What Do Those Welsh Place Names Mean?

Welsh in the Landscape

Welsh is derived from the Celtic, Brythonic language that over time has evolved to become the language that is still alive and very much in use in Wales. The country is a land of mystery, myth and fable, the homeland of the druids, Arthurian legend and rebel princes.

Countryside of song, rich in poetic verse, echoed in the meaning its placenames. They reflect their surroundings, are evocative of old tales and a landscape long since changed. While the last two hundred years have seen rich iron masters and pit owners leave their mark in the landscape and place names, there are still plenty of names that recall an enchanted time of saints, princesses and dragons.

Welcome to Wales
Welcome to Wales

Welsh Pronunciation

To understand Welsh place names you need, in part to understand the language. The Welsh alphabet has 29 letters, including ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh and th. Welsh itself doesn’t contain the letter j, which is strange when considering the number of people named Jones and Jenkins.

One of the other confusions is over vowels, of which there are seven, the usual five along with w (pronounced oo as in moon) and y (pronounced ee or i). Other particular pronunciations are dd, which is a th sound, while a ff is similar to the English off and a single f is pronounced v. Ll, the distinctive double L sound also causes difficulty, just put the tongue on the roof of your mouth and expel air.

Another thing to look out for is mutations, to make pronouncing easier words change spelling depending on circumstances so mary = mair might become fair and Bangor changes to Fangor. It can seem quite complicate and beyond a simple piece explaining place names.

Welsh Landscape

The Eskimo are said to have 50 words for snow, well the rugged Welsh landscape has a similar number of words for hill or mountain and an equally large number for valley and meadow. Below is a list of some of the more common words you can discover on a map or whilst travelling around the beautiful Welsh countryside.

Aber – estuary, confluence or stream 

Allt – hillside, cliff or wood

Argoed – wooded grove

Bren – hill

Bron – hill crest

Bryncyn – hillock

Bwlch – gap or pass

Cae – field

Carreg – stone or rock

Cwm – valley or dale

Dol - meadow

Dyffryn – valley

Garth – promontory

Llyn – lake

Moel – bare hill

Mynydd – mountain

Nant – brook or stream

Ogof – cave

Pant – hollow or valley

Pistyll – waterfall

Pwll – pool

Rhos - moor

Tir – land or territory

Twyn – hillock or knoll

Ynys – island

Ystrad – valley or river meadow

Trees, Animals and Buildings

Trees, animals and birds

Afallen – apple tree

Arth - bear

Bedwen – birch

Bran – crow

Cadno – fox

Ceffyl – horse

Cennin – leeks

Cerdinen – mountain ash or rowan tree

Coed or Coeden – tree

Deri or Derwen – oak

Eryr – eagle

Onn or Onnen – ash tree

Pia or Pion – magpie

Ywen – yew tree


Human Landscape

The effects of people on the landscape are also recorded in the place names buildings; structures and dwellings have all left their mark over time.

Betws – chaple

Cadair – seat or stronghold

Caer - fort

Castell – castle

Cei – quay

Cwrt – court

Efail – smithy

Hendre – old house

Llan – church, monastery or place of worship

Melin – mill

Tafarn – Tavern or pub

Ty or Dref – house

Tyddyn – small farm

Ysbyty – hospital

Ysgol – school

Latin influences

Speakers of Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese will recognise a number of Welsh words that are not present in English but due to the influence of the Romans 2000 years ago, are similar to words in the Renaissance languages .

Braich – arm or the branch of a hill

Pont – bridge

Porth – gateway

Mor – sea

Welsh Saints

Wales saints are well represented in place names and normally preceded by Llan (a place of worship, church or monastery) Dewi, Mair, Illtyd, Tudful and Isan all have places named after them and you will also find villages like Llantrisant, the place of three saints popular.

Famous place names

The most descriptive place name ever has to belong to the Welsh, created in the nineteenth century as a marketing ploy to attract tourists to Angelsey, naming the loca village Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. This is the longest British place name which translates asThe church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's church of the red cave. For ease of conversation it is abbreviated to Llanfair PG or Llanfairpwll.

Cadair Idris – Idris Stronghold

Penfro – head of the land, lands end.

Dinbych – (Tenby) little fort

Betws y Coed – chaple in the woods

Y Bont Faen – Cowbridge

Abertawe – (Swansea) confluence of the river Tawe

Y Waun – (Chirk) the heath

Ynys Mon – (Angelsey) island of Mona

Pen y bont – Bridgend, end of the bridge

Casnewydd – (Newport) new castle

Llanfair-ym-Muallt – (Built Wells) St Marys’ church in the cow pasture

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Destination Wales, Holiday tourist suggestions

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Comments 9 comments

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK

Hi Neil, I enjoyed reading these explanations. We often take our holidays in Wales and I'm fascinated by the place names as well as the Welsh language.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 6 years ago from Central Texas

Interesting hub. Still difficult for this Texas gal to pronounce. :) I do long to visit Wales again.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for such an interesting and informative hub. I really enjoyed reading about it.


knell63 profile image

knell63 6 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

Thanks all, I am glad it was an enjoyable read. It is fun to try deciphering the names Amanda, and yes KCC always a challenge trying to say, lots of coughing and hacking needed. Cheers Eternal and H.H. nice to find it of use.


iantoPF profile image

iantoPF 6 years ago from Sunny California

Hi Neil, Great hub and an enjoyable read. I've had people tell me that Welsh is not so much a language as more a way of clearing your throat. I'm from Llanelli myself, for those who don't know Llanelli, it's just west of Llangennech and just south of Llechyfedach.


knell63 profile image

knell63 6 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

Diolch yn fawr Ianto, loved reading your comment it cleared my throat just right. Happy memories watching rugby there and visiting Felinfoel (or feeling foul) and the Penllwyngwyn Road to Llangennech.


nomoretrucks profile image

nomoretrucks 6 years ago from scotland

Splendigedig knell! its about time something like this appeared. Where i used to live many of my local 1st language mates 'cheat'- purley for speed of conversation that is Llanarmon Dyfryn Ceriog becomes Llan D.C.,Bryn Saith Marchog became Bryn S.M. Rhosllanerchrugog becomes simply 'the Rhos' and Llanfairpyllgwyng..................... became Llan P.G. But i enjoyed having one of those names on my driving lisence and hearing an English cop making a dogs ear of it! Although i live in Scotland now my licence still has an 'Aber' in it from way up on the north east coast and the locals refer to themselves as Lichties-(home of the famous smoked pysgod) which is kind of comforting because there is a lot of 'ch!' used. My girl does a great 'ch' but usually at the end of 'och!' or 'Loch'-as in 'Ness Monster' Cofiwch Dryweryn!


knell63 profile image

knell63 6 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

Thanks Nomore, Splendigedig, brilliant Wenglish word. Its funny how these home sounds are so comforting. There are a lot of Italian words that have similarities in Welsh that you don't find in English and its always nice to hear them. Brechiau, pont and porth. Diolch am ysgriffennwch, thanks for writing.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

I like that splendigedig' and i loved this hub as well. Welsh was my first language and it is like a good way to clear your throat. Brilliant!!

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