Women's Names in the First Half of
16th Century Wales
(with particular attention to the surnames of married women)

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


The 16th century was a time of great change in naming practices for Wales. Legally, people were supposed to be using fixed surnames. But entries from Early Chancery Proceedings Concerning Wales show a profusion of different options: the inheritance of English-style surnames (e.g. 1601 Mary Penry the d. of Wm. Penry), the use of true patronyms in some format or other (e.g., 1601 Mary Myrick ye d. of Myrick Evan) even different usages for what appears to be the same person in different records (e.g. 1607 Elizabeth ver' Owen filia Owini Plethine; 1608 Elizabeth Plethine filia Owini Plethin).

The options for a woman upon marriage seem to have been similarly varied.

and many many entries of the form <man's full name> and <woman's given name> his wife which tell us nothing relevant to the question.

So on first inspection, it appears that a 16th century married Welsh woman had the option of keeping her father's hereditary surname, using a patronym incorporating her father's name, taking her husband's surname, taking her husband's given name as a surname, and possibly other options (e.g. using a personal nickname). A woman living primarily in English society might be more likely to be called according to English fashions, a woman living primarily in Welsh society might be more likely to retain her "maiden" name in some fashion. A woman moving between the two might well be called any number of different things by her different social circles.

About the Data

The data for this paper are taken from the legal cases found in An Inventory of the Early Chancery Proceedings Concerning Wales, compiled by E. A. Lewis (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1937). This is a compilation of entries from the Public Records Office index to Early Chancery Proceedings, and so is twice removed from the original documents. There may have been an unknown amount of "standardization" of name spelling at either of the two levels. While the variety of spellings for some names argues against standardization (e.g., 11 different spellings of Gwenllian among 30 different names), others are suspiciously regular (e.g., all 35 examples of Alice are spelled alike). The selection for the inventory was made on the basis of "Welsh" content of the case, identified either by the location of property involved, or the residancy or place of origin of the parties involved. So there would not appear to be any biasing of the data on the basis of the perceived "Welshness" of the names themselves.

The data in the collection as a whole cover the 15th century (with a very few entries from the end of the 14th) up through 1558 (the end of Queen Mary's reign). However only a few women's names appear prior to the 16th century, so for all practical purposes, the women's data can be said to cover the first half of the 16th century.

While the names contained in the collection can hardly be considered an exhaustive study of the women's names in use at the time, it is a random enough selection to give a fairly valid overall picture.

I have extracted every identifiable reference to a woman in the collection, and analyzed them as follows.

Editted and published by Arval Benicoeur