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The top 10 best Welsh place names and their real meanings

26 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Betws Bledrws in Ceredigion

Wales’ place names have been the butt of many a joke – but of course, no language makes sense to people who can’t speak it.

However this mockery also hides the fact that there are quite a few amusing and excellent place names in Wales, and it has nothing to do with their length or lack of English consonants.

With the help of the Dictionary of Place-names in Wales, we looked up some of the most amusing Welsh place names to discover their origin.

A Sili place

10) Sili

Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan, named after the family name ‘de Sully’, is brilliantly rendered in Welsh as ‘Sili’. It’s possible that it’s a name transferred from Sully in Normandy. Like the Court of Camelot – it is a silly place.

Philadelphia Chapel, Nantycaws

9) Nant-y-Caws

Amusingly this place name translates as ‘River of the Cheese’. Apparently, this evocative name actually refers to the rich farmland in Carmarthenshire which is able to support a lot of dairy cattle, making this something of a hub for coagulated milk. Even better, there is a Philadelphia Chapel in Nant-y-caws.

Pant

8) Pant

This one may be cheating a little bit as it’s not in Wales, but rather just over the border in Shropshire where Welsh was once commonly spoken. Pant means ‘hollow’ in Welsh, and appears quite frequently in place names like Pant-Glas and Pantpastynnog.

Here though, it’s just Pant. This is the place to go to work up a sweat.

It doesn’t look that bad – Pentregalar

7) Pentregalar

This rather ominous settlement in Pembrokeshire translates as ‘Village of Grief’. It is not clear what tragedy befell this place to give it such a name.

The Dictionary of Welsh Place Names suggests that it might just mean ‘miserable’ as the village is in ‘an exposed, poor site on east-facing hill-slopes’ which comes across as a bit judgemental and also begs the question of why anyone would want to live there long enough to give it its moniker if they disliked it so much.

Perhaps it was a village of Mrs Doyles – people who like the misery. In truth though it is quite lovely.

Penisarwaun – jokes about the name are a small price to pay for such lovely views

6) Penisarwaun

The name simply means ‘lower end of the moor’ and any other interpretation is simply the product of the reader’s dirty mind.

The jokes about the name are a small price to pay for its stunning location just north-west of Yr Wyddfa.

An attempt by the local hedge to censor the name of Three Cocks

5) Three Cocks

As with Penisarwaun above, the explanation for this place name in Powys is entirely innocent. It was originally derived from the Three Cocks Inn. The three cocks themselves appear on the arms of the Williams family of Gwernyfed.

The name was passed on to the railway station Three Cocks Junction railway station, which closed in the 1960s. The railway station was known locally as ‘Lucky Man Junction’.

Beddgelert, Gwynedd

4) Beddgelert

This name which translates as ‘The Grave of Gelert’ has quite a story behind it – or at least, a made-up one. It originally meant the grave of a man called Celert, perhaps a saint. But from the 16th century the myth arose that it referred to Prince Llywelyn’s faithful hound which he accidentally killed – thinking the dog had attacked his child. He later discovered that Gelert had been protecting his child from a wolf.

Beddgelert’s tourism wing has made much of this folk-tale, even erecting a headstone to the dog in the 18th century. You can still visit it today.

Haberson Street, Splott. Picture by Sionk (CC BY-SA 3.0).

3) Splott

A suburb of Cardiff, up-and-coming Splott is one of the less expensive places to live in the city, but is no blot on the landscape. Y Sblot in Welsh, the name comes from the Middle English word for a patch of land, which is also quite common in the Vale of Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire.

Betws Bledrws

2) Betws Bledrws

‘Beh-toos blid-roos’ – such a satisfying place name to say. This village between Lampeter and Llangybi, Ceredigion, simply means a church or prayer house dedicated to the Celtic saint Bledrws.

The church was also dedicated to St Michael, but I think we all agree that they made the right choice in calling it Betws Bledrws.

Plwmp

1) Plwmp

The name of this place near the Ceredigion coast can’t help but raise a smile. It’s very satisfying to say – ‘Ploomp’.

The significance of the name however is a bit more prosaic – it comes from a farmhouse whose roadside pump provided water for travellers passing through. At some point the Welsh ‘pwmp’ (pump) became ‘Plwmp’. And it is all the better for it.

Plwmp!

Do you have suggestions of amusing Welsh place names we’ve missed? Just plwmp them in the comments below.


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Jones Arfon
Jones Arfon
17 days ago

Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr
Llanfihangel Gennau’r Glyn
Melin y Wîg
Betws Gwerfyl Goch.

Tomi Benn
Tomi Benn
17 days ago

It was once suggested to me that the origin of Wrexham was that it derived from a man who was known as the person “destroys bacon””…

Sarah W
Sarah W
17 days ago

Pant Y Wacco is my favourite!

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
17 days ago

Nant y Caws is actually thought to be a corruption of gawse which may be a word for a causeway. Bedwyr Lewis Jones the expert on Welsh place names expressed that opinion on his radio programme many years ago.

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
17 days ago

Sorry I misspelled it – it should be cawsai which actually is more obvious.

Alan Murray
Alan Murray
17 days ago

I spent a lot of my childhood at my grandparents’ house in the County Down seaside village Groomsport. It’s far from gloomy, but its name comes from Port an Ghiolla Ghruama, which translates as ‘port of the gloomy fellow’.

This seems to reflect the meaning of the Anglo-Norman surname Mallory, which derives from the Old French for unfortunate or unlucky

I’m glad that I was unfortunate enough to spend my summers there when I was a child.

Owain Glyndŵr
Owain Glyndŵr
17 days ago

Why do you need to use Pant, Shropshire when there’s a Pant village that became part of Merthyr Tydfil. Of course there are many other villages called Pant across Cymru, much like Pentre, Bontnewydd and Llanfairpwll.

Gareth
Gareth
15 days ago

Cwm

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