By Darrell Wolcott
If you are fairly new to the subject of Welsh Genealogies, you may be taking someone's word for what the pedigrees actually
say. This is because those manuscripts were not written in English. The really ancient pedigrees were written
in Latin, but the vast majority of those written in the 13th to 16th centuries are written in Welsh.
Many of us did not understand, when we first became interested in finding our Welsh ancestors, the system of names which
prevailed in Wales prior to the 16th century. There was no such thing as a surname or family name. The nations of the
world all used some other method of assigning a name to a person. The Welsh used the "patronymic system", which is based on
the names of your immediate male ancestors. In that system, a newborn child is given a single-word birth name, which is followed
by its father's birth name and which may be followed by the birth name of the father of the father, continuing that pattern
for as many generations as might be required to differentiate one person from another. In effect, your name was also
your paternal pedigree.
The names were separated by the Welsh word for "son of" or "daughter of", depending on the gender of the first name
in the list. All the rest of the names were "son of" by definition.
The Welsh word "mab" means "son", but the rules of Welsh grammar often mutate the spelling of words depending on how
they are used in a sentence. The form "mab" is used to precede names which begin with, or have, a vowel sound, while
it mutates to "map" to precede names which begin with a consonant. Since all the early pedigrees were written by hand, writers
tended to abbreviate as much as possible. Thus the name-connectors in a pedigree are rendered "ab" or "ap" by grammar
purists, but simply "ap" by most of us.
Where the new child is a female, her name is followed by "ferch" (VERK) meaning "daughter". This is another grammar
mutation, of the word "merch" (MERK) or "girl". Writers abbreviate it as "f.", "v" or "vz" in their pedigrees.
It will only occur once in any girl's name since all the rest of the names in her pedigree are males. Her name
does NOT change when she marries, and no part of her husband's name is added to hers.
An example of the "names" of a brother/sister pair might be:
Llewelyn ab Owain ap Dafydd ap Maredudd
Gwenllian ferch Owain ap Dafydd ap Maredudd
How many generations of one's paternal ancestry were actually used as their "name" depends on two factors: the rarity
of the father's name among all the people he normally meets socially, and the individual fame of the person. Some men
could be widely known by using only their birth name, such as Cunedda, Coel Hen, Urien of Rheged, Vortigern, Rhodri Mawr,
etc. Not even the name of their father needs to be added for most people to recognize those men.
Other men need only add their father's name, if that name was rare within the social group where they lived. Bleddyn
ap Cynfyn, Rhys ap Tewdwr and Llywarch ap Bran are examples of such names. If the name of the father of those men had
been a common male birth name in their social group, something extra would have been added to their name so folks could tell
two same-named men apart. Usually, this was done by adding the grandfather's name, or by adding a descriptive word .
Sometimes it was a nickname or place name added to either the man or his father, such as Llewelyn Fawr ap Iorwerth or Madog
ap Gruffudd Maelor. In the case of females, normally she was known as "ferch A ap B" which identified both her father
and her paternal grandfather.
Welsh birth names will be cited alongside a descriptive nickname. This was generally not given at birth, but added
at some later time when the child developed distinctive characteristics. Common nicknames include hair color, (Ddu =
black; felyn = yellow; Goch = red; Llwyd = gray; Foel = bald) body type, (Fras = fat; Fain = slim; Bach = short; Hir
= tall) or temperament. (Gethin = fierce; Mwyn = gentle; Moethus = pampered)
One of the few nicknames assigned at birth is Fychan (VAWK un) meaning "little", not in the sense of short, but when compared
to another of the same birth name in that family. A son named Dafydd, who has a father who bears that
same name, will usually be known as "little Dafydd" from birth. In that sense, Fychan was often used much as the English
"Junior" is used. However, it may also be assigned to the last-born of two siblings who are given the same birth name.
It is common for a man in a pedigree to be described as "of" somewhere. Often, this "somewhere" is recognizable as a
known geographical subdivision, such as a kingdom, cantref, commote or parish which can be located on a map or a source which
lists Welsh territorial units. More often, however, it was the name of his personal manor. These will NOT be included
in standard reference sources, but many years later, that manor's name might be assigned to a town which was formed from lands
of that manor.
There are other common words found in a typical Welsh pedigree, which you should recognize if you wish to understand
the pedigree. I say "recognize" because words are often abbreviated or misspelled in the typical pedigree. Remember, most
of these pedigrees were written in the 1500's when there were no recognized standards for spelling. Most spelling was
phonetic; you spell what you hear. Examples of common words found in pedigrees include: