Archive for the ‘Plants and Trees’ Category

As promised, here’s the second part of Welsh Flowers that have great name potential. Pronunciation at the end if you want to sound like you were born and bred in the Land of Song.

  • Gwaedlys — pink persicaria
  • Gwendon — bedstraw
  • Gwenith y gog — figwort
  • Gwenonwy — lily of the valley
  • Gwern — alder
  • Gwlithlys (g-LITH-lis) — sundew
  • Helogan — celery
  • Helygen — willow
  • Helyglys — lesser willowherb
  • Isop— hyssop
  • Lili Mai — lily of the valley
  • Ller — darnel
  • Llin — flax
  • Llwyfen (“LHOO-ee-ven”) – elm
  • Llyriad — broad-leaved plantain
  • Maglys — lucerne
  • Meillion — clover
  • Melenydd — hawkweed
  • Melyn euraidd — golden rod
  • Melyn Mair — marigold
  • Melenllys — greater celandine
  • Merllys — asparagus
  • Merywen — juniper
  • Mesen — acorn
  • Miaren — briar
  • Murlys — wall pellitory
  • Onnen — ash
  • Oren — orange
  • Pabi — poppy
  • Pansi — pansy
  • Pengaled -(pen-GA-led) – knapweed
  • Persli — parsley
  • Pren — tree
  • Pren Ceri — medlar tree
  • Pren Eirin — plum tree
  • Rhedyn — fern
  • Rhos Mair — Rosemary
  • Rhosmari (ros-MA-ree) — Rosemary
  • Rhosyn — rose
  • Saets — sage
  • Safri — savoury
  • Serenyn — squill
  • Siasmin — jasmine
  • Suran — common sorrel
  • Syfi — strawberries
  • Syfien — strawberry
  • Taglys — field bindweed
  • Tansi — tansy
  • Tegeirian (te-GAY-ree-an) — orchid
  • Teim — thyme
  • Tormaen — golden saxifrage
  • Tresi Aur — laburnum
  • Trilliw (TRI-lhee-oo) — pansy
  • Trydon — agrimony
  • Ywen — yew

Pronunciation notes:

  • “ae,” “ai,” “au,” and “eu” pronounced “eye”
  • “c” always hard, as in “cat”
  • “e” pronounced like “e” in “bet,” “set,” etc
  • “ei” pronounced “ay”
  • “f” ipronounced “v”
  • “ff” pronounced “f”
  • “g” always hard, as in “get”
  • “ll” see Extreme Welsh Names
  • “s” always “s,” never “z”; often “sh” before an “i”
  • “th” pronounced like the “th” in “thistle”
  • “y” in the last syllable is pronounced “i” as in “in”, but in most other syllables, is pronounced “uh.”

(In words of two syllables, stress is divided equally. In words of three, stress usually falls on the first syllable, unless otherwise stated.)

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The adoption of “word names” is much more widespread and accepted in Welsh, and are regularly heard within Wales.

Names of flowers and trees are, naturally, a popular choice too.

But there are still many that have been little used so far, names which are accessible to English-speakers too.

So if you have Welsh heritage you want to honor, or simply a love of Celtic lands, here’s a collection of Welsh flowers and trees for you:

(If you want to say ’em like a native, general pronunciation guidance given at end — unless something is particularly tricky)

  • Aethnen — aspen
  • Afal — apple
  • Afallen — apple-tree
  • Afan — raspberries
  • Afanen — raspberry
  • Alaw — water-lily (also means “melody”)
  • Arian Gwion — yellow rattle (literally Gwion’s silver)
  • Banadl — broom
  • Bedwen — birch
  • Blodyn — flower
  • Bronwerth — borage
  • Brwynen — rush
  • Brythlys — scarlet pimpernel
  • Calon Afal — devil’s bit scabious
  • Camri — camomile
  • Cawnen — reed
  • Ceian — carnation
  • Ceilys — pink
  • Ceirios — cherries
  • Celyn — holly
  • Celyn Mair — butcher’s broom
  • Cenawen — catkins
  • Clais yr hydd — dog’s mercury
  • Clais y moch — clary
  • Clefryn — sheep’s bit scabious
  • Collen — hazel
  • Corsen — reed
  • Crinllys — dog violet
  • Crys y brenin — henbane
  • Cyren — currants
  • Dail Arian — silverweed
  • Danadl — blind nettle
  • Delia — dahlia
  • Derwen — oak
  • Draen — briar
  • Draenen ddu — blackthorn
  • Draenen wen — hawthorn
  • Dringol — common sorrel
  • Drysïen (“DRUH-see-en) — briar
  • Dwyfog (“DOO-ee-vog”) — wood betony
  • Eglyn — golden saxifrage
  • Eirin — plums
  • Eirinen — plum
  • Eirlys — snowdrop
  • Eithen — gorse
  • Elinog — bittersweet
  • Erwain — meadowsweet
  • Eurlys — yellow vetch
  • Fandon — woodruff
  • Fioled — violet
  • Ffarwel haf — Michaelmas daisy
  • Ffion — foxgloves
  • Ffwsia — fuchsia
  • Gellygen — pear-tree
  • Glesyn — borage
  • Greulys — groundsel

Pronunciation notes:

  • “ae,” “ai,” “au,” and “eu” pronounced “eye”
  • “c” always hard, as in “cat”
  • “e” pronounced like “e” in “bet,” “set,” etc
  • “ei” pronounced “ay”
  • “f” pronounced “v”
  • “ff” pronounced “f”
  • “g” always hard, as in “get”
  • “ll” see Extreme Welsh Names
  • “s” always “s,” never “z”; often “sh” before an “i”
  • “th” pronounced like the “th” in “thistle”
  • “y” in the last syllable is pronounced “i” as in “in”, but in most other syllables, is pronounced “uh.”

(In words of two syllables, stress is divided equally. In words of three, stress usually falls on the first syllable, unless otherwise stated.)

Part 2 next week!

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We had a bit of a nasty surprise when we opened our box of Yule decorations at the weekend.

The mice had got in.

And as well as demonstrating a rather strange taste for fairy-light cables, they had also muched their way through all the cinnamon decorations and dried oranges, which we’d made in past years :(.

Off we duly trotted to the supermarket to stock up on industrial quantities of cinnamon and apple sauce to make some more.

But the incident put in mind the idea to feature Cinnamon as a seasonal choice for Pick of the Week.

In America, “cinnamon” is often used for the spice usually called “cassia” in the UK — namely Cinnamonum aromaticum, also known as Chinese cinnamon — as well as Indonesian and Vietnamese cinnamon, both of which are different to true Cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum), which grows in Sri Lanka.

Its a popular spice, probably familiar to most from edibles and quaffables such as Danish pastries and mulled wine.

Often sold in powdered form, cinnamon sticks — the preferred form for popping into a mulled wine — give a clue to its origin: the bark of a tree.

But there’s much more to Cinnamon.

It has been known in Europe since ancient times, although the type called kinnamomon by the Ancient Greeks was yet another variety, Cinnamonum iners, a native of the Middle East. The Greeks got the name from the Phoenicians, and a word cognate with the Hebrew qinnamon “cinnamon.”

This was the “cassia” spice of the Bible — from qetsi’āh, the Hebrew name of the tree from which cinnamon was taken — source of the biblical name Keziah. This derives from a root meaning “to strip off,” referring to the way in which the bark is removed to make cinnamon.

Cassia, of course, also makes a rather lovely name choice too.

Herbalists value true cinnamon for its effectiveness in treating colds and flu, as well as easing digestive complaints.

It is used in magic to enhance psychic powers, for protection, and in spells relating to love.

As a given name, Cinnamon is older than some might think, with the first examples dating to the early twentieth century. Mostly used for girls, there are some example of it in use for boys.

It also shortens to nicknames such as Cin, Cinna, Cinny or Cinnie, Mon, Mona, Mony, Monie — even Minnie.

Most use, however, post-dates the appearance of the character Cinnamon Carter in the original television series of Mission: Impossible (1966-73), but it remains highly unusual; seven little girls were called Cinnamon in America in 2010, and less than three, if any, in the UK.

So, if you’re looking for a name for a baby born at yuletide that’s a bit less obvious than Holly or Ivy, why not mull over (pardon the pun) the lovely, spicy Cinnamon?

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We’re sadly coming to the end of the mushroom season now, here in Wales. Although I’m very cautious about eating fungi I find in the wild, my Small Child and I love collecting specimens, taking spore prints, and doing our best to use all the clues to identify them.

Last week, we were both excited — and a little spooked — to find a rather good destroying angel… it looked so innocent, and yet is so deadly.

Back at the end of August, I featured the name of one of my favorite mushrooms (to look at, and use for catching flies, anyway) — Amanita muscaria, a.k.a. fly agaric.

But lots of other lovely mushrooms have interesting names. Here are some of my top picks, mostly of the genus names on offer:

Agaricus — the genus of the wood mushrooms, many of which are edible. Among them is the popular horse mushroom and the good old field mushroom. Its name derives from that of the fly agaric.

Aleuria Aurantia — a beauty of a mushroom; the common name is “orange peel fungus,” and it is edible. Greek aleuron “white meal” and aurantia “orange.”

Cantharellus — it is a shame the scientific name of the Chanterelle is not feminine, as Cantharella  is pretty splendid. Still, it’s perfectly grammatical, so if you like it, go for it. Chanterelles are some of the tastiest of mushrooms. Both the scientific and everyday names derive ultimately from Greek kantharos — a type of drinking vessel, and a reference to the mushrooms shape.

Clavaria — acquiring its name from the Latin clava “club,” these interesting fungi often have a club-like appearance, though soemties they look more like pencils, and one or two distinctly coral-like. Some of the vernacular names include golden spindles, rose spindles, and smoky spindles.

Galerina — from the Latin galea “helmet.”

Grifola — a diminutive of Latin gryphus “griffin”, so: “little griffin”; an appropriate name for a genus which includes the fairly well-known hen-of-the-woods.

Lactarius — the milkcaps. So named, because the exude droplets of “milk” when damaged.

Lepista — genus of the wonderful wood blewit. from the Latin lepista, the name of a type of goblet, a rederence to the almost goblet like shape the mushrooms develops with age.

Loreleia — a small genus, related to Omphalina and named after the mycologist Lorelei Norvell.

Omphalina — a name deriving from the Greek omphalos “navel.” A genus of very pretty, but inedible mushrooms.

Morchella — the genus of the Morel, one of the yummiest of mushrooms. The scientific name derives from its German name Morchel, while the English is from the French morille and ultimately from Late Latin morus “black.”

Mycena — the Mycena genus is characterised by small mushrooms with bell-like caps, that exude juice if broken. Their common names often feature Bonnet, which has a certain ring to it. From the Greek mukês “mushroom.”

Psathyrella — like “psychology,” pronounced without the “p.” Generally known as brittle-caps, the genus name comes from the Greek psathuros “crumbling.”

Psilocybe — often pronounced with three syllables, correctly, it should be four. In British English, the first syllable is pronounced “sigh”, while in American English, “sil” might be heard. Either way, with four syllables, it makes quite a good name, I think. It is the genus of the famed liberty cap — a.k.a the magic mushroom. From the Greek psilos “smooth” and “bare” + kubê “head.”

Ramaria — an unusal genus of rare and beautiful, coral-like fungi. They get their name from Latin ramus “branch.”

Russula — as the name suggests, the Russulas are characterized by their red caps — though not all Russulas have them; some have yellow, brown cream or grey caps. They often look pretty — but they effects won’t be. Russula emetica, for instance, is “the sickener.”

Suillus — the genus of one bunch of the boletes, many of which are edible and very good. The name derives from the Latin sus “pig” and means “little pig.”

Tazzetta — “little tazza”; a tazza being a type of ornamental bowl or vase. The rare Tazzetta scotica looks a bit like an egg with a nibbled shell.

Telamonia — a subgenus of Cortinarius (the webcaps), deriving from the Greek telamon “belt” and “strap.” Telamon, for the record, is also the name of a Greek hero, father of Ajax and Teucer.

Thelephora — has the charming vernacular name of Earthfan (though stinking earthfan is perhaps a bit too vivid). From the Greek phêlê “nipple” + phoros “bearing.”

Xylaria — a number of non-edible fungi, which have less than attractive vernacular names such as “dead moll’s fingers” and “dead man’s fingers.” The name derives from Greek xularion “twig.”

I’ll return to mushrooms in later posts — there’s plenty to pick from, when it comes to mushrooms.

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In a walk in the woods today, we came across our first spotted toadstools of the season — those wonderful bright red and white fungi so deeply associated with fairies and elves that one of its common names is “pixie’s seat mushroom.”

Its proper common name is, of course, the fly agaric — and its botanical moniker Amanita muscaria.

And although using the name of a fungus might not leap out immediately as a great name, the fly agaric is no ordinary fungus.

Even without its long-standing fairy associations, the fly agaric is a fascinating — and beautiful — thing.

It acquired its common name — fly agaric — because of its old use as a fly catcher. A head of fly agaric placed in a saucer of milk is irresistible to flies. They feast on the agaric, become thoroughly narcotized, and tumble into the milk and drown.

Quite a good way to go, all things considered.

It aquired the second part of its botanical name — muscaria — for the same reason; muscaria means “fly-hunting” in Latin, from musca “a fly.”

Agaric comes ultimately from its ancient Greek name agarikon — which the Greeks thought meant “of Agaria” — the name of a town in Sarmatia.

The melodious Amanita, meanwhile, derives from the ancient Greek amanitai — a (masculine plural) name of a fungus, though what, exactly is unknown. It may or may not have been the fly agaric. Its ultimate meaning is likewise unknown.

What is known — well-known — is the fact that fly agaric is a potent hallucinogenic. Its use among the Sami people of Scandinavia to achieve vivid visions is well attested. It is thought that the Sami learnt of its affects by observing what happens to animals that eat the fungus — reindeer in particular, are said to be thoroughly addicted!

Many think that fly agaric was also used by Viking berserkers, and, although it cannot be conclusively proved, it is also thought it have been one of the ingredient in Soma — a ritual drink mentioned in the Rig-Veda.

Perhaps most famously of all, it may also have been one of the ingredients of the “flying ointment” said to have been used by European Witches in the Middle Ages to promote visions and out-of-body experiences.

But no two people — or fly agaric — are the same; the compounds within it are notoriously unpredicable in their concentration and stability, and it is known to kill.

Most, sensibly, regard it as deadly poisonous, and appreciate its beauty and folklore from a safe distance.

Other Amanitas are more lethal still — Amanita virosa has the common name “destroying angel” because it is pure white, but absolutely lethal.

Amanita phalloides goes by the common name “deathcap,” and there is no known antidote; it leads to death from kidney and liver failure within days.

It was the deathcap which did for the Emperor Claudius; it was added to his favorite mushroom dish which, ironically, was another member of the Amanita family —

Not all Amanitas are bad!

As names, Agaric and Amanita are rare — many won’t be able to see past their mushroomy and (sometimes) deadly poisonous persona. And yet there’s all its witchy, fairy, magic-woodland associations too, which, I think compensate and forgive.

If you’re after something really different, really magical, Amanita or Agaric might be the name for you!

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The paladin Oliver features in the French medieval epic the Song of Roland

Beginning Sneak Peek II is Oliver — the most popular boy’s name in the UK  for the 2nd year running in 2010, but only 88th in the US (though climbing quickly).


Oliver is usually derived from the Old French: olivier < Latin: olivarus ‘an olive tree’, but it is quite likely that its real ‘roots’ lie with OLAF. It was the name of one of the paladins (chief warriors) of Charlemagne, and was popular in medieval France and England. Diminutives: Ollie, Olly; Noll (historical). Bearers: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of Britain during the Commonwealth; Oliver Goldsmith (1730-74), the Anglo-Irish playwright; Oliver Reed (1938-99), the British actor; Oliver Stone (b.1945), the US film director; Oliver Twist, eponymous hero Dickens’ novel of 1838; Oliver Haddo in Somerset Maugham’s The Magician (1908) – the character was modeled on Aleister Crowley, and Crowley himself used it as a pseudonym in a piece accusing Maugham of plagiarism.


The modern form of the Old Norse: Óleifr and Anleifrano ‘ancestor’ + leifr ‘relics’. It was a very popular Norse name, borne by six kings of Norway. Scots Gaelic: Amhladh – Anglicized as AULAY; Irish Gaelic: Amhlaoibh – Anglicized as Auliffe.


The olive has been cultivated for thousands of years for its fruit and the oil produced from it, which has been used for cooking, lighting and the cleansing of the skin since ancient times. According to Greek mythology, the olive was the gift of Athene to Athens, sprouting from her staff which she plunged into the Earth on the Acropolis. The olive was also associated with Olympia, where the victors’ crowns in its famous games were woven of olive leaves. Brides in Greece wore a chaplet of olive leaves – as such it was a symbol of both chastity and fertility. It has also long been a symbol of peace. It is ruled by the Sun and Fire. Latin: oliva ‘olive’, ‘olive tree’ and ‘olive branch’. Oliva was the name of an early and obscure Roman saint, and was adopted as a girl’s name in the Middle Ages. This became Oliff and Olive in the vernacular. It was re-embraced enthusiastically in the late 19th Century, along with other names of flowers and shrubs. Bearers: Olive Shreiner (1855-1920), the South African feminist, pacifist and writer, best known for The Story of an African Farm (1883). Olive (1850) was a novel by Dinah Craik.

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Today is the Celtic feast of Lughnasadh, and if you are celebrating, a bright, blessed and fruitful Lughnasadh to you!

Let’s hope the rain holds off!

Although Lughnasadh is specifically Irish, the cross-quarter day August 1 is marked across the British Isles, where it is now mostly known as Lammas, from the Old English hlāfmæsse from hlāf ‘loaf’ and ‘bread’ and mæsse ‘mass’, and it celebrates the first harvest and first fruits of the season.

What the original name of the feast in what is now England and Wales was is unknown, but it was quite possibly cognate with the Irish. For Lugh is the Irish form of Lugus — the name of one of the most important of the Celtic Pagan Gods, whose name is recorded across the Celtic world.

This also survives in the Welsh form Lleu — and it may be cognate with the Norse Loki. Loki and Lugh certainly share a lot in common. They are both tricksters. Moreover, Lugus is often considered the Celtic version of Odin, and it has been suggested that Loki is in fact an aspect of Odin too.

Some depictions of Lugus hint him being a triple God; he is sometimes presented with three faces — and other times with three phalluses. This is also supported by some Irish myths in which Lugh is said to have been one of triplets, and it has been suggested he is the triple God composed of of the deities Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, recorded by Roman historians.

Today, Lugh is often perceived as a sacrificial God of rebirth, representing the cycle of agriculture — a John Barleycorn-like figure who is sown, grows and harvested; some of the grain is prepared as bread, some stored, to begin the cycle all over again.

But what is the source of the name?

Traditionally, Lugus was said to be from the Proto-Indo-European *lewko- ‘to shine’ – the same source as the Latin lux, from which last week’s Pick of the Week Lucius derives.

However, there are linguistical problems with this, and it may be that it actually comes from the opposite Proto-Indo-European *leug- ‘blackness’ (raising the same interesting parallels regarding duality of meaning as I discussed with Blake), or Common Celtic: *lug- ‘oath’.

However, *lewko- ‘to shine’ is still possible and plausible, perhaps developing from a parallel root *lewg- instead of directly from the traditional *lewko-.

How the festival was celebrated in England and Wales in pre-Christian times is lost, along with the accompanying myths. But Irish Lughnasadh is different.

According to Irish myth, Lughnasadh was instituted by Lugh in honor of his foster-mother Taillte, who died after preparing Ireland for its first sowing.

It passed into the Christian calendar, preserving its Pagan name (in the same way Easter does).

Like the other cross-quarter celebrations (i.e. the festivals which fall mid-way between the solar feasts of the solstices and equinoxes) — Lughnasadh is a fire festival, marked with bonfires.

To this day in Ireland, Lughnasadh is a time of celebration and family reunions, when the priests bless the fields.

Brian Friel’s 1990 play Dancing at Lughnasa captures its essence well.

Unlike some of the other festivals, Lughnasadh has yet to be adopted as a given name in its own right, though with the meaning ‘feast of Lugh’ in Irish, it — or the modern Irish Lúnasa — would make an excellent name. As, indeed, does the English Lammas.

And Lugh, Lugus, Lleu and Loki are all very worthy of consideration, especially at this time of year!

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