It’s the Welsh for “inspiration everywhere.”
You see, this week, Small Child and I ran away to Pembrokeshire in South Wales.
And while enjoying the fresh sea air, and exploring the pituresque little towns and magnificent ruins, I encountered plenty of interesting names and name inspiration. These are just some of my favorites:
Arawn — We passed one very pleasant day of our holiday painting pottery in a café in magical Narberth, the Arberth of the First Branch of the Mabinogion, and home to Pwyll, from where he rode forth hunting one day and encountered Arawn, Lord of Annwfn — the Celtic Otherworld. There’s rather an inspiring and spine-tingling view of the surrounding countryside from the not-so inspiring and spine-tinging car-park in the centre of Narberth; it’s easy to imagine the hounds and horses of Pwyll and Arawn hurtling across the fields… Some postulate that Arawn derives from biblical Aaron. I say that’s utter nonsense. It is far more likely to derive from the Common Celtic *ar-yo- “to plough” or the same ancient root which gives Modern Welsh: aran “mound.”
Carew — One of the most romantic castles I know, a mixture of medieval and Elizabethan. It’s name derives from the Welsh, and is equally romantic: caer “castle” and “fort” + rhiw “ice.”
Cawdor — Although in most people’s minds, Cawdor is firmly associated with Scotland (and, indeed, Macbeth, erstwhile Earl of Cawdor), more recent Earls of Cawdor had their seat at Stackpole in Pembrokeshire. It was a late eighteenth century Baron Cawdor, indeed, who repelled the last invasion of Britain, by the French in 1797 at Fishguard. The Gaelic form of Cawdor is Caladar, deriving from coille “wood” and dur “water” or “oak.” An old form was Calder.
Elidor — We stayed in the marvelously named Stackpole Elidor (a name which would have been right at home in Harry Potter!). Elidor is actually an Old Welsh name, and Stackpole is named in honor of a very shadowy saint of the name. As Elidurus, it occurs as the name of a legendary king of Britain in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). Its meaning isn’t all that clear; while the second element is almost certainly the Welsh dur “steel,” the first is fuzzier. It died out as a name in the Middle Ages, but was revived in the 19th. Other medieval variants include Elidyr and Elidir, as borne by the medieval Welsh poet Elidir Sais (c. 1190–c. 1240). It’s probably best known today, however, from Alan Garner’s 1965 fantasy novel of the name.
Gwri — Gwri Wallt Euryn “Gwri of the Golden Hair” is the name Lord Teyrnon gives to Pwyll and Rhiannon’s son Pryderi when he finds the child in his stables and adopts him as his own. It probably derives from the same source as Welsh gŵr “man.”
Lyd, Lud — The intriguingly named Lydstep was just down the coast from our cottage. An earlier form was Ludsopp, meaning “Lud’s refuge.”
Merrion — A tiny hamlet near Stackpole, with a very pretty name. It may derive from the same source as the Welsh boy’s name Meirion, i.e. the Latin Marianus “belonging to Marius” or Marinus “of the sea.” Given its location, it’s tempting to lean towards the latter, and it is perfectly possible that actually, at its heart, is Welsh môr “sea.”
Middleton — I can’t help wondering if the National Botanic Garden of Wales is rather kicking itself now for changing its name from Middleton, now that the name has been made so famous by the new Duchess of Cambridge. Its original name was in honor of the Middleton family of Oswestry, who built the first mansion on the site that was to become the gardens. It’s meaning is straightforward; “middle” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.” We had a rather wet day at the gardens, on this occasion, sadly, though Small Child thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition on mushrooms .
Myrddin — The Welsh name for Merlin, and the name behind the town of Carmarthen and its Welsh form, Caerfyrddin. We didn’t do much there this time, except pop into Morrison’s on the way to the Botanic Gardens. I’m going to feature Merlin as a pick of the week in the not too dim and distant, so I’ll say no more for now.
Oriel — Orielton is another little Pembrokeshire village near Stackpole Elidor. I don’t know its etymology, but the “Oriel” part lept out. Oriel was found as a girl’s name in medieval times, a vernacular form of the Germanic Aurildis, meaning “fire battle.” It was unrelated to the word “oriel” used of a large, projecting recess with window, often found in a lord of the manor’s solar (private sitting room). It was this type of Oriel that gave it’s name to the Oxford College.
Pryderi — The birth name of Pwyll and Rhiannon’s son, born at Narberth (see Arawn above). He is generally considered to be one and the same as the Mabon — the “divine son” of Welsh mythology, who gives his name to the Mabinogion. It is generally derived from the Welsh pryderu “to take pains” and “to be anxious.”
Pwyll — Another Narberth inspiration; the name of the noble Lord of Dyfed, who had his palace at Narberth. Not the easiest of names to say, sadly, but it does have such rich association and meaning; in Middle Welsh, this was “spirit” and “reason,” while in Modern Welsh it now carries the meanings of “discretion” and “steadiness.”
Rhiannon — Pwyll’s wife (and later the wife of Manawydan). She is perhaps the most significant of the figures associated with Narberth; in the Mabinogion, she is an otherworldly maid, who rides a white horse… many equate her with the Gaulish Goddess Epona, and her Brythonic name has been reconstructed as Rigantona from Common Celtic: *r-gan- “queen.” Like Merlin, she’s on the cards for a post of her own…
Tudor — One of the highlights of our trip was a revisit to Pembroke Castle, birthplace of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII. His surname is the Anglicized form of the Welsh Anglicized form Tudur, an ancient name, deriving from the Common Celtic *towtƒ “people” and “tribe” (this became tut in Middle Welsh and also acquired the meaning “country”) + *r-g- “king.” It was found in Gaul in the Roman period as Teutorix, and is cognate with the Germanic Theodoric.
Twynnell — St Twynnell was another local village, named after its shadowy saint. At the heart of this beauty almost certainly lies the Great Welsh Goddess Dôn, with Twynnell a combination of Dwyn (a variant of Dôn) and gell, literally “yellow,” but also “bright” and “shining.”