Welsh place-names are very descriptive as the language has not changed significantly for centuries. By contrast, many places in England have Viking or Anglo-Saxon names which use words that are not in use in the English Language today.
Welsh place names are often based on words that describe a landmark or feature of the countryside. Therefore with a knowledge of modern Welsh you can often guess the location of a village, or the character of a mountain from its name. What you may see as a jumble of letters is often, in reality, vividly descriptive. There are some examples of local place-names and their meanings at the bottom of this page.
The Welsh word for Wales is Cymru (Kumree), meaning the land of the comrades.
WALES’S LONGEST PLACE NAME
The longest place name in Wales and the world’s longest railroad station name is:
which translates as The Church of St Mary in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave.
America may have taken its name from a Welshman, Richard Amerik, a chief investor in late 15th century voyages of discovery. The word ‘Amerik’ itself seems to be derived from ‘ap Meuric’, Welsh for ‘son of Maurice’ (The later was anglicised further to Morris). The American state of Pennsylvania was named after the Welsh word for ‘head’ (pen).
NAMING THE WORLD’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
In 1852, the highest point on Earth, known as Peak XV to the British Government and Chomolungma “Goddess Mother of the World” in the Tibetan language, became Mount Everest, named after Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India and native of Breconshire in South Wales. He conducted the first triangulation survey of central India. In 1955 the height of Everest was established as 29,028 feet. The highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon, is a mere 3,560 feet in comparison.
THE MEANING OF COMMON WELSH PLACE NAMES
ABER, the mouth of a river e.g. Abertawe.
AFON, a river.
ALLT, a cliff, or side of a hill e.g. Alltwen.
BACH, (or FACH), little.
BANC, platform, tableland.
BECHAN (or FECHAN), small-the lesser.
BEDD, a grave (beddau, graves).
BETWS, house of prayer.
BLAEN, extremity or beginning: prefix of place at head of a valley
BOD (or FOD), a dwelling-place.
BONT (or PONT), bridge e.g. Pontardawe
BORTH (or PORTH), a port or gate.
BRITH, spotted, mottled.
BRON, the slope of a hill.
BRYN, a mound or hill.
BWLCH (or FWLCH), a pass or gap.
BYCHAN (or FYCHAN), small-the lesser.
CAE, an enclosed field.
CAER (or GAER), a camp or fortress.
CANOL (or GANOL), the middle one.
CAPEL (or GAPEL), a chapel.
CARN (or GARN), a prominence.
CASTELL, a castle or fortress.
CAU (or GAU), fenced or enclosed.
CEFN, a ridge.
CELLI (or GELLI, sometimes GELLY), a grove or copse e.g. Gellinudd
COCH (or GOCH), red e.g. Bryncoch
COED (or GOED), a wood.
CORS (or GORS), a bog or marshy place.
CRAIG (or GRAIG), a crag.
CRIB (or CRIBYN), comb, crest, or summit.
CROES (or GROES), a cross.
CRUG (or GRUG), a heap or mound e.g. Crickhowell.
CWM, a shallow valley.
CYMMER, a junction or confluence.
DAN (or TAN), under.
DIN (or DINAS), a town or hill-fortress.
DREF (or DRE), a dwelling-place or village.
DU (or DDU), black.
DWFR (or DWR), water.
DYFFRYN, vale or valley.
EGLWYS, a church.
ESGAIR, a long ridge.
FAEN, a stone.
FAES, a field.
FAN, a fence.
FAWR, great, large.
FFORDD, way, road.
FFRIDD, a plantation, a mountain pasture or sheep-walk.
FFYNNON, a well or spring.
FOEL, a bare hill.
FYNYDD, a mountain.
GAER, a camp or fortress.
GARN, a prominence.
GARTH, a hill or headland.
GELLI, a grove or copse. e.g. Gellinudd.
GLAN (or LAN), a river or water bank or shore.
GLAS (or LAS), blue (if water), green (if fields).
GLYN, a glen or valley.
GOED, a wood.
GOITRE, a home in the wood (from COED and TRE).
GORS, a bog, fen or march.
GRAIG, a crag.
GROES, a cross.
GWAUN (or WAUN), a common or moor.
GWERN (or WERN), a swamp or bog.
GWYN (or WYN), white.
HAFOD, a summer dwelling: in olden times this signified a hill-residence used during the summer, in contrast to the main home-stead, Hendref or Hendre, in the valley, occupied during the winter months.
LLAN, primarily an enclosure; its secondary meaning is a sacred enclosure or churchyard-hence the present meaning, a church.
LLECH, a flat stone.
LLWYD, grey, sometimes venerable.
LLWYN, a bush or grove.
LLYN, a lake or pool.
LLYS, a court or hall.
MAEN (or FAEN), a stone.
MAES (or FAES), an open field in contrast to a close field, CAE.
MAN (or FAN), a place.
MAWR (or FAWR), great, large.
MELIN (or FELIN), a mill.
MERTHYR, a martyr.
MOEL (or FOEL), a bare hill.
MWYN, a mine, ore.
MYNACH, a monk.
MYNYDD (or FYNYDD), a mountain.
NANT, a brook.
NEUADD, a hall.
OGOF, a cave.
PANDY, a fulling mill (used in wool manufacture).
PANT, a hollow place, a valley.
PEN, head, or top.
PENTRE, a village.
PISTYLL, a spouting waterfall.
PLAS, a hall or mansion.
PONT (or BONT), a bridge.
PORTH (or BORTH), a port or gate.
PWLL, a pool, pit, or hollow.
RHAIADR, waterfall or cataract (in English often spelt Rhayader).
RHIW, a slope, hillside or ascent.
RHOS, an open moor/marsh.
RHYD, a ford or stream.
SARN, a causeway.
TAL, a headland, brow of hill.
TIR (or DIR), land-soil.
TRE (or DRE), a dwelling-place or village.
TREF (or DREF), same as Tre.
TY (or DY), a house.
TYDDYN, tenement or small-holding.
TYN, a small-holding.
UCHAF, upper, highest.
WAUN, a common or moor.
WERN, a swamp or bog.
WYN (WEN), white.
Y, YR, the, of the.
YN, YM, in.
YNYS, island, holm, watermeadow.
YSTRAD, low flat land by a river, a wide bottomed valley.
YSTWYTH, winding, flexible.