Posts Tagged ‘Guinevere’

It wouldn’t surprise me if the idea of changing our names has crossed the mind of most of us in the English-speaking world at some point in our lives.

Far fewer of us actually go through with it.

I think that’s a shame. If you feel your name doesn’t reflect who you are, if you feel you would be happier called something else, for whatever reason, do it. Take the plunge, and change your name.

Recently, I was contacted by a woman intending to do just that.

She has one of most popular names of her generation, and wants something “less ubiquitous” than her birth name.

These are her criteria:

  1. 3 syllables
  2. No ‘-a’ ending
  3. Some connection to history and/or mythology
  4. Meanings: “poetic and somewhat unexpected”
  5. Style: “eccentric aristocrat”
  6. Not too similar to well-known names to avoid confusion
  7. Not too associated with a popular work of fiction, such as Harry Potter

The names she currently has under consideration:

  • Genevieve
  • Clementine
  • Seraphine
  • Gwendolen
  • Guinevere
  • Beatrix

She writes:

The only name I have left on my list, after ruling out Seraphine for possibly blending in with the Sarahs, Clementine because I can only picture it on a young girl, Genevieve because I am not that into the meaning, is Gwendolen. However; I keep coming back to Guinevere! I like the sound more than Gwendolen, but I’m worried that the name Guinevere is hard to carry because in the myths. To an audience that doesn’t know any better, she is an adulterer.

I have to say, I really wouldn’t fret so much about the adultery issue. It certainly isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I think Guinevere, and I don’t think it’s the first thing people think of generally when they hear the name. It’s not as though in the myths she is a serial adulteress!

It’s also worth remembering that the legends owe a lot to the culture of late medieval society, in which marriages were arranged, not love-matches, and the theme of romantic liaisons between women and handsome knights other than their husbands acted as a kind of fantasy escapism.

On a deeper level too, the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere love triangle can be viewed as a version of the conflict of the Oak and Holly Kings (also sometimes called the Summer and Winter Kings) and their union with the Goddess – the May Queen.  This love triangle is a recurring theme in Celtic mythology.

But if it remains a stumbling block, Gwendolen is certainly a good alternative. The etymology isn’t a hundred percent certain; while the first element is almost certainly the same Welsh gwyn of Guinevere, meaning “white,” “pure,” and “blessed,” the second is a little less uncertain. The earliest known form is Gwenddoleu, but this may have been was a mis-reading of “u” for “n.” The options are the Welsh dolen “loop,” “link,” and “ring,” or dolau “meadows.” According to Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in the twelfth century, it was the name of Merlin’s wife.

I think both Gwendolen and Guinevere are stunning choices, but I do have some other suggestions:

  • Adelaide – “noble-sort”; if it’s a bit too mainstream, there’s also the medieval variant Adeliz
  • Anchoret – a curious medieval name, probably from the Welsh Angharad “my love,” a name borne by numerous medieval Welsh princesses.
  • Averil – a vernacular form of EVERILD; it survived for centuries in Yorkshire
  • Betony
  • Celestine – English form of Latin Celestinus, from caelestis “heavenly”
  • Ceridwen
  • Corisande — A name principally of medieval romance.  The etymology is uncertain; the first element is likely intended to be the Latin cor “heart.” The second may very possibly be a contracted form of Latin sanandus “healing, ” from sano “to heal.”
  • Everild — one of my life-long favorites. The meaning — “boar-battle” — might be a bit off-putting at first, but it’s worth remembering what boars meant to the ancient peoples who first used the name. They are associated with more than one deity, and to the Celts symbolized royalty and strength
  • Gwenllian
  • Ingaret – a variant of ANCHORET
  • Kilmeny – Made famous by James Hogg’s poem about the “uncanny maid” who spent seven years in Elfland. It also featured in Lucy Maud
    Montgomery’s Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910). The name was taken from a small village on Islay in Scotland, meaning “monastery church,” “owl church,” or “my Eithne’s church”
  • Leceline – a medieval form of Letitia “happiness”
  • Lorelei — the name of a siren-like nymph or Goddess who is said to lure sailors to their deaths from a rock overlooking the River Rhine. I have a feeling the associations here will cause it to be rejected, but I think it’s still worth a consideration. No doubting Lorelei’s girl-power! The meaning isn’t entirely certain; the second element is from a Celtic root meaning “rock” while the first might be from Old German words meaning “to whisper,” “to lure” or “to watch out”
  • Marjolaine — the French form of marjoram, though it was also used in England in the Middle Ages. Used as a name from the nineteenth century, it still carries all marjoram’s pleasing associations with protection and love
  • Merewen
  • Mirabel — medieval name, from mirabilis  “wonderful,” “marvelous,” “amazing,” “strange,” and “extraordinary”
  • Muriel — an ancient Celtic name, going back to the Common Celtic *mori- “sea” + *gelwo– “yellow” and “white.” In Ireland, this
    became gel which carried the additional meanings of “fair” and “shining.” Another nice variant is Meriel
  • Nephele — meaning “cloud” in Greek, Nephele was the name of a semidivine woman in Greek mythology, fashioned out of the clouds by Zeus. 
  • Nimue — a variant of NINIANE. Used in some versions of the Arthurian cycles as the name of Merlin’s lover
  • Niniane — the Lady of the Lake, probably deriving ultimately from the Common Celtic *nino– “ash.”
  • Opaline — both an English adjective meaning “like an opal,” and a medieval variant of Apollonia “belonging to Apollo”
  • Ottilie – probably the most familiar form today of the medieval Odilia/Odile, from the Old German: uod “wealth” and “riches.” St. Odilia of Cologne was reputed to have been the daughter of a king of Britain and one of the virgins who accompanied St. Ursula, while the late seventh-/early eighth-century St. Odile of Alsace was allegedly a blind daughter of the Duke of Alsace, whose sight was miraculously restored by St. Erhard of Regensburg
  • Ottoline — a diminutive form of OTTILIE. A famous bearer was Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938)
  • Perenelle — a medieval form of Petronilla, the name of a popular medieval saint. It derives ultimately from the Latin petra “rock” and “crag”
  • Sabeline — a medieval diminutive of Sibylla “sibyl,” and “prophetess”
  • Thermuthis — the name given in the first century by the Roman writer Josephus to the daughter of the pharaoh who allegedly adopted Moses. Its origins are not clear, but if genuinely Egyptian, it may be a corruption of the Egyptian name Thutmose “born of Thoth”
  • Verity — one of the abstract nouns first used as a given name by the Puritans in the seventeenth century
  • Zephyrine — the French form of Zephyrina, ultimately from Zephyr, the name of the Greek God of the West Wind.

Some of the names I suggested as names for the twin siblings of a little boy called Peregrine also fit the bill: Amabel, Christabel, Clemency, Emmeline, Ianthe, Imogen, Jessamy, Oenone and Rosamund.

Over to you!

Read Full Post »

I’m just home after spending a little over a week  in Somerset.

The stay has inspired a couple of forthcoming posts, but today I have to share some of the luscious Pagan names I encountered on our travels.

This is a region rich in pre-Christian history and archaeology, a wonderful, evocative landscape, with Iron Age hill-forts, Neolithic and Bronze Age tumuli almost around every bend.

Dominating the landscape for many miles, unmistakable by its lonely tower, is Glastonbury Tor. I always get the wobbles when I first spy it, and on this trip we saw it twice in special circumstances; once floating ghostlike above the mists, and once purple against a glorious sunset.

And Glastonbury’s a good place to start with the names…

Although Glastonbury itself is probably a bit unwieldy as a name for a child (though it would make a great name for a cat), there are many others which has associations with the place.

Chief among them must be Avalon; assertions have been made that Glastonbury is the site of the legendary Avalon of Arthurian myth and legend since medieval times, and many today consider it fact, though there are other contenders.

What can be said with certainty, is that Avalon derives from the Celtic word for “apple orchard,” and makes a splendid, evocative name.

As coincidence had it, while staying within sight of Glastonbury at Wookey Hole, we happened to watch a 1978 episode of the cult BBC sci-fi Blake’s 7 last night, in which there was a female character called Avalon…

Arthur and Guinevere, are two other names which call out from Glastonbury; medieval monks at the Abbey claimed to have found the graves of King Arthur and his wife buried there, and these graves can still be visited at the Abbey.

A lesser known name connected with Glastonbury is Neot, supposedly a ninth century saint. He is most associated with St Neot’s in Cambridge, and was said to have been a monk in Glastonbury. However, it is perhaps more likely is that Neot represents a survival of the Celtic God Nodens (an important God of healing, hunting and the sea), especially given the fact his feast day is the Eve of Lughnasadh and he is regarded as the patron saint of fish.

Glastonbury still has healing connections, now mostly associated with the lovely Chalice Well; Chalice making an unusual and meaningful name option…

Which leads nicely to another healing deity and place of healing — the Goddess Sulis Minerva of Aquae Sulis, i.e. Bath.

The misty, mystical waters of Bath

The Roman Baths are one of my favorite sites; the museum is excellent — and has got even better since our last visit five years ago.

Best of all though, is the fact that the magic and the mystery of the original Celtic shrine remains, especially at the Sacred Spring itself (usually called the King’s Bath today), where the pale green hot mineral waters bubble and the steam rises as an otherworldy mist.

Sulis is the Celtic Goddess of the place, a name which I’ve always thought is just crying out for attention. It may be from the Celtic *sƒwol- “sun,” though another interesting option is from the Celtic *su- “good” + *liy-o- “flow,” an apt, if rather more prosaic, description of the spring.

And then, of course, there’s lovely Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom and war with whom the Romans identified Sulis.

Also associated with Bath is Bladud “wolf-lord,” a mythical king of Britain, credited in later mythology with creating the thermal spring at Bath, and the king of “the King’s Bath.” Bleiddudd and Blaithyd are two other variants, the last representing probably the best phonetic spelling for an English-speaker.

Another magical, watery place, though of a different kind, is the characterfully named Wookey Hole, our home last night. Wookey (the “wook” rhymes with “book”) is definitely up there in the eccentric-names-best-suited-to-cats league; the jury remains out on whether it derives from an Old English word meaning “trap” and “snare” (for animals understood), or a Celtic word meaning “cave.”

Both suit it.

Today, the village (mentioned in the Domesday Book) is most famous for its caves and for the legendary witch associated with them; the legend refers specifically to one of the stalagmite formations, though is often now linked to the skeleton of a woman found in the early twentieth century, along with an intriguing alabaster ball. It is thought the skeleton is from the Saxon period, but it could be Romano-British, or even earlier.

The caves are also the source of the River Axe — well, one of them, anyway. This could derive from a Celtic word meaning “water,” another meaning “high” or from the Saxon word for “ash-tree”; it is virtually impossible to say for certain which. Whichever, Axe would certainly make another interesting name choice, offering a distinctive twist to Max.

Wookey Hole has often been used as a film-set, including one of my favorite TV series of all time — Robin of Sherwood — and the episode Project Avalon of Blakes 7.

It was pure coincidence (truly, it was) that we happened to watch that episode at Wookey Hole.

Don’t you just love a good coincidence?


Read Full Post »

As 2011 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look back at my top pick of names here at the Nook and elsewhere in Baby Name Blogland.

Today it’s the turn of  girls’ names at the Nook:

  • Amanita – I featured Amanita back in late August, and I still love it; it’s feminine, quirky, and very witchy. While some might be put off the thought of naming a child after a mushroom, Amanita muscaria is one of the most beautiful and evocative, and perhaps associated with fairies more than any other…
  • Betony – Betony was another of my August loves; it’s such a lovely herb, and as a name has a great contemporary ring to it.
  • CirceIjust love Circe, the mythological witch-Goddess and the name.
  • Elvy – Elvy only got a brief mention as a little used surname-as-first name, but I think it’s got a lot going for it. With the variants Elvey and Elvie, it slips in comfortably alongside all those lovely resurrected Victorian -ie names, many of which are already in favor in the UK (such as Evie, Millie, Maisie, etc) and others like Elsie and Edie on the rise. Unlike many of these, however, though it has the ring of a pet-form about it, and certainly can be used as a nickname for names such as Elvina and Elvira, Elvy is a bona fide name in her own right.
  • Fuchsia – Fuchsia’s such a stunning name, it has that same bright, slightly rebellious edge as names like Ruby and Scarlett
  • Guinevere – Queen Guinevere, Arthur’s May Queen is such a magnificent character with a name to match; why oh why isn’t it seen more?
  • Hermione – ah, Hermione, Hermione, Hermione! Probably my number one of the year; I can’t champion Hermione enough. I suggested her as a possible sibling for Peregrine in early December, and tipped her as the number one girl’s name in America in 2035. Grab her now, while she’s still such a rarity!
  • Hesper – another of my Harry Potter picks, but much less known, Hesper’s a step away from the familiar Hester, and only a couple of steps away from uber-voguish Harper. A discerning but contemporary choice.
  • Ishtar – Ishtar is another of those names which has had a number of mentions, but hasn’t really been properly featured in her own right yet. Ishtar is probably the most famous of the Goddesses of Mesopotamia—equated with Aphrodite and Ashtoreth, and it may be her name which lies behind Esther. In Egyptian texts, she appears as ‘Astar-Ḫūru. The etymology is unknown for certain; many theories abound, ranging from (rather far-fetched) connections with Eostre (see Easter) to a shared root with Aster, but evidence is too flimsy to say anything with absolute conviction. What can be said is that it is a most beautiful and evocative name.
  • Leveret – I love this unusual word-name, the little heard name for a baby hare. It oozes Pagan, witchy, Wiccan charm, and is one the source of the surname Leverett, which makes a nice variant.
  • Lilou – one of my Provençal finds, I think it gives a fetching, zingy twist on the ubiquitous Lily.
  • Merewen – A very soft, attractive Old English name.
  • Tigerlily – I just adore Tigerlily; it is a name bursting with life and color, and has considerable versatility. Would be a travesty for her not to make this baker’s dozen of mine!

Read Full Post »

It’s St Andrew’s Day today — Scotland’s national day.

To mark it, I thought I’d feature some of  my favorite of Scotland’s lesser known names, past and present:

Affrica ♀ — The Anglicized form of the Gaelic  Oighrig, an ancient name. Its meaning isn’t known for certain, but most agree the most likely source is the Old Irish Aithbhreac. It is found in a number of other forms across the centuries, including Africa, Affreca and Effrick. One bearer was a Viking princess of the Isle 0f Man, who married John de Courcy, the twelfth-century de facto king of Ulster.

Aldan ♂ — The name of the legendary founder of the Scottish Clan Home has two possible origins; it could be the Scots Gaelic form of English Aldwin “old friend,” or a variation of the Old Norse name Haldane — “half-Dane.”

Archina ♀ — The usual feminine form of Archibald; although is is a German name in origin, it took strongest root in Scotland. Nowadays, its pet-form Archie is more common, and used across Britain. Archina (a contracted form of the original Archibaldina), however remains uncommon.

Beathag ♀ — diminutive form of Gaelic beatha “life.”

Dolina ♀ — A simplified form of Donaldina, the Scottish feminine form of Donald. Its Gaelic forms are Doileag, Doilìona and Doilidh.

Ferelith ♀ — Anglicized form of the Gaelic Forbhlaith “true sovereignty.” It was the name of one of the two heiresses of an early thirteenth-century Earl of Atholl. Other forms include Forflissa, Fernelith and Forveleth. It does not seem to have survived the Middle Ages, but was re-adopted in the late nineteenth century—an early example being Ferelith Ramsay (1882–1951), daughter of Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet of Bamff, Perthshire. The novel Ferelith (1903) by Victor Hay, the 21st Earl of Errol, is probably responsible for making the name a little better known. Errol bestowed the name upon his own daughter a year later—Lady Rosemary Constance Ferelith Hay (1904–44). Lady Anne Ferelith Fenella Bowes-Lyon (1917–80), later Princess Anne of Denmark, was a niece of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Fingal ♂ — The name in Irish myth of the Scottish giant who built the Giant’s Causeway so he could fight Finn McCool in Ulster, and—after being tricked by Finn’s wife Una—hotfooted it back to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway behind him as he went. He gave his name to Fingal’s Cave, immortalized in Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (1830) — commonly known just as Fingal’s Cave. In Gaelic, Fingal’s name is Fionnghall fionn “white” + gall “stranger.”

Gormelia ♀ — Latinized form of Gormal, a traditional Scots Gaelic name—gorm “blue” and “green.” Other forms include Gormail, Gormel, Gormyle, Gormilia and Gormula.

Islay ♀ ♂ — a modern Scottish name, taken from the name of the island, known for a single malt whisky produced there. Its Gaelic name is Ìle, although the ultimate origin of the name is uncertain. It may be a combination of the Old Norse  name Yula + ey “island.”

Macbeth ♂ — Anglicized form of the Scots Gaelic Macbeathamac “son” + beatha “life.” Although now regarded as a surname—and forever associated with the infamous Scottish king who was immortalized by Shakespeare in his tragedy Macbeth—Macbeth is actually a traditional personal name.

Marsailí ♀ — Gaelic form of Marcella.

Morag ♀ — Scottish pet-form of Mòr, an ancient Gaelic name, cognate with the Irish Mórmór “great.” Morag, is the name f an alleged monster that lives in Loch Morar, first sighted in 1887. There are also the Katie Morag children’s books by Mairi Hedderwick.

Sidheag ♀ — an old Gaelic name, deriving from sidheach “wolf.”

Sorley ♀ — Anglicized form of the Gaelic Somhairle, the Gaelic form of Somerled, from the Old Norse Sumarlíði “summer wayfarer,”

Talarican ♂ — The name of an eighth-century Pictish bishop and saint, also known as Tarkin and Tarquin. Little is known about him, and the fact that there is more than one well dedicated to him, such as St. Tarkin’s Well at Fordyce, Aberdeenshire, hints there might be more to him than meets the eye. The meaning probably goes back to the Common Celtic *talu– “forehead” + *r-g-

Vanora ♀ — a Scottish form of Gaynor, a form of Guinevere. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland, is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones of Christian date are known to have once stood.

Read Full Post »


We’ve reached the letters I and J in the series of little used surnames of English, Anglo-French and Old Norse origin.

  • Iden — from Iden, Sussex. Old English *ig “yew” + denn “woodland pasture.”
  • Imber — from Imber, Wiltshire, a village famously taken over by the British Army during the 2nd World War. In Latin imber means “heavy rain.”
  • Ingall, Ingle, Ingles — from the Old Norse personal name Ingialdr “Ing’s tribute”, or its Anglo-Norse cognate Ingald.
  • Ingham — from places called Ingham. Old English personal name Inga or the ancient Germanic tribal name Inguione  + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”
  • Ingleby — from one of the places called Ingleby. Old Norse Englar “English” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Innes — from one of the places called Ince. From Old Welsh *inis “island.”
  • Ireton, Irton — from Ireton, Derbyshire or Irton, Cumbria. ON: Írar “Irishmen” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Isard — from the medieval name Isolda.
  • Isham — from Isham, Northamptonshire. Celtic River name Ise (meaning “water”) + OE hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor,” or hamm “land hemmed in by water/marsh,” “river-meadow.” Did manage to creep into the top 1000 a little in the late nineteenth century.
  • Jackman — servant of Jack.
  • Jagger — a Yorkshire surname from the dialectic word jagger “pedlar.” Only just qualifies, as has started to see use in the last few years, being ranked 762nd in the US in 2010.
  • Janson — son of Jan, a form of John.
  • Jardine — Old French jardin “garden”; used originally of someone who lived near — or worked in — a garden.
  • Jebb — from Jepp — a medieval pet form of Geoffrey.
  • Jebordy — from Middle English jupardi “risk,” “danger,” “jeopardy.”
  • Jekyll — from the Breton Judicael “lord of the grove” or “generous lord.” Traditionally pronounced “JEE-kil” it is now mostly pronounced “JEH-kil.” Is it too tarnished by Doctor Jekyll? And Gertrude?
  • Jenner — Old French engigneor “engineer,” “maker of military machines.”
  • Jerdan, Jerden, Jerdon — essentially Scottish variants of JARDINE.
  • Jernegan — from the Breton name Gernagon “iron-famous.”
  • Jessop — from Joseph, reflecting medieval pronounciation (comparable to the Italian Guiseppe).
  • Jex — a form of Jacks — “of Jack,” as well as from the Middle English geke “fool” (this is probably the same origin of modern geek!).
  • Jinks — from Jenkin, itself a medieval pet-form of John.
  • Jobar — from Middle English jube “woollen garment” or jobbe “large vessel,” referring to someone who made them.
  • Jolivet — pet-form of Old French jolif “jolly,” “lively.”
  • Jory — pet form of Jore, a medieval northern French form of George.
  • Judd — a medieval pet-form of Jordan. Almost didn’t make it, as it saw a bit of use in the 70s — just not very much.
  • Junifer — from Guinevere.
  • Juster — from Old French justeor “jouster.”
  • Justham — a form of Judson “son of JUDD.”

Read Full Post »

Since moving into the Nook, I’ve been on an odyssey around the world and through the ages, and it occurred to me that it was about time I came home and featured the names of Wales.

Wales belongs to the Celtic fringe — along with Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and Britany. Of the Celtic lands and regions of the British Isles, Wales has preserved its language more successfully than any of the others; it is actively spoken across the Principality as a first language, and many others speak and understand some Welsh.

If you visit Wales, you are virtually guaranteed to hear some Welsh spoken. The same is sadly not true or Ireland or Scotland, where even in the regions where Irish and Gaelic are spoken, you’ll be lucky to hear the native tongue, unless you actively seek it out.

You might think, then, that the old Welsh names had survived in use along with the language. As far as a handful of names are concerned, you would be right. But by the mid 19th Century, most of the names used in Wales were English — most of the Welsh names had been consigned to history.

Only in the late 19th Century, with the rise of Welsh nationalism, were the old names revived. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength.

The majority of babies in Wales still receive the same names as in the rest of the English-speaking world. But a great many receive Welsh ones as a first or second name — names which have a distinctly foreign, mystical ring to an English ear.

It is my intention to make a big thing of Welsh names here at the Nook over time. They are close to my heart, and there are a lot of extremely beautiful names with great meanings which are surprisingly accessible to non-Welsh speakers. If the Celtic calls to you, why not consider a name from the Land of Song?

These are some of my personal favorites:


  • Aneira (pronounced ‘an-AY-ra’) — the intensive prefix an-carrying the sense of ‘very’ or ‘much’ + eira ‘snow’. Probably first inspired by the boy’s name Aneirin, and used since the late 19th Century. Eira is also used on its own.
  • Annwyl — ‘dear’ and ‘beloved’. In use since the 1930s.
  • Anwen— a modern combination of Ann + the –wen ending found in so many Welsh girls’ names, which is the mutated femining form of gwyn ‘white’ and ‘blessed’. Ann here is sometimes interpreted as the intensive prefix an-, like Aneira and Angharad.
  • Blodwenblodyn ‘flower’ + gwyn ‘white’ and ‘blessed’. A traditional Welsh name, found in the Middle Ages and revived at the end of the 19th Century
  • Branwenbran ‘crow’, ‘raven’ + gwyn ‘white’. In Welsh mythology, the name of the sister of Bran the Blessed. It was used as a genuine name in medieval times, and revived in the 19th Century.
  • Caryscar ‘love’. Modern name, dating to the early 20th Century. Another variant is Cerys.
  • Eilir (pronounced ‘ay-leer’) — ‘butterfly’. First used at the end of the 19th Century.
  • Eirian (pronounced ‘AY-ree-an’) — ‘brilliant’, ‘splendid’ and ‘bright’. Another late 19th Century coinage
  • Eirlys (pronounced ‘AY-er-lis’) — ‘snowdrop’. Late 19th Century again.
  • Enfys (pronounced ‘en-vis’) — ‘rainbow’. Also first used at the end of the 19th Century.
  • Ffion (pronounced ‘fee-on’) — ‘foxglove’. A modern name inspired by the unrelated Fiona.
  • Fflur (pronounced ‘fleer’) — ‘flower’. Inspired by the use of the French Fleur, Fflur was first used at the end of the 1960s.
  • Gwen — ‘white’ and ‘blessed’ – a very traditional and ancient name. Deserves a post all to itself!
  • Gwenhwyfar (pronounced ‘gwen-HOO-i-var’) — original Welsh form of Guinevere and Jennifer.
  • Hafren – see Fair Sabrina
  • Mabli — Welsh form of Mabel
  • Mared — one of the Welsh forms of Margaret
  • Morwen — ‘maiden’. Welsh equivalent of the Cornish Morwenna
  • Seirian  (pronounced ‘SAY-ree-an’) — ‘sparkling’.  First used in the ’60s.
  • Seren (pronounced ‘seh-ren’) — ‘star’. A modern Welsh name — i.e. not used in medieval times. First used at the end of the 1930s and now a popular choice for baby girls.
  • Tanwentan ‘fire’ + gwyn ‘white’. A modern Welsh name, first used in the 1960s.
  • Tegeirian (pronounced ‘teg-AY-ree-an’) — ‘orchid’.
  • Tirion (pronounced ‘TI-ree-on’) — ‘gentle’ , ‘happy’ and ‘gracious’.


  • Aneirin (pronounced ‘an-AY-rin’) — traditional old Welsh name, borne by an early poet. Probably from the Latin Honorius.
  • Arthen — ‘bear-born’.
  • Bedwyr (pronounced ‘bed-weer’) — from bedw ‘birch’ + gwyr ‘man’. A character from Welsh myth, who became Bedivere in the Arthurian cycles.
  • Berwynbar ‘peak’, ‘mound’, ‘head’ + gwyn ‘blessed’ and ‘white’. An ancient name, revived in the late 19th Century.
  • Bleddyn (pronounced ‘bleth-in’ — the ‘th’ as in ‘the’) —blaidd ‘wolf’.  Traditional name, revived in the 19th Century.
  • Cai (pronounced ‘ky’ – to rhyme with eye) — Welsh form of Gaius — also deserves an entry of its own!
  • Einion (pronounced ‘AY-nee-on’) — ‘anvil’; traditional old name.
  • Eirian — see girls above.
  • Gwern — ‘alder’; a name from mythology
  • Gwydion (pronounced ‘gwi-DEE-on’) — gwyddon ‘wizard’ and ‘scientist’. An important figure in Welsh mythology. Used asa genuine name from the early 20th Century.
  • Heddwyn (pronounced ‘heth-win’ — the ‘th’ as in ‘the’). Modern name from hedd ‘peace’ + gwyn ‘white’ and ‘blessed’.
  • Ianto (pronounced ‘yan-toh’) — a pet form of Ifan, the Welsh form of John.
  • Iestyn (pronounced ‘yes-tin’). Welsh form of Justin.
  • Iolo (pronounced ‘yol-oh’)
  • Lleu (pronounced ‘lleye’ — the best approximation of the notorious Welsh letter ‘ll’ is probably ‘cl’) — important figure in Welsh myth.
  • Macsen — Welsh form of Maximus; the name of a legendary hero.
  • Morien (pronounced ‘MOH-ree-en’) — very old Welsh name meaning ‘sea-born’.
  • Myfyr (pronounce ‘muh-veer’) — Welsh for ‘muse’ and ‘meditation’. Used since the late 19th Century.
  • Myrddin (pronounced ‘mur-thin’ — the ‘th’ as in ‘the’) — Welsh form of Merlin. In use in the Middle Ages, and revived in the 19th Century.
  • Peredur (pronounced ‘peh-REH-deer’) — peri ‘spear’ + dur ‘hard’. The name of one of King Arthur’s knights — he became Percival in English. Used since the 19th Century.
  • Rhodrirhod ‘wheel’, ‘circle’ + rhi ‘ruler’ and ‘king’; trad old name.
  • Rhun (pronounced ‘rheen’) — ‘mystery’ and ‘charm’. The name of a character in Welsh mythology. First used as a real given name in the late 19th Century.
  • Rhydian (pronounced ‘RID-ee-an’) — probably from Old Welsh rhudd ‘red’
  • Seirian  (pronounced ‘SAY-ree-an’) — ‘sparkling’.  First used in the ’60s.
  • Taliesin (pronounced ‘tal-ee-EH-sin’ — although ‘tal-ee-AY-sin’ is often heard) — the name of a legendary bard, to whom a corpus of early medieval poetry is attributed. From tal ‘brow’, ‘forehead’ + iesin ‘fair’, ‘beautiful’ — often translated as ‘shining’.
  • Tegid (pronounce ‘teh-gid’) — from Latin tacitus ‘serene’ and ‘quiet’. The name of a character in Welsh mythology, as well as the Welsh name of Bala Lake. First used as a genuine name in the late 19th Century.

Read Full Post »

There are few names more evocative of medieval romance than Guinevere, the Celtic queen, caught up in probably the most famous love triangle of all time — Guinevere, King Arthur, and Sir Lancelot.

The enduringly popular story of King Arthur and Guinevere has been retold countless times for a thousand years or more, most recently in the TV series Camelot.

What the truth is behind the legends is a question which has occupied historians, archaeologists and folklorists alike for hundreds of years.

Guinevere is the now classic form of the legendary queen’s name, as used by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the Idylls of the King, but there are many others.

Probably the next most seen is Guenevere,  used in a number of versions, including Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country (1999) and the musical Camelot (1960).

In Mallory’s 15th Century Le Mort dArthur she is Gwenyvere.

The original Welsh form of her name is Gwenhwyfar.

This is really ancient!

For while Gwen features in a great many Welsh names of all periods, its Common Celtic predecessor  *uindo- ‘white, bright’ is attested in Celtic names in Roman Britain.

Hwyfar, however, is not recorded anywhere, except in Gwenhwyfar’s name.

There has been a lot of speculation over the years as to its meaning; the Victorians conjectured that it must carry some soft, feminine sort of sense, and interpreted it as ‘soft’ and ‘smooth’, linking it to the rare (and obsolete) Welsh word gwyf.

But this doesn’t actually even mean ‘smooth’!

It means ‘that which extends’.

And the sort of torture it must endure to turn it into hwyfar really brings tears to the eyes.

But there is a better explanation, provided by historical linguistics — the Common Celtic *sŒbro- ‘specter’.

In Old Irish, this became síabar — ‘fairy’ and ghost’ — a word which almost certainly features in the name of another tragic figure of mythology, the Irish Fionnabhair. This make it exactly cognate with Guinevere.

This begs the question whether Guinevere and Fionnabhair are linked at a level deeper than just their names, and whether rather than ever being real historical figures, they belong to the pantheon of the Pagan Celtic Gods.

Given the role they both play, a convincing argument could be put forward that they both represent Goddesses of sovereignty, like Rhiannon and Medb (it is probably no coincidence that in the myth, Fionnabhair’s mother is Medb of Connacht).

Even today, in North Wales, the legend persists of an apparation — ‘the Grey Lady’ who haunts the Celtic hill-fort of Moel Arthur, and is now said to protect the grave and treasure of King Arthur.

Alternatively, they may be the bride aspect of the Goddess — the May Queen. There are certainly strong parallels in the tale of Arthur and Guinevere with that of Lleu and Blodeuwedd.

Perhaps they are both.

Guinevere is found as a genuine given name from at least the 14th Century — largely as a result of the popularity of the Arthurian Cycles. In Wales and the Marches, it survived  in forms such as Gaenor, Gaynor, Gwennor and Gwenifer.

In Cornwall, it became Jenifer. George Bernard Shaw introduced it to the rest of the ESW in his play The Doctors Dilemma (1905), which features a character called Jennifer Dubedat.

In Scotland, it became Vanora. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones are known to have once stood, though Vanora isn’t found as a given name itself before the 19th Century.

Another variant is the Italian Ginevra — made better known by Ginevra ‘Ginny’ Weasley in Harry Potter.

But Guinevere itself has always been uncommon. It has never featured in the top 1000 names in the US. And even in England and Wales, there were less than 250 girls given the name Guinevere as a first or second name between 1847 and 1915. 57 baby girls were called Guinevere in the USA in 2010, but only 4 in England and Wales.

This is a great shame, and Guinevere is crying out to be re-embraced. It makes a fantastic alternative to its love-child Jennifer, which is now tumbling out of favor after so long as a firm favorite. It shortens nicely to Guin or Guinny (or Gwin, Gwyn, Gwinny, Gwen and Gwenny, etc) — even Ginny or Jenny.

There are the Welsh pet-forms  of Gwen– names too: Gwenno, Gwennan and Gwenog.

You could even use Vere or Vera, Nev or Neve — or Never!

Why not?

And why not Guinevere? A magnificent name for Pagans and non-Pagans alike!

Read Full Post »