Welsh Place Names

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Gotoarrow.png Wales Gotoarrow.png Welsh place names

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Most place names in Wales derive from the Welsh language, but have in many cases also been influenced by English language over the centuries. Many place names have been variously affected by social and economic changes in the country. The Industrial Revolution saw the development of many new towns and villages, particularly in the south. Some of these used already existing place names, while others acquired new names.

However, Welsh culture and political autonomy has been increasingly reasserted since the mid 19th century and many place names have reverted to their original Welsh version.

The differences in place names can be categorised:

  1. In the majority of cases, the Welsh and English names for a place are identical, almost always because the Welsh name is used.
  2. In many cases the Welsh and English names are very similar, both in spelling and pronunciation. Examples include Caerffili/Caerphilly, Rhaglan/Raglan, Treorci/Treorchy and Merthyr Tudful/Merthyr Tydfil. In most of these cases the anglicised version prevails.
  3. In some cases, especially close to the English border, the English name was adopted by the Welsh. Examples include Y Fflint/Flint and Wrecsam/Wrexham.
  4. In many cases, the former Anglicised spelling has, over the past few decades, no longer become accepted and the Welsh spelling has now become the official version. Examples include Caernarfon/Ca(e)rnarvon, Conwy/Conway, Llanelli/Llanelly and Y Felinheli/Port Dinorwic. There are still ongoing disagreements over whether the Welsh spelling should be used exclusively in places such as Cricieth/Criccieth, Rhaeadr/Rhayader and Rhuthun/Ruthin.
  5. In other cases, the Welsh and English names clearly share the same original form, but spellings and pronunciation have diverged over the years. One obvious example is the capital, Caerdydd/Cardiff, where it is the English spelling and pronunciation rather than the Welsh which most closely reflects the original name of Caer-Dyf ("fort on the Taf").
  6. Finally, there are a number of places, where the English and Welsh names have, or may appear to have, totally different origins. For example Abertawe/Swansea where the Welsh name signifies the estuary of the Tawe but the English name derives from the Norse Sveinn's Island.

Many historic sources, such as censuses, civil registration documents or wills may give different versions of a place name and be prepared for some strange spelling variations! See Welsh Place Names List

Welsh Name English Name
Aberafan Aberavon
Abercynffig Aberkenfig
Aberdâr Aberdare
Aberdaugleddau Milford Haven
Aberdyfi Aberdovey
Abergwaun Fishguard
Abermaw Barmouth
Aberpennar Mountain Ash
Aberhonddu Brecon
Abertawe Swansea
Aberteifi Cardigan (town)
Arbeth Narbeth
Bangor Is Y Coed Bangor On Dee
Blaenafon Blaenavon
Brychdyn Broughton
Brynbuga Usk
Bwcle Buckley
Caerdydd Cardiff
Caerfyrddin Carmarthen
Caerffili Caerphilly
Caergybi Holyhead
Caernarfon Carnarvon or Caernarvon
Cas-gwent Chepstow
Casnewydd Newport (Gwent)
Castellnewydd Emlyn Newcastle Emlyn
Castell-nedd Neath
Cei Conna Connah's Quay
Ceredigion or Sir Aberteifi Cardiganshire
Chwitffordd Whitford
Coed-duon Blackwood
Coed Llai Leeswood
Conwy Conway
Crucywel Crickhowell
Cydweli Kidwelly
Dinbych Denbigh
Dinbych y Pysgod Tenby
Erbistog Erbistock
Eryri Snowdonia
Glyn Ebwy Ebbw Vale
Helygain Halkyn
Llanandras Presteigne
Llanbedr Pont Steffan Lampeter
Llandrindod Llandrindod Wells
Llanelwy St. Asaph
Llanelli Llanelly
Llaneurgain Northop
Llanfair-ym-muallt Builth Wells
Llanfor Llanfawr
Llanilltud Fawr Llantwit Major
Llanisien Llanishen
Llannerch Panna Penley
Llanymddyfri Llandovery
Llwchwr Loughor
Maesyfed New Radnor
Marchwiail Marchwiel
Merthyr Tudful Merthyr Tydfil
Mwynglawdd Minera
Owrtyn Overton
Penarlâg Hawarden
Penfro Pembroke
Pen-y-bont (ar Ogwr) Bridgend
Ponciau Ponkey
Porthaethwy Menai Bridge
Porthmadog Portmadoc
Porth Tywyn Burry Port
Rhaeadr Rhayader
Rhaglan Raglan
Rhiwabon Ruabon (or Rhuabon)
Rhuthun Ruthin
Rhydaman Ammanford
Rhymni Rhymney
Trefaldwyn Montgomery
Trefalun Allington
Trefyclo Knighton
Trefynwy Monmouth
Trefdraeth Newport (Pembrokeshire)
Treffynnon Holywell
Trelawnyd Newmarket
Treorci Treorchy
Tyddewi St. David's
Wrecsam Wrexham
Y Bers Bersham
Y Bontfaen Cowbridge
Y Drenewydd Newtown
Y Felinheli Port Dinorwic
Y Fenni Abergavenny
Y Gelli Hay-on-Wye
Yr Hôb Hope
Y Trallwng Welshpool
Y Waun Chirk
Yr Wyddfa Snowdon
Yr Wyddgrug Mold
Ynys Enlli Bardsey Island
Ynys Môn (Isle of) Anglesey

See Welsh Place Names List

Both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Ordnance Survey have policies on standardising place names, drawing on advice from the Welsh Language Board and the Place-name Research Centre at the University of Bangor.

The policy of the Welsh Assembly Government is set out in its Welsh Language Scheme. This states: The signs for which we are responsible [mostly motorway and trunk road signs] will be bilingual. Signs which are in English only at the moment will be made bilingual when they are replaced.... When both languages are included on one sign with one language above the other, the order in which the languages appear will follow the practice adopted by the local authority where the sign is located. The guidance also states: Signs containing place names in England will contain the Welsh and English versions of the name.... . [1]

In the predominantly Welsh-speaking areas of Wales, the Welsh form of the name is usually given first; in other areas, the English name is usually given first.

Visit Sounds of Wales to hear the pronunciation of various Welsh place names.


See also: Welsh Place Name Elements

Resources for Welsh Place Names

Helpful printed gazetteers for Wales are:

  • John Marius Wilson. The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. London: A. Fullarton & Co. 6 Vols. FHL British book 942 E5i. 
  • Samuel Lewis. A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. 2 Vols. London: S. Lewis and Co. 1833 FHL British Book 942.9 E5l
  • Melville Richards. Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units: Medieval and Modern. (Cardiff : University of Wales, 1969), FHL British book 942.9 E5w. FHL fiche 6026396 (may be available at ordered into your local Family History Center).
  • Elwyn Davies. A Gazetteer of Welsh Place-Names. (Cardiff : Univeristy of Wales Press, 1795). FHL book 942.9 E5re 1967.

For maps and other information:

  • Cecil R. Humphery-Smith, editor. The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. 2003. FHL British book 942 E7pa.
  • Ordnance Survey maps- Start with 6" to mile, 1st edition which includes farms and chapels
  • Online maps
  • Tithe maps

Online Tools:


References

  1. Welsh Assembly Government Welsh Language Scheme

External links