Welsh surnames, Wales, Welsh Genealogy

Welsh Surnames – A Glimpse of “The Surnames of Wales”

Editor’s Note: The following post relates to the new edition of John and Sheila Rowlands’ The Surnames of Wales. Those interested in tracing their Welsh genealogy may find this to be a valuable resource. Researchers less familiar with the nuances of Welsh genealogy, should also consider the Rowlands’ Welsh Family History, A Guide to Research. Second Edition as a starting point, and Second Stages in Researching Welsh Ancestry as a supplemental guide

A Glimpse of The Surnames of Wales

The revised and enlarged edition of John and Sheila Rowlands’ The Surnames of Wales seeks to dispel many of the myths which surround the subject of Welsh names. In this updated edition, evidence is taken from an exhaustive survey involving more than 270,000 surnames found in parish records throughout Wales in order to present the most complete information. The central chapters include this comprehensive survey of Welsh surnames and an all-important glossary of surnames. This is the core of the work, as it provides the origins and history of surnames from the viewpoint of family history, and also shows the distribution and incidence of surnames throughout Wales. When these genealogical implications are considered alongside the migration patterns to and from Wales, the possibilities for tracking elusive Welsh ancestors improve considerably.

To illustrate the extent of the well researched information contained in The Surnames of Wales, here are the Rowlands’ key to their Glossary of Welsh surnames, followed by a few surname descriptions taken from the Glossary itself.

Key to the Glossary of Welsh Surnames

The Glossary follows a standard pattern. First comes a short historical and linguistic paragraph about each name. An indication of the existence of earlier work on families is given in many cases. A key to these references is to be found in the list of Abbreviations, and also in the References and Select Bibliography. For the most part, the pre-1974 historic counties of Wales are referred to. Frequently included in the historical paragraph is a reference to the work of P.C. Bartrum  on personal names found in fifteenth century Welsh pedigrees (Bartrum, 1981), and also to the work of H.B. Guppy (Guppy, 1890). For an explanation of their work (and the work of others) see Chapter 6. The Welsh medieval divisions used in Bartrum’s work are quoted, and the figures are given as percentages.

Notes from Guppy are included where appropriate: i.e. where names are counted in Wales, Guppy’s figures (expressed as percentages here, to enable comparisons to be made) are shown in the Glossary; figures are also given for the English counties along the Welsh border, where they are included; for other English counties we have been more selective, indicating the figures where they seem to us to be relevant. Many names in this Glossary are totally unrepresented in Guppy’s work. The order chosen here is: North Wales, South Wales, Monmouthshire; the four border counties of Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire; other English counties.

For many entries, a summary of sources (not intended to be comprehensive) is given in brackets after this paragraph. Where the existence of pedigrees is indicated, the reference should not be taken to refer to all families bearing the name. Following this is a paragraph with the main conclusions from our 1813-37 survey; the rankings given in the Glossary are explained in full in Chapter 5.

Examples of Welsh Surnames

Throughout this Glossary all geographical areas (with the exception of those used by Bartrum), for which percentages are given, relate to the administrative hundreds as defined in Appendix A. Cross-references between entries are indicated by the use of block capitals.

ACE This is an English patronymic surname, from the CG personal name Azo, OFr Ace (from compound forms beginning Adal-) , which is found in DB and was still in use in the period when English surnames were forming, but not at the later period of the formation of Welsh surnames. Early examples of its use in Wales are to be found in Radnorshire in 1293 (RadAss). Ace is found in earlier parish registers in several English counties, including 16C London and 17C north Devon, but the majority of Ace entries, including some 16C, are for Glamorgan. In HTGlam, Asse is found in Oxwich, Reynoldston and, possibly, Penrice, all in the Gower hundred. It should be noted that in the 1851 census there are 185 Aces in south Wales (mainly of west Glamorgan origin) and none in Devon.

1813-37 (V): This name is only found in west Glamorgan. It is particularly strong in Gower (l.64%) but only occasionally found in nearby hundreds.

ADAMS This personal name is biblical in origin, its popularity in England enhanced by med. drama. As a surname, Guppy found it widespread in English counties and it is possible that some examples of the surname in Wales have come from England . But the given name was used also in med. Wales, though it was scarce in l5C  (Bartrum, 1981). Its Welsh version, Adda, was rather more popular. Both versions gave rise to Welsh patronymic surnames in due course: Atha/Athoe and Batha/Bathoe (from ab + Adda) are to be found in several parts of Wales and in English counties bordering Wales. Adams becomes Baddam/s and even Badham. Athoe appears in south Pembrokeshire, an example of how a spelling closer to the Welsh may be found in anglicised areas, where surnames settled earlier. (Note that Athy has a separate Irish origin.)

AJAX A classical forename, curiously adopted in one part of Cardiganshire, entering the patronymic pool possibly via a single prolific family. The surname was still found in the London-Cardiganshire community in the 1930s (information from Dr. Auronwy James, Penrhyn-coch). 1813 -37 (VI): This name is confined to one area of Cardiganshire (Pennarth, 0.10%) and then only locally in the parish of Llanddewi Brefi.

Image Credit: By George Hawkins, the younger (1819-1852) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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