Wales 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:
- In the majority of cases, the Welsh and English names for a place are identical, almost always because the Welsh name is used.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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").
- 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|
|Bangor Is Y Coed||Bangor On Dee|
|Castellnewydd Emlyn||Newcastle Emlyn|
|Cei Conna||Connah's Quay|
|Ceredigion or Sir Aberteifi||Cardiganshire|
|Dinbych y Pysgod||Tenby|
|Glyn Ebwy||Ebbw Vale|
|Llanbedr Pont Steffan||Lampeter|
|Llanilltud Fawr||Llantwit Major|
|Merthyr Tudful||Merthyr Tydfil|
|Pen-y-bont (ar Ogwr)||Bridgend|
|Porth Tywyn||Burry Port|
|Rhiwabon||Ruabon (or |
|Ynys Enlli||Bardsey Island|
|Ynys Môn||(Isle of) Anglesey|
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.... . 
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[edit | edit source]
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:[edit | edit source]
- A Vision of Britain (includes The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales)
- British History Online (includes A Topographical Dictionary of Wales)
- The National Gazetteer of Wales
- Google: Archif Melville Richards- place-name database
- See Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units above
Includes Richards' voluminous notes not published in his book
- See Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units above