanned character of primarily Welsh ancestry for the fourth volume about my Russian characters. Rhonwen Trow befriends Irina Koneva during their first semester of ninth grade in Hastings, Minnesota, two outcasts coming together. Since I already was moved to base Irina’s experience as a fish out of water at this school on my own experience during my junior year, I decided to make her a friend based on a girl who also reached out to me when almost everyone else was too busy getting it on with their best friends since kindergarten to care about the stranger in their midst.

Several of my Atlantic City characters, both current and planned, also have Welsh names, like Dylan, Arwen, Bronwen, Gwendolyn, Owen, and Rhiannon.

Surnames:

Prior to the 15th century, the Welsh people named themselves patronymically. Other onomastic sources included profession, nicknames, and non-hereditary personal names. Like the Icelandic patronymical system, Welsh names changed from generation to generation, with the word apab, or ferch serving as a middle name of sorts. For example, Delwyn’s son Rhys would be Rhys ab Delwyn, and his daughter Mared would be Mared ferch Delwyn. It wasn’t uncommon to find names in the Spanish style, tracing back up to seven generations.

The most common surname in Wales is still Jones, with other popular names including Davies, Williams, Evans, Thomas, Roberts, and Lewis. These modern names also have patronymical origins, with -s added to a forename. Some new names also have origins in the old ap/ab system, such as Powell (ap Hywell) and Bowen (ab Owen).

Since there are so relative few surnames to go around, many people have adopted double names, using a prefix of a parish, house, or mother’s surname. Following the Protestant Reformation, the pool of names decreased even further.

Pronunciation:

Welsh uses the Roman alphabet, with 29 letters. Eight of these letters are diagraphs (double letters)—CH (the guttural sound of loch and Chanukah), DD (TH), FF (F), NG (as in “thing,”), LL (kind of like HL), PH (F), RH (trilled R), and TH (no difference from English). F is pronounced like V. There are also plenty of diphthongs, of which yw, uw, wy, and iw aren’t found in English.

A circumflex is used to denote long vowels (â, ê, î, ô, û, ŵ, ŷ), though not all long vowels have a circumflex. Accent grave (à, è, ì, ò, ù) is used sometimes, generally in foreign loanwords, to denote vowels which are short when a long vowel is more expected. Accent aigu (á, é, í, ó, ú) is sometimes used to denote a stressed final syllable, though not always. An umlaut may be used to indicate two vowels are pronounced separately. In casual writing, accents grave and aigu are often omitted.

Some common names and their nickname forms:

Male:

Aeron
Afon (River)
Aled (Offspring)
Alun (Allen)
Alwyn (The name of a river)
Andras, Andreas
Aneirin, Aneurin (Nye) (Noble)
Arwel
Awstin (Augustine)
Bedwyr
Berwyn (White head)
Bevan (Son of Evan)
Bleddyn (Little wolf)
Bran (Raven)
Bryn, Brin (Hill)
Brynmor (Great hill)
Cadell (Little battle)
Cadfan (Battle peak)
Cadoc (Battle)
Cadwalader (Leader of the battle)
Cadwgan, Cadogan (Glory in battle)
Caerwyn (White fortress)
Caradog, Caradoc (Love)
Caron (To love)
Carwyn (Blessèd love)
Cefin (Kevin)
Celyn (Holly)
Ceri (To love)
Cledwyn (Fair and rough)
Colwyn (The name of a river)
Culhwch (Hiding place of the pig)
Cystennin (Constantine)
Dafydd, Dewey, Dewi (Taffy) (David)
Dai (To shine)
Deiniol (Daniel)
Delwyn (Pretty and white)
Dilwyn (Genuine and white)
Disgleirio (Glitter/shine)
Drystan, Tristan, Trystan
Dylan (Great tide)
Eifion
Einion (Anvil)
Eirian (Bright/beautiful)
Ellis (Kind)
Emlyn (“Around the valley” or a form of Emil)
Emrys (Ambrose)
Emyr (King)
Enfys (Rainbow)
Ercwlff (Hercules)
Eurig (Gold)
Evan, Ifan, Iefan, Ioan, Iwan, Siôn (Ianto) (John)
Ffransis
Folant (Valentine)
Gareth
Gawain
Geraint (Old man)
Gerallt (Gerald)
Gethin (Dark-skinned/swarthy)
Glaw (Rain)
Glyn, Glynn (Valley)
Glyndwr, Glendower (Valley water)
Goronwy, Gronw
Grigor
Gruffudd, Gruffud, Gruffydd, Griffith (Guto)
Grwn (Ridge)
Gwallter (Walter)
Gwilym, Gwillym, Gwilim (Gwil) (William)
Gwyn, Gwynn (White/fair/blessèd)
Gwynedd (The name of an ancient kingdom and region)
Gwynfor, Wynfor (Large and fair)
Gwythyr (Victor)
Harri
Haul (Sun)
Heddwyn (Blessèd peace)
Hefin (Summer)
Heilyn (Winebearer)
Heulog (Sunny)
Hopcyn
Huw (Hugh)
Hywel, Howell (Eminent)
Iago (Jakob)
Idris (Ardent lord)
Idwal (Lord of the wall)
Iestyn (Justin)
Ilar (Hilary)
Illtyd (Multitude of land)
Iorwerth, Yorath (Iolyn, Iolo) (Handsome lord)
Islwyn (Below the grove)
Ithel (Generous lord)
Ivor (Bow warrior)
Llywelyn, Llewellyn, Llewelyn, Leolin (Llew)
Mabon (Son)
Macsen, Maxen (Maximus)
Madoc, Madog (Little fortunate one)
Maldwyn (Baldwin)
Marc
Maredudd, Meredydd, Meredith (Great lord or Sea lord)
Martyn
Meical (Michael)
Meirion, Merrion (Marian)
Mervin (Marrow famous)
Meurig, Meuric (Maurice)
Morgan (Sea circle)
Mostyn (Moss town)
Neifion (Neptune)
Ofydd (Ovid)
Owen (“Youth” or a form of Eugene)
Paderau (Rosary or Beads)
Padrig (Patrick)
Parry (Son of Harri)
Pedr (Peter)
Price, Pryce (Son of Rhys)
Pryderi (Care)
Rhys, Reece, Rees (Enthusiasm)
Rheinallt (Reynold)
Rhisiart (Richard)
Rhodri (Wheel king/King’s wheel)
Rhydderch (Reddish-brown)
Roderick (Famous power)
Sawyl (Samuel)
Siarl (Charles)
Sieffre (Jeffrey)
Siôr, Siors, Siorus (George)
Steffan
Talfryn (High hill)
Taliesin (Shining brow)
Tegid (Fair or Mute/Silent)
Tomos (Tomi, Twm)
Trahaearn, Traherne (Very much like iron)
Trefor (Trev) (Trevor)
Tudor, Tudur (Ruler of the people)
Urien (Privileged birth)
Vaughn, Vaughan (Little)
Wyn, Wynn, Wynne (Blessèd/White/Fair)
Yale (Fertile upland)

Female:

Aderyn (Bird)
Aeron, Aerona
Aeronwen
Aeronwy
Afanen (Raspberry)
Afon (River)
Alis (Alice)
Angharad (More love)
Anwen (Very beautiful)
Arianrhod, Aranrhod (Silver wheel or Round wheel)
Betrys (Beatrice)
Blodeuwedd (Face of flowers)
Blodeuyn (Flower)
Blodwen (White flowers)
Branwen (Beautiful raven)
Briallen (Primrose)
Bronwen (White breast)
Caron (To love)
Carys, Cerys (Love)
Catrin (Cadi)
Ceinwen (Lovely and white)
Ceridwen, Cerridwen (Ceri)
Crystin (Christine)
Delyth (Pretty)
Deryn (Bird)
Dilwen (Genuine and white)
Dilys, Dylis (Genuine)
Disgleirio (Glitter/shine)
Efa (Eva)
Eilwen (White brow)
Eira (Snow)
Eirian (Bright/beautiful)
Eirlys (Snowdrop)
Eirwen (White snow)
Elain (Fawn)
Elen, Elin (Helen)
Eleri
Eluned, Eiluned, Luned (Image/Idol)
Enfys (Rainbow)
Enid (Soul or Life)
Esyllt (Isolda)
Eurwen (Gold and White/fair/blessèd)
Ffion (Foxglove)
Ffraid (Bridget)
Gladys, Gwladys (Country) (Claudia)
Glaw (Rain)
Glenda (Pure and good)
Glenys, Glynis (Pure/clean/holy)
Gwawr (Dawn)
Gwenda (Fair and good)
Gwendolen, Gwendoline, Gwendolyn (White ring)
Gwenllian (Blessèd flaxseed)
Gwyneth, Gweneth, Gwenith, Gwenyth, Gwynedd
Gwenfrewi, Winifred, Winnifred (Blessèd peace/reconciliation)
Gwynedd (The name of an ancient kingdom and region)
Gwyneira (White snow)
Haf, Hefina (Summer)
Heulog (Sunny)
Heulwen (Sunshine)
Hyledd, Heledd
Lleucu (Lucia)
Llewella, Lewella
Llinos (Greenfinch)
Mabyn (Youth)
Mair (Mary)
Mairwen (Blessèd Mary)
Mared, Marged, Mererid (Megan) (Margaret)
Mari (Maria)
Meinir (Maiden)
Meinwen (Slender and white)
Meiriona (Marian)
Morgan (Sea circle)
Morwenna, Morwen (Maiden)
Myfanwy (Myf) (My woman)
Nerys (Lady)
Nia (Niamh) (Bright)
Non (Nun)
Olwen (White footprint)
Owena
Paderau (Rosary or Beads)
Rhian, Rhianu (Maiden)
Rhiannon, Rhianon, Riannon (Great queen)
Rhonwen (Fair hair or Fair spear)
Rhosyn (Rose)
Seren (Star)
Siân (Siana, Siani) (Jeanne)
Sioned (Janet)
Siwan (Joan)
Tegan (Fair)
Tegwen (Fair and blessed)
Tesni (Warmth from the Sun)
Tiwlip (Tulip)
Wynne (Blessèd/White/Fair)

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2 comments on “A primer on Welsh names

  1. denizb33 says:

    Great post! I was researching Welsh names myself a while ago to see if a character I’d named Magdalena in Spanish could be Mawdlen in Welsh, in the 15th Century…

    Like

  2. ChrysFey says:

    I don’t often think about or consider Welsh names. They look complicated to pronounce. I don’t even think I’m pronouncing some right even with your guide. LOL But I do like the look of them with their spelling.

    Like

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