Women's Names in the First Half of
16th Century Wales

Name Patterns

by Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
(Heather Rose Jones, contact@heatherrosejones.com)
copyright c 1998, all rights reserved

Name Patterns

Of the 610 women mentioned as individuals in the records, 366 were identified solely by their given name and with a relationship to some person named earlier in the record (e.g. his wife/mother/daughter/sister). The following table shows the patterns for the 244 women who are listed with complete names. It should be noted and kept firmly in mind that, although I label and talk about these elements according to their original functions (e.g. "patronyms", "occupational bynames"), at this period it can be demonstrated in many cases that the names are not functioning in this way and are being inherited (or otherwise transferred) without regard for meaning or function. However, neither can it be asserted that none of the elements retain their original functions and meanings. For any particular individual, you must have some idea of what names their close relatives are using in order to make sense of how a particular element is functioning. This will be demonstrated in a later section of the paper.

Key to the patterns

g given name of individual (i.e. feminine)
f = feminine given name (in metronym, etc.)
m = masculine given name
s = non-Welsh surname
p = patronymic surname; broken down into those formed with [s] (e.g. Hughs) and those formed with [p] (e.g. Powell)
l = place name
o = occupational name
b = other byname
a = ap
v = ferch

Name Constructions (244 Items)

32% 78 gvm
16% 38 gm
14% 34 gs
7% 17 gam
6% 15 gl
5% 13 gp[s]
5% 12 go
5% 11 gvmam
4% 10 gb
1% 3 gvmamam
1% 3 gvmb
1 gamm
1 gamo
1 gavm
1 gmb?
1 gp[p]
1 gv?
1 mvf
1 gvmamb
1 gvmm
1 gvmo

Explicit patronyms are by far the most popular construction. In 121 names, the given name is followed immediately a patronymic marker. What is unexpected, is that in 20 of those names, the marker is ap. In about half of these, we have enough information about family relationships to have some idea what's going on, and this will be discussed in detail in a following section. The short explanation is that we are seeing the transition from patronym to semi-fixed surname, no doubt aided in the written record by a lack of fluency in Welsh on the part of the recorders (and perhaps, in some cases, on the part of those bearing the name).

In only one case in the data does a woman clearly bear a metronym. Not enough information is given in the text to provide a clue to the circumstances in which a daughter might be known as the mother's, rather than the father's child. I found one other possible case of a metronym in the data (not appearing in these statistics because it was a man).

In names with patronyms, popularity is inversely proportional to the number of generations in a name, with an absolute cap at four generations total (i.e., three patronyms added to the given name), as shown in the following table.

Generations: 2 3 4
gvm 78 gvmam 11 gvmamb 1
gam 17 gvmamam 3
gvmb 3 gamm 1
gamo 1 gvmm 1
gavm 1
gmb? 1
gv? 1
gvf 1
gvmo 1
Total: 103 16 1

Only a handful of names with explicit patronyms also contain some other type of element. Five have an occupational or descriptive byname attached to the father's name, one to the grandfather's name (the last element in the string in each case).

Other than explicit patronyms, the most common pattern is for a given name followed simply by a masculine given name (38 examples). This could be grouped functionally with the explicit patronyms above.

The next three largest groups comprise a given name followed by a single other element: a non-Welsh surname (34 examples), a place name (15 examples), or a contracted patronym (14 examples, one with a p-X construction, the rest with X-s). None of these types of bynames are found in combination with other elements.

Occupational names and descriptive bynames are the only types of elements that are found both alone and in combination with patronymic constructions. They have about equal popularity overall (occupational: 14, descriptive: 15) and in each case the vast majority of examples appear with no other element present (occupational: 12, descriptive: 10).

In case it got lost in the text, I would like to emphasize that, excluding the individual's given name, only six names contain more than one type of element (and these have only two types of element, one of which is an explicit patronym); and only names with explicit patronyms contain more than one element at all. While some of this may be due to changes in name fashion, some of it may be due to the expectations of the English legal system (these are court records, after all) which prescribed a single, fixed surname for all individuals. The explicit patronyms were a strong enough force to break through this system, but otherwise, names seem to have been recorded according to English expectations.

Editted and published by Arval Benicoeur