Constructing 16th Century Welsh Names

A Simple Guide to Constructing 16th Century Welsh Names
(in English Contexts)

by Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
(Heather Rose Jones,
copyright © 1996 (reformatted 2005), all rights reserved

The 16th century was in many ways a transition in Welsh naming practices between the Welsh way of doing things and the English way. While many Welsh names remained popular, English names were growing stongly in popularity and crowding out many of the less common traditional names. In theory, after Henry VIII passed the Act of Union, Welsh people were supposed to adopt English-style fixed, hereditary surnames, just as the English had been using for a considerable period at that point. In practice, the traditional Welsh patronyms and the use of personal nicknames didn't die out until long after the 16th century. During this century, you can find Welsh people mixing the two styles of names quite freely. Names were still quite fluid and the same person might appear one place as Katherine Vaughan and elsewhere as Katherine verch Edward.

This pamphlet looks at the more typical names and name formats that appear in Welsh records during the 16th century. The sources for this pamphlet are a collection of late-16th century toll records from Pembrokeshire and summaries of legal procedings from Chancery records of the first half of the 16th century. For various practical reasons, I have used the first primarily for men's names and the second primarily for women's names. These records were written by primarily (if not exclusively) English- speaking people, and so you will not necessarily find "classical" Welsh spellings of names used. This pamphlet does not attempt to describe all the possible names and name patterns that could be found in 16th century Wales, but rather is a guide to how to construct a name that would be "typical" for the time and place. If you are interested in investigating the sources in more detail, see my articles Names and Naming Practices in Some North Pembrokeshire Toll Books (1599-1603) and Women's Names in the First Half of 16th century Wales.

Given Names

Men's Names

The following names appear at least three times in my source documents. They are arranged in descending order of popularity and the most typical spelling(s) are given (also in order of popularity, if more than one is present). The modern "standard" spelling is given in square brackets. The boldface spellings are the ones that occur in the medieval source.

[John] John
[David] David, Deyo
[Thomas] Thomas
[William] William, Wilkin, Gwillim
[Ieuan] Ieuan, Yevan, Evan
[Rhys] Rees, Res, Rice
[Gruffudd] Griffith, Gruffith, Gryffyth
[Lewis] Lewis, Lewes
[Philip] Philipe
[Jenkin] Jenkin
[Morris] Moris
[Owein] Owen
[Richard] Richard
[Hugh] Hughe
[Henry] Harry, Henry
[Hywel] Hoell, Howell
[James] James
[Morgan] Morgan
[Robert] Robert, Hopkin
[Llwyd] Lloid
[Llywelyn] Llewelin, Llewelyn
[Mathias] Mathias, Matho
[Rhydderch] Rudderch, Rydderch
[Einion] Eynon
[George] George
[Nicholas] Nicholas
[Edward] Edward
[Gwyn] Win, Wyn, Gwin, Gwyn
[Maredudd] Meredith, Bedo
[Peter] Peeter
[Roland] Rowland, Roland
[Walter] Walter, Gwallter, Watkyn
[Francis] ffrancis, ffrances
[Matthew] Mathew
[Reynold] Rinold, Reynold, Reynallt

Women's Names

I have been more generous with the women's names and included all those for which identification is certain. The presentation is the same as for the men's names: descending order of popularity. The boldface spellings are the ones that occur in the medieval source.

[Margaret] Margaret, Margery
[Joan/Jane] Joan, Jane, Jenet, Jenett
[Katherine] Katherine
[Elizabeth] Elizabeth
[Agnes] Agnes, Annes, Nest, Neste
[Alice] Alice
[Gwenllian] Gwenlliana, Wenllyan, Gwenllyan
[Anne] Anne
[Maude] Maud, Maude
[Ellen] Ellen, Elyn
[Eleanor] Eleanor, Elynor, Elenor
[Isabel] Isabel
[Gwen] Gwen
[Gwenhwyfar] Gwenhwyvar
[Laurie] Lowrie, Lowry
[Angharad] Angharad
[Gweirfyl] Gwervyl, Gwerfyl
[Mary] Mary
[Rose] Rose
[Dorothy] Dorothy
[Juliana] Juliana
[Lleucu] Lleyke, Llyke, Lucy
[Amy] Amy
[Cecily] Cecily, Syslye
[Christian] Christyan, Christiana, Crislye, Crisly
[Dyddgu] Dyddgu, Duthgy
[Morfudd] Morvith, Morvyth
[Tacy] Tacy
[Alison] Alison
[Emma] Emma
[Eve] Eve
[Joyce] Joyce
[Antonia] Antonia
[Beatrice] Beatrice
[Florence] Florence
[Fortune] Fortune
[Frances] Frances
[Gwladus] Gwladyse
[Judith] Judithe
[Llewelydd] Lewelyth
[Mabilia] Mabiley
[Mathilda] Matilde
[Myfanwy] Mevanwy
[Susan] Susan
[Tangwystl] Tanglust

Name Patterns

As I mentioned above, there is a confusing mix of Welsh and English patterns in names. For any particular name, you cannot be certain whether someone has a fixed surname or a personal nickname. Here are the most typical patterns that are found.


Most people's names tell their ancestry for one or more generations -- nearly 90% of the people have names of this sort. Most typically, only the father's name is indicated (about three- quarters of the time); more rarely the father and grandfather are given (one-fifth of the time). Very rarely, the great- grandfather's name is also given, but never more than this. (It extremely rare, although not unheard-of, for a mother's name to be used.) In contrast to the Welsh patronyms of previous centuries, the most typical pattern is for ap (son of) to be omitted. Thus, patronyms most typically appear to be simply two or three given names in a row. (This last should not be thought of as having a "middle name", however.) It is quite rare for a name to have a patronym and any other type of byname. In some cases, what appears to be a patronym may actually be an inherited surname.

For a woman, her given name would be followed by verch instead of ap. Women are less likely to omit this part of the structure than men are.

Here are the typical patterns of names with patronyms, in order of popularity. Actual examples of each type of name have been given.

<given name> <father's given name>
Griffith David
Agnes Owen

<given name> <father's given name> <grandfather's given name>
David William Thomas
(no women's examples with this pattern)

<given name> ap <father's given name>
Lewis ap Rees
Gwen verch Ieuan

<given name> ap <father> ap <grandfather>
David ap Hoell ap Griffith
Margaret verch Gruffith ap Gwyn

With some names, ap can combine with the following name as a single word. The following are typical examples:

[Owen]   »   Bowen
[Hywel]   »   Powell
[Henry]   »   Penry, Parry
[Einion]   »   Beynon
[Rhys]   »   Price

  E.g.   Richard Powell
      Henry Bowen Lewis

In some cases with a single patronym (only the father), we find examples where an s has been appended to the end of the name, rather than ap before it. The following are typical examples:

[Hywel]   »   Hoells
[Henry]   »   Harris
[John]   »   Jones
[Ieuan]   »   Evans
[Philip]   »   Philipes
[Edward]   »   Edwards
[Walter]   »   Walters

  E.g.   Hughe Johnes

For the most part, these combined forms are rarer than ones with ap.

Non-Patronymic Bynames

The other typical pattern for names is a given name followed by a single other byname. These other names may derive originally from a place-name, from a personal nickname, from an occupation, or may be an inherited surname of non-Welsh origin. These four types of names appear in roughly equal proportions, but all of them are much less common than patronyms. (Recall that only about a tenth of the people have this sort of name.) I have mentioned only ones that appear more than once or that are known from earlier records.


Place-names may appear as inherited surnames, but in many cases the place involved is the village or region where the person lives. The name of the place appears by itself, without using of or any other connector.

 E.g.   John Narberth
      Anne Powes

Personal Nicknames

The following are some typical Welsh nicknames that appear, in decreasing order of popularity. The boldface spellings are the ones that occur in the medieval source.

gray, brown [Llwyd] Lloid, Lloyd
white, fair [Gwyn] Win, Gwin, Wyn (masc.)
    Wen (women would use this)
red [Coch] Goch, Cooke
small, junior [Bychan] Vaughan
tall [Hir] Hire, Hyre

 E.g.   David Vaughan
      Alice Lloyd

English words that derive from personal nicknames are more likely to be inherited surnames, but some such as Younge [young], Whit [white], and Browne [brown] may be translations of the equivalent Welsh nicknames (bychan, gwyn, llwyd).


As above, some of these may be inherited surnames, rather than the actual profession of the person bearing the name.

smith [gof] Smith
    y gove [y gof, i.e. "the smith"]
doctor [meddyg] Methig
carpenter [saer] Saer

 E.g.   David Saer
      Thomas y Gove
      Anne Harper

Non-Welsh Surnames

In general, one can expect that these belong to people whose families moved into Wales from England or elsewhere. In theory, almost any English surname of this period might have ended up in Wales, and you can find this type of surname being used with unmistakably Welsh given names.

A Particular Note On Women's Names

A woman of this period in Wales might bear a true patronym (i.e., using her father's name), or might inherit something that looks like a patronym as a fixed surname, or might inherit a non- patronymic surname, or might have a personal nickname. If she married, she would be considerably more likely to keep her "maiden name" than to take her husband's name. If she did take her husband's name, she might use his surname (even if it were a true patronym!) or use his given name as a surname. It is sometimes difficult to tell from the records if a woman would actually be known as something like Elizabeth ap William or whether this is a mistake by an English-speaking clerk who simply assigned her her husband's "surname" without understanding what it meant.


Jones, Heather Rose. Names and Naming Practices in Some Pembrokeshire Toll Records (1599-1603) in Proceedings of the Known World Heraldic Symposium (1992). Kirkland: SCA College of Arms, 1992.

Jones, Heather Rose. Women's Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales in Y Camamseriad 4 (1996).

Lewis, E.A. An Inventory of the Early Chancery Proceedings Concerning Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1937.

Lewis, E.A. The Toll Books of Some North Pembrokeshire Fairs (1599-1603) in The Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies vol.7 (1934).