Classes of Welsh Surnames

The 4 main classes of Welsh Surnames – here the comes the science bit….

Wales traditionally has a history of patronymic naming which uses your fathers first name as your surname. The practice gradually slowed down in Wales as the main surname system around the early 19th century as wealthier families began to carry the same surname to future generations.

Common classes of  Welsh / modern Welsh surnames can be summed up in 4 classes:

1. Recent settled surnames of Welsh patronymic origin – These originally came from the first name of the father which usually changed from generation to generation under the patronymic system of Wales but now mostly stay the same from generation to generation. So for example the Jones surname comes from the fathers first name of John with an ‘s’ added at a later date as it became more fashionable. Other modern examples of settled surnames of Welsh patronymic origin include Williams, Evans, Lewis, Roberts, Davies and Thomas.

2. Purely native Welsh / Celtic and patronymic names – These are also patronymic names that derive from the first name of the father but come exclusively from the Welsh language. Examples include Llywelyn, Morgan, Rhys, Owain, Madog, Tudur, Arthur and Caradog. These can also be descriptive Welsh words rather than just names ,often describing the person, their occupation, or a place. Examples are Llwyd, (meaning grey / brown) Coch (meaning red – developed into Gough), Fychan (small / younger), Mawr (big / large) and Gwyn (white / fair) etc.

3. Ap / Ab (‘Son of’) – The same as point 1 and 2 but with an added Ap or Ab to denote ‘son of’ under the patronymic Welsh system , similar to  Mac or Mc in Scotland and Ó as in Ó’Reilly and Ó’Connell in Ireland. For example ‘John ap Richard means ‘John son of Richard’. Likewise ‘Dafydd ap Llywelyn’ means ‘Dafydd son of Llywelyn’. This practice has also developed so that, in the case of Richard for example, the ‘ap’ before Richard became abbreviated and shortened in everyday speech over time to become Pritchard. Further examples include Bowen (previously ab Owen) and ‘Puw’ or ‘Pugh’ (from ‘ap Huw / Hugh’) In the case of daughters, ap / ab is often replaced by ‘ferch / verch’ (daughter of / girl) instead. So a daughter of John who is named Nest would become Nest ferch John (sometimes also spelt ‘verch’). Later on, ap was often also used in the case of daughters, so Nest ap John can also be seen for example. All of these except the ‘ferch / verch’ naming system can still be seen in use today.

4. Other surnames that have become popular or been absorbed into Wales more recently and have mostly stayed as they are and haven’t yet changed significantly. Examples could be George, Charles, Martin, Green, Wood / Woods and Church.