Welsh-language names, early 1900s edition
March 14, 2022 9:02 PM   Subscribe

For fiction-writing purposes: would Welsh people in the early 1900s (or Londoners with recent Welsh ancestry, specifically) give their children typically Welsh-language names like Bethan or Ffion? I am aware that such names got popular in the later half of the twentieth century and seem to have coincided with a resurgence of Welsh independence / nationalism and a rejection of the imposition of English culture. Would Welsh families have been discouraged from giving their children non-English names during that time? Would having a Welsh-language name denote anything politically about the person's parents at that point? Also, if anyone has any knowledge of what names specifically might have been commonly used, please let me know!<
posted by maighdeann mhara to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia has lists of famous people (mostly men) born in Wales every year - I see some Welsh names on this 1910 list.
I took a quick glance at a few years in the first decade of the 1900s and saw a couple repeated instances of Welsh names like Emlyn, Rhys, Gwyn, Glyn
And then a lot of names like Thomas, William, David, and Jack.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:27 PM on March 14, 2022

You can look at christening records for most towns and cities in Wales, if you're asking about official name?
But they'd mostly be an English version (true back to the 16 century really), even though someone might be commonly known by a Welsh version of their name, eg Marged or Mererid for Margaret.

So are you asking for christened name, or commonly known name?
posted by Elysum at 9:43 PM on March 14, 2022

It probably depends on North or South Wales. My great-grandparents emigrated from Anglesey to the US in 1912, when my grandfather was 6. The kids didn't speak English when they arrived, and they had Welsh names- Morgan & Blodwyn. My great grandfather Robert's younger brother was named Caradog. Cymreag AF.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 10:36 PM on March 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

A lot of sites aggregate data from censuses, so there is a good chance this data is available free online somewhere. For instance, this site shows surname statistics for each county of the UK, including Wales, in 1881.
posted by mani at 12:34 AM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Would having a Welsh-language name denote anything politically about the person's parents at that point?

this is purest anecdote, but I was curious about your question, so I was browsing through the wikipedia lists of notable Welsh people born in the 1910s. And most of the time when I clicked on the people with obviously Welsh forenames, they turned out to be Plaid Cymru MPs, or prominent members of the Eisteddfod or similar.

(with the caveat that it says more about the names they went by as adults, and not necessarily the politics of their parents; especially since they often had an English first name and a Welsh middle name or vice versa)
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 4:39 AM on March 15, 2022

Here is information about Gethin, Maredudd, Rhiannon and Rhodri, which suggests that it may have been unusual to have had a Welsh first name if you were born before about 1910.

If you look at David Lloyd George, his children mostly have identifiably Welsh names (Richard, Mair, Olwen, Gwilam and Megan) and were born 1889 and 1902. But then he was a Welsh speaker and contemporaries describe as being entirely Welsh in culture and upbringing, despite having been born in Manchester.

On balance, I think it would imply parents who identified strongly with the Welsh-speaking area of Wales ie probably not from the valleys. In terms of identifiers, I think much more likely to be non-conformist active chapel goers than Anglican. (There would be plenty of English names among the chapel crowd as well).
posted by plonkee at 10:13 AM on March 15, 2022

Go for names with a good penultimate syllable, with bonus points for an 'r' you can roll. Bronwyn, Gwylim (William/Bill), Trevor, Eluned (Lyn), Vera, Megan, Ceri, Dafydd ('Daff-eth'/David) and more.

My parents at university in North Wales in the 1970s met people who were fighting to be able to speak Welsh and preserve Welsh language and culture, while it was 1980s and 1990s when Eisteddfoddai and schoolchildren learning Welsh let breathe a bit of cultural pride. Their parents in the South Welsh Valleys -- 1920's, a generation before -- were the first to have BBC Radio and Received Pronunciation and the upwardly mobile may have wanted Chapel names and smarter-sounding accents. The generation before that had the Welsh Revival and the Temperance movement, literal Sunday Schools teaching adults to read and write.
posted by k3ninho at 11:03 AM on March 15, 2022

This might be more of a rabbit hole than you want to go down, but you could play around with historic birth and census records to look at first names. I use ukcensusonline but Ancestry would also do it. I think you can have a free trial of Ancestry, or your library may have access.

Putting Bethan into the 1911 census records (exact name only) gives me only 3 people, who are aged 12, 13, and 14. Two of those are Welsh or have Welsh parents. I imagine there were some other people going by Bethan but christened Elizabeth. The earliest Ffion I can find in births is 1945 in Caernarvonshire.

Looking at children in the 1911 census in Newport, Monmouthshire, who were born about 1905, I'm mostly seeing names which are not identifiably Welsh. From the first few pages, for girls, Ethel, Cissie, Doris, Eveline, Lucy, Edna, Florance, (two, both spelt that way) Blanche, Irene, Isabella, Louisa, Josephine. However there are a few Welsh names in the records - Winifred, as in the Welsh saint, Gwendoline and Gladys / Gladis. Although these names were being used by English parents too at this point, they might be more likely to be used by Welsh parents.

For boys, Albert, Reginald, William, Andrew, Frederick, Jack, Arthur, Francis, Herbert, Arthur, but also a couple of Llewellyns.

Going further north to a more Welsh-speaking area, Bangor in Carnarvonshire, and looking again at children in the 1911 census born about 1905, Welsh names are much more common. Looking at the first few pages of results for girls, there are still lots of names that are not identifiably Welsh, such as Elsie, Margaret and Mary, but there are also still the triad of Winifred, Gladys and Gwendoline - with more spelling variants (Winifried, Gwladys, Gladdys, Gwenderlene). And there are other Welsh names like Gwenith, Blodwen, Enid, Myfanwy, Buddug. There is a bit of a trend of Welsh middle names for girls - Catherine Eluned, Catherine Blodwen, Jane Blodwin, Jennie Myfanwy. (The 1911 Wesh census records identify whether each person spoke Welsh, English or both.)

For boys, again there is some of the usual stock of names, and several Davids of course, but more Welsh names than in Newport - Glyn / Glynne, Ivor, Idwal, Tudor, Eirwyn, Llewelyn again.

So I think it might depend whether your Londoners with recent Welsh ancestry came from North or South Wales. Their social class would also have an effect, though possibly not an immediately predictable one. And religion, as plonkee says, though that again links up with class. If you can get access to the census, you could look for people born in Wales but living in London and look at what they were calling their children.

You could also look at contemporary newspaper records, which in some cases may give the names people were going by rather than their official names, depending on the formality of the report. I use britishnewspapersonline but again I think they are on Ancestry, and again you may be able to get access through your local library or a free trial.

Anyway, many words, sorry, but perhaps a few things which might spark ideas.
posted by paduasoy at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

And adding that I pasted lists of names from the census into notepad whilst writing that comment; MeMail me if you'd like the full lists.
posted by paduasoy at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2022

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