Posts Tagged ‘Hafren’

Last month I did my first ‘Pagan Name of the Month’ feature, starting the ball rolling with Blake. The premise for Pagan Names of the Month is to feature a name from the top 100 names in the UK or US, and show just how good a ‘Pagan name’ it is.

This month, I have opted for the seasonal Summer.

In 2009, Summer was the 24th most popular girl’s name in the UK, and it’s popular Down Under too, ranking 39th in New South Wales,and 34th in New Zealand.

On the other side of the pond, though, it was only 164th in 2010.

In former times, when life wasn’t made so easy and comfortable by electricity, double glazing, central heating, fresh produce shipped across the globe, etc, etc, the blessings of summer were valued far more highly than today.

Summer in the past was synonymous with the prime of life and plenty. It was the season when fields were full of ripening grain, orchards and hedgrows with ripening fruit. The season of long, warm days, genial, short nights, forgiving winds, soft rain, rustic scenes of shepherds and their lasses out making hay…

But, as the Greeks were fond of pointing out, in Arcadia ego — death and decay lurk even in the heart of paradise, and the wheel of the year is ever-turning.

It is the sting in the tail, which makes each summer’s day so poignant.

The word summer derives directly from its Old English counterpart — sumor. This is exactly cognate with the Welsh haf and Old Irish sam. The name of the Celtic feast of Samhain derives from the latter — the feast of ‘summer’s end’ (and winter’s beginning).

The use of summer as a name, or a part of a name, is not new.

The Scottish Sorley is the Anglicized form of Gaelic Somhairle, itself from the Old Norse Somerled from sumar ‘summer’ + líðr ‘to pass by’, hence ‘summer passer-by’ or ‘summer wayfarer’.

Another summery name of Old Norse origin is Somerilda ‘summer-battle’.

Somerset is also not unheard of as a given name (a well-known bearer was the writer Somerset Maughan). This comes from the Old English cognate sumor ‘summer’ + sǣte ‘dwellers’ and ‘settlers’. It became the surname of a powerful aristocratic family, who are still Dukes of Beaufort today.

Names meaning ‘summer’ can be found in other languages too.

The Welsh Haf (pronounced ‘harv’) is not uncommon as a girl’s name in Wales, especially as a middle name. It also features in the girls’ names Hafwen and Wenhaf ‘blessed summer’, Hafren, and Hafgan — ‘summer song’ — the name of a King of the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. There’s also Hefin ‘of summer’ — specifically, ‘of midsummer’.

Meanwhile, Samhradán is an Irish boy’s name meaning ‘little summer’.

Belisama is a Gaulish Goddess of light, whose name means ‘powerful summer’.

Therina is rare name first encountered in the late 18th Century from the Greek therinos ‘of summer’. Another is Therea, first used in the 19th Century. Rarer still is Euthera — ‘pleasant in summer’. All are from theros ‘summer’. Some argue this is the ultimate source of the better known Theresa.

Others include the Chinese Xia (夏), the Indian girl’s names Grishma and Ushma,  the Finnish girl’s name Suvi, and boy’s name Kesä, the Kurdish girl’s name Hawin, and the Albanian boy’s name Behar.  Also in Albania, the girl’s name Vera can be interpreted as deriving from verë, another Albanian word for summer.

Meanwhile, the Basque girl’s name Udane derives from uda ‘summer’, and the rare French boy’s name Veran may be an adoption of the Galician verán.

A number of Japanese girls’ names  include Japanese word for summer. Natsuko and Natsumi are just two which feature natsu, while Shizuka can be interpreted as meaning ‘quiet summer’.

Hebrew Kayitz and Swahili Majira (strictly, ‘season’) are also attested, and Latvian/Lithuanain Vasara is not unknown.

Summer stands out as an ideal Pagan choice, free of all and any association with any other religion, but not too ‘way out there’, if ‘way out there’ isn’t your thing.

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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.

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Yesterday, I drove from North Wales to Telford. Most of the journey was along the A5, which, despite being a major trunk-road, still has stretches untouched for centuries – even millennia. Ancient hedgerows line the road, and the verges are rich with wild flowers – sunny buttercups and scarlet poppies, mauve thistles, stately hogsweed and swathes of ox-eye daisies. Beyond, the crops of wheat, oats and barley ripen, and cows and sheep graze in seas of midsummer green. Ruined castles and Iron Age forts brood on the hills; still keeping watch over the road and all who pass beneath them. And twice the road crosses the Severn, a river which has played its part many times in British history, and is steeped in myth and legend – as well as being the source of the name Sabrina.

Sabrina was the Roman name for the Severn, and English Severn evolved from it. Although most people today take it as read that Sabrina was a Goddess, there is actually no definitive evidence. However, we know that other rivers were considered Goddesses, and so it is highly likely Sabrina was regarded as a Goddess too. The fact that the important temple complex to the God Nodens — a God of the sea, hunting  and healing — happens to be situated close to where the great river becomes the sea is further evidence that the river had religious significance to the Pagan Celts.

The Severn’s Welsh name is Hafren – a strong clue to its probable origin. In Modern Welsh, haf means ‘summer’. It derives from the Proto-Celtic *samo- ‘summer’, which is also the ancestor of Irish Samhain. The second element is most likely from the Proto-Celtic *renwo- ‘quick’ and ‘fast’ – i.e. ‘fast summer river’. The Severn still belts along at a fair old pace in summer today, especially after heavy rain, so it is a very apt name.

In his largely mythological History of Britain, the 12th Century Welsh historian Geoffrey of Monmouth recorded the medieval legend of how the river got its name. He said that it was named after a princess called Habren, the daughter of King Locrinus and his second wife Estrildis, a Saxon. Unfortunately, Locrinus’ first wife was still alive, and after he was killed in battle, she killed Habren and Estrildis and threw their bodies thrown into the river. The murderous former queen, in a token gesture to acknowledge Habren’s innocence in the whole messy business, named the river after her.

It was the English poet Edmund Spenser who revived the form Sabrina in his late 16th Century epic poem The Faerie Queene. John Milton then used the name in his masque Comus (1634), in which Sabrina featured as the name as a mermaid. It contains the famous lines:

Sabrina fair

Listen where thou art living

Under the glassie, cool, translucent wave

In twisted braids of lillies knitting

The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair,

Listen for dear honour’s sake,

Goddess of the silver lake,

Listen and save.

It was these lines that inspired Samuel Taylor’s play Sabrina Fair (1953), which became the classic film Sabrina the following year. Although Sabrina was first used as a genuine given name in the 17th Century, it is no surprise that it was not until 1954 — when Sabrina suddenly became associated with Audrey Hepburn — that it first appeared in the US Social Security Administration list of 1000 most popular names, jumping into the ranks in 795th place. The following year, it leapt to 245th.

Today, Sabrina is mostly associated with the TV sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It started out as an Archie Comics comic strip in 1962, which inspired the show, which ran 1996-2003. Both the comic strip and the TV show influenced Sabrina’s use, positively and negatively; it peaked in 1997 in 53rd place, and it has been used a little less each year ever since.

It’s rather sad that Sabrina has not been able to shake this last association, unlike its witchy twin Samantha. Why Samantha has managed to cut loose its TV ties and Sabrina – which has far weightier credentials (if such things rock your boat) – has not, is puzzling. Perhaps it’s because Samantha didn’t feature in the title of the show which rocketed it to fame, forever saddled with a distinct and not entirely complimentary epithet like teenage. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time, and people will forget eventually. But if you can shrug off the tiresome teenage-witch jibes (a mention of Spenser and Milton should do the trick — ideally accompanied by a withering stare) – Sabrina is well worth serious consideration. It has a number of very wearable pet-forms too, such as Sabby, Brina, Brinny and Brin. Or if Sabrina’s baggage is a bit too heavy, why not consider the Welsh Hafren – or even the English Severn? Which brings us nicely back to where we started.

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