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The top 10 best Welsh place names and their real meanings

09 Oct 2022 5 minute read
Betws Bledrws in Ceredigion

Wales’ ‘unpronounceable’ 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 Snowdon.

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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Arfon Jones
Arfon Jones
1 month ago

Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr.

Gareth Evans
Gareth Evans
1 month ago
Reply to  Arfon Jones

Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Quote: “Wales’ ‘unpronounceable’ place names have been the butt of many a joke”. These place names are not ‘unpronounceable’ at all and are no different to other place names around the world. Anyone is capable of saying them if they try harder. It’s the same old story, if something is beyond the ability of a person the next best thing is to poke fun at it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Frank
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Pity you did not give the authors names or the publisher because if it is by Hywel Wyn Owen and Richard Morgan I don’t rate it at all…size without content. Even with corrections…

Now Bedwyr Lewis Jones and Melville Richards…

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 month ago

Nantycaws is nothing to do with cheese according to the late Bedwyr Lewis Jones. It is a corruption of cawsai or in English causeway which is an interesting word in both languages being derived from the Latin calx a stone or pebble. There are various ideas about the connection. One is that causeways tended to be made of pebbles or stones tipped into wet areas to make the road. Another is that the link is the calcaneum or heel bone a linked word in Latin.

Jonathan Gwyn Mendus Edwards
Jonathan Gwyn Mendus Edwards
1 month ago

Da iawn, EAB. Needed correcting. We need to remember the parody of Bedwyr by Dewi Pws. Welsh place-names full of homonym traps etc.

Doctor Trousers
1 month ago

My favourite is Abergwili, because it doesn’t sound rude at all until you realise it sounds quite a lot like “a BIG willy”.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
1 month ago

Good fun, but some – clearly corrupt – names drive me mad!
Top of the list is the utterly ridiculous Llantwit Major – Was there really a Saint Major Twit?

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

No there was not, yet another example of an Anglicised place name that is, as most people know, Llanilltyd Fawr or Llanilltud Fawr. Clearly they didn’t have a clue how to pronounce Illtyd/Illtud so, as I said in a previous comment, poked fun instead and ignorantly called him Twit. Typical of an ignoramous nation but more surprising the people who live there and local authority choose to do absolutely nothing to address the insult.

Crwtyddol
Crwtyddol
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Llan- Illtyd- fawr

Arwyn
Arwyn
1 month ago

My Dad used to tell me about the mispronounciations American GI’s stationed in Llanelli used to make. They called Waunarlwydd “One eyed Louie.” Apparently they gave up on Llanelli and called it “Slash”. Being a big GnR fan back in the day, that used to put a smile on my face.

Francisco Toledo
Francisco Toledo
1 month ago

Well, if we say “unpronounceable” many people just can’t say llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch 😂

Welsh_Siôn
Welsh_Siôn
1 month ago

Thank you for Penisa’rwaun (which has at least three different spellings in Cymraeg and on signposts in the area). You can just make out my house in that photo – but unfortunately, it’s not in Penisa’rwaun but in the neighbouring hamlet of Bron Rhythallt or sometimes, Pontrhyrthallt (aka Allt Riwth). And surely there’s a typo in the article: “… it has nothing to do with their length or lack of English consonants.” It’s the *perceived* lack of VOWELS in Cymraeg (when we have more than English) which bedevils some English attempts at pronunciation of our lovely places and their names. Mind you,… Read more »

Delyth Chappell
Delyth Chappell
1 month ago

I heard that Splott was short for God’s Plot, as the area was full of kitchen gardens

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
1 month ago

This piece could be syndicated to the Daily Mail or Daily Express.

Barbara
Barbara
1 month ago

These place-names are for from.un pronouncable at least not to the uneducated , if you are unfortunate to be unable to unfortunately pronoune then stop and ask how to pronounce the name place –problem solved. You really must be in such a dilemma when travelling all over Europe and further afield.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

what about Pyle and the English translation Hemorrhoid……?

Mr Essex Havard
Mr Essex Havard
1 month ago

Login?

Neil Dickinson
Neil Dickinson
1 month ago

I’m English, but I learned some Welsh pronunciation from my Welsh speaking friend and family. There are so many lovely place names (their meaning and simple pleasure of saying), but I especially like Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant despite never having been there!

D Rhys
D Rhys
1 month ago

Bit pointless if you can’t be bothered to find ‘their real meanings’…Nantycaws you could link to two famous places..The Giant’s Causeway since the ‘caws’ or ‘cawsau’ is the crossing place across water and like Rhydychen/Oxford it’s where people crossed their animals/themselves across the stream..

Brian Eggar
Brian Eggar
1 month ago

There is a place near me called Morda which I believe in Polish means monkeyface.
So if you see anybody standing in front of the sign getting their photograph taken means that they are highly likely to be Polish

Roger Hardick
Roger Hardick
1 month ago

Munt

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Hardick

It’s “Mwnt” but the ignorant call it “Munt”.

Crwtyddol
Crwtyddol
1 month ago

Betws, as in Betws Bledrws, I understood was a Chapel “in a wood,” dedicated to Bledrws

Crwtyddol
Crwtyddol
1 month ago

My son was once asked, ” what’s that place CA ten.? He was talking about Caio.

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