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Archive for the ‘Welsh Names’ Category

Happy St David’s Day — from a sunny (yes, it is!) Wales!

As a St David’s Day present, here are the entries from Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names for David and Dewi.

David ♂ Biblical name of Hebrew origin. The meaning isn’t all that clear, but seems mostly likely to derive from a root meaning “beloved,” although, interestingly enough, the Hebrew letters which make up the name David are exactly the same ones used for “mandrake.” 12th C. St. David is the famous leek- and daffodil-wielding patron saint of Wales — but his real name was actually DEWI.

Diminutive forms: Dawe (historic); Dave, Davey, Davie, Davy.

David in other languages: Welsh: Dafydd; Dai (diminutive), Irish: Dáibhead, Daithí, Gaelic: Dàibheid, Dàibhidh, Cornish: Daveth, Czech, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish: David, Hungarian: Dávid, Lithuanian: Davidas, Italian: Davide, Latvian: Dāvids, Pol: Dawid, Arabic: Da’wud, Hawaiian: Kāwika, Maori: Rāwiri, Finish: Taavetti, Taavi (diminutive).

Bearers: two medieval Scottish kings (d. 1153 and 1371); David Copperfield, the eponymous hero of Dickens’s 1850 novel, and the stage-name of  American illusionist David Kotkin (b. 1956); David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George, (1863–1945) and David Cameron (b. 1966), both British Prime Ministers; David Eddings (1931–2009), the American novelist; David Bowie (b. 1947), the British singer-songwriter.

Dewi ♂ ♀ The boy’s name Dewi is a very old and very interesting name. Dewi Sant is the Welsh name for St. David, and many people believe it is simply the Welsh form of David. It isn’t. David is simply the name adopted to render Dewi in English, a long time ago. Almost certainly, his name actually derives from the Common Celtic *dOEwo- “(a) God,” cognate with Zeus, Latin deus, Sanskrit deva and the Irish Dagda, etc.

The element is well attested in given names in the Roman period — examples include Deomiorix, Deiana, and Deieda. Some have attempted to derive the name from Dewydd, an alleged “old form” of Dafydd—the Welsh form of David — but the argument works just as well the other way — Dewydd may well represent an attempt to synthesize Dewi and Dafydd. The simple fact is, biblical names were not used in sub-Roman Britain, and thus the likelihood of someone genuinely being called “David” in sixth-century Wales is, quite frankly, about as likely as someone in the period being called Jayden.

Dewi was used as a given name in the Middle Ages, probably in honor of the saint, but then disappeared until its revival in Wales in the nineteenth century.

By coincidence, the Malaysian girl’s name Dewi means “Goddess.”

I love coincidences! 😉

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus!

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This Thursday, we’ll be celebrating St David’s Day here in Wales. So to mark the occasion, this week will have an entirely Welsh theme.

Today it overlaps with a name category which has been on my mind a lot recently: the “son” names.

These are most familiar, of course, as names ending in –son itself, or beginning with Mac-

But there is also the Welsh equivalent – ap.

Wales holds the distinction of being the last place in the British Isles where surnames became universally hereditary.

In many parts of the principality where Welsh remained the dominant language, the patronymic system — in which a person was formally known as ap “son of” or ferch “daughter of” — remained common until the nineteenth century.

But across the centuries, the ap also gave rise to hereditary surnames, surviving as an initial “b” or “p.”

And many of these make interesting first name options.

Here then, are the sons of Wales:

  • Barry – ap Harry (although it has a number of other origins too)
  • Beddard, Bedward – ap Edward
  • Bellis, Belliss – ap Ellis
  • Benian, Benyon, Beynon, Baynham, Binyon – ap Einion
  • Bevan, Beven, Beavan, Beaven, Beavon – ap Evan
  • Bowen – ap Owen
  • Breese, Breeze – ap Rhys
  • Brobyn – ap Robin
  • Brodrick, Broderick – ap Rhydderch/Roderick
  • Parry – ap Harry
  • Penry, Pendry – ap Henry
  • Pinyon – ap Einion
  • Pleaden, Pleavin, Pleven, Plevin – ap Blethyn
  • Pluthero — ap Rhydderch/Roderick
  • Pomfrey, Pomphrey – ap Humphrey
  • Powell, Poel – ap Howel
  • Preece, Prees – ap Rhys
  • Price, Pryce, Prise, Pryse – ap Rhys
  • Prichard, Pritchard – ap Richard
  • Probert – ap Robert
  • Probin, Probyn — ap Robin
  • Probus – ap Robert
  • Prodger – ad Roger
  • Prosser – ap Rosser (an old Welsh form of Roger)
  • Prothero, Protheroe – ap Rhydderch/Roderick
  • Prytherick – ap Rhydderch/Roderick
  • Pugh , Pughe – ap Hugh/Huw
  • Upjohn — ap John
  • Uprichard – ap Richard

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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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It was the full moon last night, which is the inspiration for today’s pick of the week, the little heard Argent.

Argent falls into the categories of both “surnames as first names” and “word names,” though they share the same source: the Old (and Modern) French argent “silver.”

Silver’s association with the moon goes back to ancient times. It has long been believed to enhance the power of the moon, capable of forging a strong link between the the physical and metaphysical worlds.

The surname probably arose as a nickname for someone with silver hair, while the word has been used in the past as a noun (for a silver coin) and an adjective.

Nowadays, it is mostly confined to heraldry, where it is used of both silver and white in coats of arms.

The Old French word came from the Latin for silver argentum, which gives us the chemical symbol for silver — Ag.

It is cognate with the Welsh arian “silver” — which is still used to mean “money” in Welsh — which is found in more than one Welsh name, such as Arianwen, which combines it with gwyn “white,” “pure,” and “blessed,” and Arianell, which combines it with gell “yellow,” and “shining.”

It may also feature in the name of the Goddess Arianrhod — which is popularly interpreted as meaning “silver wheel” and a reference to the moon.

Caer Arianrhod is the Welsh name for the Milky Way.

The Common Celtic word from which arian derived was *arganto-, and the “g” is preserved in the medieval name Argante — used by Layamon in the twelfth century epic poem Brut as the name of the Queen of Avalon.

She is usually identified with Morgan le Fay, and there are those who argue that the name derives from an older form of Arianrhod.

Another old form is Eraint, which features in the epithet of the mythical Welsh figure Lludd Llaw Eraint “Lludd of the Silver Hand.”

This form also happens to demonstrate well the etymological relation between arian and the Modern Welsh Eirian “shining.”

Meanwhile, its Sanskrit cognate is Arjuna, a name borne by a hero of the epic Mahabharata. The modern Hindi form of the name is Arjun.

Argent itself is first found as a given name as early as the sixteenth century, interestingly enough as a girl’s name. This probably represented a simpler form of Argentea, which was taken directly from the Latin argenteus meaning “silvery” and “of silver.”

By the nineteenth century, it is more commonly found as a boy’s name, often as a middle name, indicative that the surname was now the principal source.

Today, Argent is a rarity. It has never reached the top 1000 in America, and only even appears in the data at all on one occasion, in 1926, when five girls were given the name.

Bursting as it is with heritage and meaning, I think it makes for a great unusual and contemporary choice for a boy or a girl. What do you think?

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That’s “Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day!” in English.

Saint Who?

In Wales, Dwnywen (pronounce “doo-in-wen” — the “doo-in” bit pronounced so quickly that it almost sounds like “dwin”) is considered the “Welsh St. Valentine,” and people increasingly mark St Dwynwen’s as well as — sometimes instead of — Valentine’s day.

Naturally, she has also become the Welsh patron saint of lovers.

Like Valentine, she’s a saint of very shadowy roots.

The legend says she lived in the fifth century, one of the many daughters of the legendary Brychan Brycheiniog — a man who, according to the myths, has more saintly children under his belt than most of us have hot dinners.

There are many versions of her tale, but in essence, she fell in love with a young man called Maelon, but would not marry him, either because her father forbade it or because she had sworn herself to a life of saintly celibacy.

She prayed for a solution — and an angel appeared with a magic potion to give to Maelon.

She gave it to him — and it turned him into a block of ice, thus saving him the sorrow of pining away for her, and to remove him from her temptation.

In some versions, she then asks for three requests — that Maelon be released, that she never marry, and that she could become the patron of true loves.

Not exactly happy-ever-after, but at least there’s no beheading!

The centre of Dwynwen’s cult was originally on a small island off the coast of Anglesey called Llanddwyn Island, which preserves another form of her name within its — Dwyn.

She is also known as Donwen, and Donwenna — all of which hint strongly at what may well be her true origin, the ancient Cymric Goddess Dôn.

Her name is almost certainly a combination of Dôn with gwyn. This is a familiar ending in Welsh names — featuring as Gwyn and Gwen at the start of names, and –wyn and –wen at the end (in Welsh, –wyn is always masculine, and –wen is feminine).

It’s basic meaning is “white,” but it also carries the sense of “pure” and “blessed.”

Dôn is the Welsh equivalent of the Irish Goddess Danu. In Welsh myth, she is the mother of the Plant Dôn—the “Children of Dôn”— a number of major Welsh deities, including Gwydion and Arianrhod.

As a very ancient Goddess, unraveling her name is difficult, and there are a number of options. One is the Common Celtic *dƒnu– “gift.”

However, she is associated with a number of rivers. There are four called Don in the British Isles, plus others that are related: the Dane in Cheshire,
two Devons (one English, one Scottish), and possibly the Teign, Tone, and Tyne too. Then there are the great European rivers deriving from the same root: the Danube, the Dneiper, and the Donetz.

Moreover, in the early medieval period, Dôn may also have been known as Donwy. An old name for the River Dee, which flows through Chester, is the Dwfrdonwy (dwfr is a Middle Welsh word meaning “water” + Donwy), while the Welsh name for the Danube is Afon Donwy—i.e. “River Donwy.” Donwy is also found in the name of yet another Welsh river, the Trydonwy, known in English as the Roden.

All this makes it quite likely that the name’s roots lie far, far back with the Proto-Indo-European *dānus “river.”

But there’s a further twist to this tale. What if this Goddess’s associations with rivers is so ancient that instead of her gaining the name “river,” the word *dānus derived from her name?

This would explain why there does not seem to be any vestige of *dānus with the meaning “river” in any of the living Celtic languages, despite the large number of rivers in the British isles which seem to derive from it.

But there is a further option for its etymology.

A clue lies with Deva, a Celtic name by which the Romans knew the River Dee. It points firmly towards the Proto-Indo-European *deyw-o– “a divine being,” combined with the suffix –ono– (often indicative of the name of a Deity).

Originally, *deyw-o-, seems to have carried connotations of relating to a sky God; it litters the Indo-European languages in words meaning “a god”, as well as names of individual Gods and Goddesses themselves, such as Zeus and Diana.

Despite her popularity in modern Wales, Dwynwen is a rarity. But it’s a pretty name, and whatever the truth that lies at its roots, no-one can dispute that it has history and positive associations in abundance.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus!

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Branwen is one of a small and select group of Welsh names which featured in Welsh mythology and was also used widely as a genuinue given name in medieval times.

It is also one of the Welsh names richest in significance.

Superficially, it breaks down to bran “raven” and gwyn “white.”

But there’s a great deal more to these two words than meets the eye.

For a start, Bran is also the name of perhaps the most significant figure in all Welsh myth, called Bran the Blessed in English, and Bendigeidfran in Welsh.

In the important Welsh collection of tales dubbed the Mabinogion by a scholar of Welsh in the nineteenth century, Bran is called a king — but he is also a giant, whose head, after he himself has been killed, continued to live on, laughing and joking with his companions for seven years… until one of them accidentally opened a forbidden door.

His head is said to be buried beneath the White Tower at the Tower of London, as a talisman against Britain ever being invaded.

And to this day, his totem animals, ravens, can be found at the Tower.

As such, the raven is considered a bird whose presence invokes protection.

In Norse mythology, the ravens Huginn and Muninn are associated with Odin, and were depicted on Viking banners. Their names derive from the Old Norse hugr “thought” and munr “memory.”

To many Christians, however, the bird, with its strong associations of death, is sinister — but to Pagans, the raven’s associations with death serve only to remind us of the ever-turning wheel of life, death, and rebirth, a motif which is found in myth.

In Beowulf, it is the raven who heralds the new day after Beowulf ’s victory, while in some versions of the Arthurian cycles, King Arthur is said to be reincarnated as the raven.

Which brings us back to Bran and Branwen.

Branwen’s name carries all the same potency of Bran’s, and all the same symbolism. But hers is coupled with that ever significant Welsh gwyn. It doesn’t just mean “white,” but also “pure” and “sacred.” Many of the shadowy early Welsh “saints”, whose names are only known to us through the existance of a “llan” (a word now used of the land upon which an ancient church stands, but which almost certainly goes back to Pagan times) contain gwyn as an element.

If most of them aren’t in reality Gods, Goddesses or genii loci (“spirits of the place”), I’ll eat all my hats.

Sadly, Branwen’s own tale is tremendously sad. Her marriage to Matholwch, King of Ireland was doomed from the start, when her brother, Efnisien, chose to insult Matholwch by attacking his horses. Bran compensated Matholowch by giving him the fabled Cauldron of Rebirth, and, after that all seemed at first well — for a time.

In Ireland, Branwen gave Matholowch an heir — a son called Gwern (this means “alder” in Welsh; a significant choice, as the alder is Bran’s sacred tree). But malicious gossip at court turned Matholwch against his wife, and he began to mistreat her badly. Branwen sent the birds to tell her brother, who came to Ireland with a great army.

At first the two sides attempted to negotiate, but when Efnisien once again wreked havoc (this time by throwing Gwern on the fire), full-scale war ensued, leading to Bran’s death. Only seven of his warriors survived to take his head back to Britain.

As for Branwen, she died of grief.

Despite this sad tale, Branwen was used in the medieval period in forms such as Brangwain, Brangwayna and Brangwyne, giving rise to the surnames Brangwyn and Brangwin. As Brangain (and many variations therein), it features in the medieval lays of Tristan and Isolde. The latest variation of this character’s name to emerge is Bragnae, which occurs in the 2006 film Tristan and Isolde.

Branwen fell out of use in Wales by the end of the medieval period, but returned again in the nineteenth century and became quite popular. It doesn’t see much use in Wales now — or anywhere else — but it’s a beautiful and evocative name ripe for use once more.

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