Wales Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in Welsh names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Before record keeping began, most people only had a first name. As the population increased, people began adding descriptive information, such as John "the smith," to a person’s name to distinguish him or her from others with the same name. At first, a surname applied only to one person and not to the whole family.

Patronymic Names[edit | edit source]

Patronymic surnames are based on the father’s given name. Generally, ap or ab was added between the child’s name and the father’s name. For example, David ab Owen is David "son of" Owen. For a woman’s name, the word ferch or verch (often abbreviated to vch), meaning "daughter of", was used. There were many exceptions to this:

  • The family could drop the 'ab' or 'ap'. In this case, his name would have been simply David Owen.
  • The family could drop the 'a' and attach the remaining 'p' or 'b' to the father’s name. For example, 'David ab Owen' could have been 'David Bowen'.

In dealing with patronymic names, remember:

  • The absence of 'ap' or 'ab' does not mean the family adopted a permanent surname. In south Wales particularly, patronymic surnames appeared without the 'ap' or 'ab'.
  • Different naming patterns were often used in the same family. For example, Harry John’s six sons were named Griffith ap Harry, John Parry, Harry Griffith, Richard Parry, Miles ap Harry, and Thomas Parry. They might equally have used the surname John(s) or Jones.
  • An illegitimate child may have used the given or surname of the reputed father, the surname of the mother, or the given or surname of the family who raised the child.
  • Some families used patronymics after adopting a permanent surname. Never assume that a surname is a permanent surname.
  • The father’s given name may be spelled differently as a surname even though it is pronounced the same (for example, Davies from David).
  • The name may have been anglicized.
  • Patronymic surnames changed with each generation.
  • A widow may have reverted to using her maiden surname.
Patronymic Name Surname
ab Ifan, ab Evan Bevan
ab Eynon Beynon
ap Harri, ap Harry Parry
ap Huw, ap Hugh Pugh
ab Hwfa Povah, Povey
ap Hywel, ap Howell Powell
ab Owain, ab Owen Bowen
ap Rhobyn, ap Robyn Probyn
ap Rhydderch Prydderch, Prytherch
ap Rhys Prees, Preece, Price
ap Richard Prichard, Pritchard
ap Robert Probert
ap Roger Prodger

Other Types of Surnames[edit | edit source]

Surnames also developed from the following sources:

Descriptive or Nickname. Surnames are sometimes based on a unique quality of a person. Occasionally this term was modified and accepted as a permanent surname. For example, Llwyd (meaning 'gray') was changed to Lloyd. Sometimes a descriptive term immediately followed the given name, such as 'Gwilym ap Fychan'. ('Fychan' means small and often became Vaughan.)

Locality. Some surnames are based on the individual’s birthplace or residence, for example Mostyn, Nannau and Pennant.

Occupational. Other surnames are based on the person’s trade, such as Wil Saer (or Wil y Saer), meaning 'Will the carpenter'. Occupational names are sometimes modified. For example, 'Saer' could take the permanent form of Sayer.

Adopting a Surname[edit | edit source]

Some families adopted permanent surnames much earlier than others. Generally, families lower on the social scale used the patronymic system longer than those higher up the social scale. Patronymics lingered the longest in the north and central-western counties. Most noble families adopted surnames by the sixteenth century. The gentry adopted them during the eighteenth century, while some farmers, tenant farmers, and workers did not take surnames until the nineteenth century or later. Generally, the patronymic naming pattern and the various naming customs were coming to an end by 1837, but later usage occurs and there has been a modern revival of the practice.

Any one of the following patterns were used when adopting a surname. The pattern used by one generation was not always used by the next generation.

Father’s Given Name. Using the father’s given name as the surname was the most common. Sometimes, the father’s name was changed to serve as a surname. Iago son of Rhys could have been known as Iago Rees, Iago Prys, Iago Prees, or Iago Price.

Father’s Surname. Sometimes a son was given his father’s surname. This is done today. Owen, the son of John Price, may have become Owen Price.

Grandfather’s Given Name. Occasionally, a family adopted the grandfather’s given name as a surname. For example, the surname of Thomas Pugh, son of Jasper ap Hugh is a form of his grandfather’s name, Hugh.

Maternal Grandfather’s Name. In some areas, the mother named her first-born son after her own family, usually her father. Godfrey Prydderch married Ann Lloyd, daughter of Reece Lloyd. Their eldest son’s surname is Lloyd.

Grandmother’s Name. An individual’s surname could be based on the grandmother’s family name. Rees Llewelyn married Gwenllian Lloyd. Their son, Griffith ab Rhys, named his son David Lloyd. David Lloyd’s descendants kept the surname Lloyd.

Many pre-1800 church registers record the father’s name in several different ways, one or more of which may be abbreviated. For example, "Jane Thomas, daughter of Thomas Dd. William James was baptized the 26th May 1732." Without further evidence, it is impossible to determine which name(s) the father used during his lifetime.

In Wales, if the patronymic naming system was used, the surname of the child was usually based upon the father’s FIRST name. The following chart shows only males (John EVANS, his sons, and his grandsons). Notice the names highlighted in red showing that the FIRST name of John EVANS was used by his sons as their SURNAME. (Thomas JOHNS, for example, means Thomas . . . the son of. . . John) In our example, by the time John EVANS has 20 grandsons, the grandsons have five different surnames. Today, these grandsons (cousins to each other) would all have the same surname (EVANS).

Patronymics illustration.jpg

Solving common name problems[edit | edit source]

Many times when you are searching for someone with a common name, research can become difficult because records are not complete or are unavailable and/or there are too many people with the same name or surname.

Tips for solving common name problems

  • Establish an identity for your ancestor. You must know more about your ancestor than simply his or her name. A name, time period and place are critical information. Examples of other information are: Is there a farm name associated with the family? Who were your ancestor’s siblings? What was his/her occupation?
  • Identify all records for the place or area of interest in the time period. Search those records.
  • Find and use available indexes to these records. Remember that indexes are often incomplete and always have errors. Verify information you find in the index with the actual record.
  • Make photocopies of these records as you use them. Oftentimes a piece of information you hadn't noticed when you first found the record will have significance later.
  • Create a database to collect the names you find. Include identifying information. Arrange it so you can sort by name, date, place, event, record type, etc. Use the database when evaluating and making decisions.
  • Use more than one record type for information about the individual. Using a variety of appropriate records will help you verify if you have the right person and/or give you the correct perspective on the individual or family.
  • Evaluate and analyse each record. The combination of what you know about your ancestor and what you learn from records will allow you to determine if it is consistent, conflicting or new information.
  • When you find a christening that you believe is ancestral, make sure the person named in the christening does not die before your ancestor married. If the person in the christening dies as a child, he/she cannot be your ancestor.
  • Search for all the siblings of your ancestor. The broader the foundation of family you lay, the easier it will be to work backwards. Oftentimes the clues you need will come from a brother or sister and not necessarily the direct ancestor.
  • Do blanket searches for the surname, rather than limiting your search to the immediate family. Check all possibilities of those with the same surname. You may find other family or determine that what you have may not be correct.
  • Trace all potential families when you have more than one with the same given and surname. This research may help you to resolve which family is really yours.
  • When you scan down a list of names on a record, don’t limit yourself to the primary person. For example: Read the names of the bride, groom and their fathers on a marriage record post-1 July 1837. You will pick up women who are widowed with their maiden names. Be sure to read witness’ names.

Using these tips will help you to clearly identify a person or family members and place them in the correct family.

Records that solve common name problems[edit | edit source]

When doing research for a person or family, it is important to search the commonly used records to begin. Those records for Wales are:

  • Civil Registration
  • Census
  • Church Records

After thoroughly searching those records and laying a foundation for the family using the information found in them, you should then collect identifying information from other less-used records to verify and clarify the research you have done. Use the following records after you have used the commonly used records:

  • Burial Records or Monumental Inscriptions (MI’s)
  • Probate Records
  • Land and Property
  • Taxation
  • Compiled Pedigrees
  • Marriage bonds and allegations
  • Poor law records
  • Court Records: Petty Sessions, Quarter Sessions, Great Sessions

Be sure to analyse and evaluate carefully each record. You may have to view a record several times to gather all pertinent information for a person or family.

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Family History Department Research Paper Series A, No. 6 1967 (revised 1976)
  2. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Wales,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1989-1997.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 53-54.