While helping my friend research his family history for his tree, I came across names from the 1400’s that would go, for example, John MaThew to Daffydd ap MaTThew (why t>tt?) and his father would be Matthew ap Isuan, and his father Isuan ap Gruffydd. Does this make sense that the surname would change?

One Response to “Welsh genealogy help?”

  • jan51601:


    The Welsh used an ancient patronymic naming system whereby the children of a marriage took their father’s forename as their surname. As a result surnames were not fixed, and changed from generation to generation: so that Evan son of Thomas William would be known as Evan Thomas; Evan’s son, John would be John Evan; John’s son Rees would be Rees John; and David’s son, James, would be James David.
    Names such as Edward and William sometimes added an ‘s’, becoming Edwards and Williams. Names ending in ‘s’ like Thomas remained unchanged. Traditionally women kept their maiden names when they married as there was no surname for them to adopt. The terms verch or ferch, meaning “daughter of”, and abbreviated to vch or vz, were sometimes used, though they are rarely found in parish register entries.
    Patronymics were essentially a genealogical history of the family, where one generation was connected to another by ap, from map (mab in modern Welsh), meaning “son of”.
    Names such as **Llewelyn ap Dafydd ab Ieuan ap Griffith ap Meredith were not uncommon. At the end of the 19th century, this practice ceased and ap was usually combined with one name to yield surnames such as Upjohn (from Apjohn) and Powell (from Aphowell).

    (**so it would be “Llewelyn son of Dafydd (David, I assume??) son lf Ieuan (Ian?? Or John, since Ian is more Irish, I think.) son of Griffith son of Meredith”. Can you imagine signing that long name on your driver’s license?? LOL)

    If James then decided to abandon patronymics, he might retain the name David as his fixed surname or he might change it to Davies/Davis both of which imply ‘son of’ David.
    Sometimes the word ‘ap’ (originally ‘mab’) meaning ‘son of’ was incorporated into the new surname. Thus Owen could be Bowen; Richard could be Prichard: Evan could be Bevan; Huw could be Pugh. John usually became Jones.
    This practice continued up until the early 1800s in some areas, with rural areas clinging to the patronymic system longer than urban areas. The IGI takes 1 January 1813 as the cut-off date – before this date all IGI entries are listed using patronymic naming system, regardless of what the actual entry contained. In practice most people had already adopted surnames by 1812 and by the 1851 census examples are very few and far between.

    A man may have decided to use a fixed surname – but the village priest may have insisted on using patronymics in the parish register when he married him or baptised his children. Some people changed from patronymics to surnames half way through their families so that some children may use patronymics whilst their younger brothers and sisters use a surname. Sometimes a man would change from a patronymic to a surname at the time of his marriage – but his brothers may chose to continue with patronymics.
    The Welsh surname stock is very limited because the modern surname is simply the forename of the man who last used the patronymic system in any particular family. Welsh communities are full of families bearing the same few surnames but who are completely unrelated and it cannot be claimed that everyone named Jones or Evans must be related to everyone else named Jones or Evans! All they have in common is an ancestor whose forename was John or Evan! The biggest mistake you can make in Welsh Family History research is to fail to realise how limited the Welsh naming stock is.
    Among the most common Patronymic surnames found in Wales today are:
    Daniel – Welsh form of Daniel is Deiniol, a 6th century Saint
    David/Davies/Davis – from David or Daffydd
    Edwards – an Old English name, popular after the Norman invasion
    Evan/Bevan/Jeavons – from Ieuan, the Welsh word for John
    Griffiths – from Gruffydd, an old Welsh name borne by Princes
    Harries/Harry/Parry – from Harri, Welsh version of Germanic Harry/Harold. Popular since 1066
    Hopkins/Popkins – from English pet name, Hob a diminutive form of Robert
    Howell/Powell – from Hywel, an old Welsh name
    Hughes/Pugh – a Germanic name adopted by the Welsh as Huw and interchangeable with Hywel
    James – an English name which became popular in Wales from the 15th century
    Jenkins – from Jankin, a pet form of John
    John/ Jones – from the English name, John which was adopted in Wales after the Norman invasion
    Lewis – from an English version of Llewellyn
    Llewellyn – the name of an ancient Prince of Wales
    Maddocks – from Madog, an ancient Welsh name borne by Princes
    Meredith – from Maredudd, an ancient Welsh name
    Meyrick/Morris/Maurice – from Meurig a Welsh version of the Latin name Mauricius
    Morgan – from Morcant, an old Welsh name
    Owen/Bowen – from Owain/Owen
    Rees/Reece/Preece/Price – from Rhys, an ancient Welsh name. Rice is an anglicised form of the name
    Richards/Pritchard – from Richard, a Germanic name popular in Wales before 15th century
    Roberts/Probert – from Robert, a Germanic name popular in Wales from 13th century
    Roderick/Broderick/Prothero – from Rhodri or Rhydderch, an ancient Welsh name
    Thomas – Greek biblical name, popular in England from 1066. Popular in Wales from 15th century
    Williams – from William or Gwilym

    Because the naming stock was so limited, some people distinguished themselves through nicknames based on physical characteristics:
    Gethin/Gething = ugly/swarthy
    Gough/Gooch – red haired or ruddy complexioned;
    Vaughan = smaller/younger
    Lloyd/Flood = grey or brown hair
    Gwyn/Wynne – fair-haired

    (Kind of long-winded, even if copied/pasted, but it might give some reasons why “John MaThew to Daffydd ap MaTThew “.

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