Monday, April 13, 2009

A Look at the Patronymic Naming System

by Janet Crain
It is interesting to note that two preeminent Lost Colony researchers; both William Powell and David Beers Quinn, stated that some of the Lost Colonists were Welsh. With that in mind an investigation into the surnames of the colonists reveals many considered Welsh.

The following possibly Welsh surnames were borne by these persons who visited the Island of Roanoke on one or more trips made there in the 1580's.

Carrow - Carew
Cecil - variant of Seisyll
Chevan - variant of Evan?
Gibbs - variant of Gibby?
Perry (could be Parry)
Pew usually spelled Pugh from ap Hugh (son of Hugh)
Phevens usually spelled Plevens from ap Evans
Powell from ap Howell (for Prince Hywel very popular name)
Pugh from ap Hugh


1587 was early in the use of surnames in Wales, lending credence to a theory that if these persons were Welsh, they had already emigrated to England prior to joining the other colonists who set out to establish Raleigh Citee in the New World. They could have come into contact with John White in London where a tight little community of craftsmen and trades people lived. Several Colonists have been documented to be from that area of London. Everyone needed to have a skilled trade such as tiler, mason, carpentry, etc to contribute to the success of this venture. They may have been part of this community. But it is also conceivable that simply their entry into the larger world of joining this enterprise required the adoption of a surname for legal and social purposes.

Therefore it will be useful to learn a little bit about the Welsh Patromymin Naming System as an aid in recognizing Welsh surnames. The patronymic naming system is defined as:


Of, relating to, or derived from the name of one's father or a paternal ancestor.


A name so derived.

For a complete explaination see:

Originally this method was not intended to provide an actual surname. Just to provide a way in a small village to sort out family relations by tagging each of a man's sons with his given name in addition to their own. This can be achieved by adding Mac or O at the beginning as was done in Scotland and Ireland to indicate that William MacDonald is the son of Donald. In England "son" was added at the end of the name to form a new surname such as John's son = Johnson. In Wales the map or mab used became ap or ab and was not capitalized. For example; Owen's sons; Griffth, David, Owen, and Llewellyn would be known as Griffith ap Owen, David ap Owen, Owen ap Owen and Llewellyn ap Owen. Very simple for one generation. But as these appellations morphed from casual identifiers into surnames, the grandsons would bear each of their father's given names and thus the identifiers; Griffth, David, Owen, and Llewellyn. So in a few generations dozens of new "surnames" were created, in the process causing a present day nightmare for the pursuit of a Welsh ancestor.

However, it can be done from Church records from about 1592. In The Welsh Lineage of John Lewis (1592-1657), Emigrant to Gloucester, Virginia, Grace McLean Moses explains how a pedigree for John Lewis was researched over a period of years at considerable expense as it required her hiring expert Welsh genealogists and waiting sometimes six months to hear back from the researchers in those pre-Internet days. This little book is interesting to read as it proves that if one has the resources and patience, the records are there in Wales, just difficult to extract. One would assume the Internet has had a beneficial effect on this type of research. If only for expediting the communications.

As the Administrator of the Wales_Cymru_DNA Project, I am convinced that many ancestors are recorded as English when they were actually Welsh. This is unfortunate because a very rich heritage is consequently unknown. Arguably they really are "A Breed Apart" as suggested by Professor Stephen Oppenheimer in The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa. Traditionally the difference between the English and Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish was attributed to the influence of invaders such as the Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Vikings settling in the UK hundreds of years ago.

But Professor Oppenheimer says the Celts are descended from an ancient people living on the Atlantic coast when Britain was attached to Europe. The English are more closely related to the Germanic peoples of the interior.

"The English ... are more linked to continental Europe. The Scots, the Irish, the Welsh and the Cornish are similar in their genetic pattern to the Basque."

Additionally, in two recently published books, Blood of the Isles, by Brian Sykes and The Origins of the British, by Stephen Oppenheimer, both authors state that according to genetic evidence, most Welsh people and most Britons descend from the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of different migrations that took place during the Mesolithic and the Neolithic eras, and which laid the foundations for the present-day populations in the British Isles, indicating an ancient relationship among the populations of Atlantic Europe.[21][22][23] According to Stephen Oppenheimer 96% of lineages in Llangefni in north Wales derive from Iberia. Genetic research on the Y-chromosome has shown that the Welsh, like the Irish, share a large proportion of their ancestry with the Basques of Northern Spain and South Western France, although the Welsh have a greater presumed Neolithic input than both the Irish and the Basques.[24] Genetic marker R1b averages from 83-89% amongst the Welsh.[24][25]

In the Wales_Cymru_DNA project we recognize many names and are adding additional ones as they are discovered. But often we are unable to add would be participants because they cannot document their purported Welsh ancestry, but have only oral histories of ancestors being Welsh.

In addition to looking for a Welsh origin for ancestors in obvious places such as the Welsh Tract in Pennsylvania, genealogists should look for ancestors who disembarked from Bristol. Most will call these ancestors English, but many were not. Consider this example:

The Coming of The Welsh
In Ohio.

The first Welshman to enter the territory of Ohio was the Reverend David Jones who labored as a missionary among the Shawnee and Delaware Indians in 1772 and 1773. The second Welshman known tohave traversed Ohio ground was General Anthony Wayne. General Wayne with his army, came to Ohio in 1793 being commissioned by the government " to make an end of Indian troubles on the frontier."

The first permanent Welsh settlers in Ohio were Ezekiel Hughes and Edward Bebb, who came from Llanbrynmair, Montgomeryshire, North Wales. These two men were responsible for the first definite step westward on the part of Welsh emigrants. Hughes and Bebb were instrumental in persuading a company of fifty Welsh people in their neighborhood in Llanbrynmair to emigrate to America. This company walked from Llanbrynmair to Bristol, England, where on August 11th, 1795, they embarked on the ship " Maria " and sailed for America. On a perlious voyage of fourteen weeks they entered the Delaware Bay and in a few days thereafter reached the port of Philadelphia. These emigrants became the pioneer settlers of Ebensgburg, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, of Paddy's Run, Butler County, Ohio, and of the Welsh Hills in Licking County, Ohio.

Once you learn to examine names beginning with B or P as possibly being Welsh, you
will start seeing them everywhere. Ab Owen became Bowen and ab Evan became Bevan and Blevan. Ap Hywell became Powell and ap Hugh became Pugh. Derivatives such as Lewis from Llewellyn are important also. Lewis one the most common names in America. It can be from the French Louis or it can be English, but most often it is from the derivative of Llewellyn, the name of two of Wales' most famous princes; Llewellyn the Great and Llewellyn the Last.

The ancient Welsh patronymic naming system can cause significant problems for genealogists. Patronymics describes the process of giving a male child the father's given name, or forename, as a surname. This means that a family's name changes in successive generations.
The process of conversion to the system of fixed names in Wales began in the 15th century and continued through to the middle of the 18th century. The trend was stratified socially - the higher classes in society began the process, which then was passed on to the lower classes.
Consequently, genealogists whose search has reached this period in Welsh history can sometimes find that their search grinds to a halt as family names disappear into the patronymic system of naming.
The Welsh patronymic system describes family trees in terms of the male line only and records the family association in the 'ap' or 'ab' prefix (ap is a contraction of the Welsh word mab, which means son). So, Rhys ap Dafydd means, in English, Rhys son of David.

Modern Welsh surnames such as Powell, Price and Prichard are the result of this contraction and a progressive tendency to Anglicise Welsh names: under the patronymic system they would have been ap Hywel; ap Rhys and ap Richard. The names Bowen and Bevan were derived in the same way.

For a look at the diversity of Welsh surnames; many are listed here:

Learning to recognize these Welsh names or at least the more common ones will greatly aid your genealogical research and perhaps lead you back to a lesser known but no less exciting country and people.


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