Friday, October 10, 2003

Welsh patronymics

If a man's name was Rhys and his father's name was Owen then he would be known as "Rhys fab Owen" [Rhys son (of) Owen]. (The 'of' is implied as Welsh has no case endings and the normal genitive construction requires no preposi tion, corresponding to 'of'.) The Welsh for son is 'mab' but such a noun in apposition to a personal name undergoes lenition (mutation) to 'fab'. The Welsh 'f' sound corresponds to the soft English 'v' sound and over time it was lost to give "Rhys ab Owen".

A medieval Welshman would know his male lineage, i.e. the names of his male ancestors for perhaps six or seven generations, e.g. Rhys ab Owen ap Llywelyn ap Gryffydd ap Dafydd ap Cadwaladr etc. ('Mab' in old medieval Welsh was written 'map', cognate of the Gaelic 'mac', so that 'ap' as well as 'ab' may be seen in lineages, usually 'ap' before a consonant and 'ab' before a vowel.)

Thus the original Celtic patronymic system was quite a simple, straightforward chain of names. Patronymic naming systems were quite general in Europe and Asia in the past and they still operate in Iceland to this day.

However in later centuries the 'ab' (or 'ap') either disappeared or was assimilated into the following name. So Dafydd ab Owen at some point in time would become either Dafydd Owen or possibly Dafydd Bowen. Other examples of assimilation are 'Bevan' from 'ab Evan', 'Probert' from 'ap Robert' and 'Powell' from 'ap Howell'. Later Owen might gain a genitive 's' to become Owens. Similarly David tended to become Davies and John to become Jones (although Jones was originally an English surname).

All the confusion and inconsistency which bedevils anyone researching their Welsh ancestors has its roots during the period when the Welsh were changing to the fixed En glish-style surname system. During this transitional period a Welsh person's last name may appear to be a fixed surname but he/she may still have been named in a patronymic manner. Often it seems that the owner of the name wasn't too sure himself. (See ex amples below.)

The transitional period depended on how close the area was to English influence and also the social status of the family. The higher up the social scale, the earlier the change was likely to take place. A middle-class Welsh family in an E nglish-influenced area would be likely to have changed to a fixed surname as much as 150 years before a tenant farmer in a remote part of Caernarvonshire or Anglesey. In the latter regions the patronymic system persisted as late as 1870.

The four extrac ts below gives some indication of the inconsistency and uncertainty which prevailed during the transitional period.

-- 1 -------------------------------------------------------------------------

Three examples from just south-west of Pwllheli, Caernar fonshire given in 'Welsh Family History' ed. J Rowlands. The last names WILLIAMS and ROBERTS appear to be fixed surnames yet the owners seem to be hovering between using a fixed surname system and the old patronymic system.

1. The children of Robert WILLIAMS of Llanbedrog bore the final name of
ROBERTS in the 1841 census but WILLIAMS in the 1851 census.

2. In the 1851 census, Ellis WILLIAMS of Llanfihangel Bachellaeth had five
children with the final name of ELLIS.

3. In 1862 the marriage took place in Llangian of Ellen ROBERTS, daughter of
Robert JONES.

Remote areas of Anglesey and Caernarfonshire persisted with the patronymic system up to 1870.

-- 2 -------------------------------------------------------------------------

An example from the upper Conway valley in Caernarvonshire.

Lewis EVANS m. Elizabeth CADWALLADR May 1742
Daughter: Gwen LEWIS m. William JONES Sep 1779
Daughter: Elizabeth WILLIAMS m. Hugh PRICE May 1806
Son: Lewis PRICE m. Ellen JONES 1849

The individuals appear to have regular surnames but in fact the offspring's second name is formed from the given name of the father, i.e. patronymically. This appears to cease at Hugh PRICE, however his son Lewis PRICE is actually recorded on his marriage certificate as Lewis HUGHES!

-- 3 -------------------------------------------------------------------------

From research carried out by Rob Adams and published in an article 'The Surna mes of Llanafan Fawr'in 'Cronicl Powys', December 2002, the patronymical system (in the rural and remote parish of Llanafan Fawr, Breconshire) was in full operation until the early years of the seventeenth century across all sections of society. During th e mid to latter part of that century the terms 'ap' and 'verch' disappear from written records and some inhabitants start adopting hereditary surnames. For the upper classes this process was complete for the children of the generation dying around 1740. F or the rest patronymics was abandoned during the remainder of that century and appears to be complete by the early 1800s. (The new parish registers introduced in January 1813 probably helped the process.) Running parallel to the process was the adoption of the possessive style surname which occurred during the eighteenth century, especially the latter part.

In Cardiganshire the change from a second name of JOHN to JONES and DAVID to DAVIES took place gradually during the 18th century. (Between 1770 and 1779 the incidence of JOHN and JONES (and DAVID and DAVIES) were about the same.) Just because a second name was JONES or DAVIES during the transitional period does not necessarily mean that it was used as a fixed English-style surname.

Secondly, the surname taken did not have to be the father's given name. Consider the person, "Gwilym ap Sion ap Thomas". If he chose to be named after his father a scribe might render his name as 'William Jones or Shone' or 'William Thomas' if after his grandfather. The latter especially if his grandfather were long-lived or was better off than his father (or if William had "expectations" with regard to his grandfather's will).

From the above examples it appears that often during the transitional period the patronymic system still operated covertly by adding a genitive 's' as in the lineage below.

Robert EVANS

So it is important to be aware of how fluid and inconsistent the naming systems were during the transitional period and to be on guard when examining old parish registers etc.

-- 4 -------------------------------------------------------------------------

There is a complication if you happen to use the IGI for Wales on microfiche, which presumably still exists in the on-line v ersion. From 1 January 1813 the established church started to use a standard printed baptism register with a column for the parents' surname. When the IGI was started in 1968, the LDS decided that all baptisms in Wales before 1 January 1813 would be enter ed with the father's given name as the child's 'surname' in the surname index. For the early period covered by the IGI most Welsh people had not adopted fixed English-style surnames and were following the naming pattern in which the son of David Evan woul d be known as Thomas David. However the above cut-off date was applied to IGI entries irrespective of whether the parents were actually following the Welsh patronymic system or had adopted fixed English-style surnames.

N.B. There is a 'Surname Index' an d a 'Given Name Index' for each Welsh county.

Suppose, William, the son of John and Mary THOMAS was baptised in 1812 (or earlier), then he would appear thus:

In the Given Name Index (indexed under William)
William (son of) John THOMAS / Mary
In the S urname Index (indexed under John - his father's given name)
JOHN, William (son of) John THOMAS / Mary

However, if baptised in 1813 (or later) he would appear thus:

In the Given Name Index (indexed under William)
William (son of) John THOMAS / Mary

I n the Surname Index (indexed under Thomas - his father's surname)
THOMAS, William (son of) John THOMAS / Mary

In one instance we have Elizabeth, the daughter of Lewis BRIGSTOCK (originally an immigrant from England), who was baptised in 1716 and appears in the Welsh IGI Surname Index as Elizabeth LEWIS when the family clearly had a fixed English surname! The LDS indexers blindly followed the rule in the vast majority of cases but there are instances where some pre-1813 baptisms have been indexed under t he 'correct' surname!


There is also a briefer explanation of patronymics on the web-page below:- http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~wyside01/helps/patronym.htm#example

Oth er sources on Welsh surnames:

'The Surnames of Wales' by John & Sheila Rowlands
Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd 1996
ISBN 1-86006-025-0

'Welsh Surnames' by T. J. Morgan and Prys Morgan
University of Wales Press 1985
ISBN 0-7083-0936-4


© Richard C Jones (10 October 2003) 0

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?