Opinion

Bringing back the ‘ap’: Why I decided to change my surname to restore a Welsh tradition

28 Mar 2021 3 minutes Read
Elfed Wyn Jones. Picture by Lluniau Lleucu.

Elfed Wyn ap Elwyn

Yesterday evening, at 7:00pm – I renounced my old name.

For the past 23 years and 324 days, my name was Elfed Wyn Jones. But after signing the necessary deed poll papers, my name now is Elfed Wyn ap Elwyn.

I chose this name because the name of my father is Elwyn, and I wanted to reclaim and restore the naming tradition in Wales. My name translates to Elfed Wyn Son of Elwyn.

My journey to change my name hasn’t been something that I decided on a whim. I have been thinking about the idea for the past 2 years. But after a chat with my family and time to read and think, I took the plunge.

Most of the Welsh people didn’t have surnames until after the acts of Union in 1536.

Before the acts of union, the naming system in Wales was usually patronymic, where ap or ab was used as ‘son of’ between fathers and sons.

For example, Ellis son of John would be Ellis ap John. Daughters would use ‘ferch’, so Elin daughter of John would have been Elin ‘ferch’ John.

It is matronymic where ap/ab and ‘ferch’ would’ve been used after a mother’s names, or names that derived from nicknames. For example, the name of the medieval Welsh ruler, Hywel Dda, would be ‘Hywel the good’ if translated.

The names such as Jones, Evans, and Williams have only been with us properly in Wales for a few hundred years, and parts of west Wales were still using the patronymic system in communities until the 19th century.

Some individual families are still using the system now, but it still not currently used in the mainstream.

‘Inspired’ 

I was inspired by the story of the Finnic people back in the 19th and early 20th century, when they were going through their ‘Era of National Romanticism’ which saw the process of Finnicization develop in the country. Many Finnic people decided to change their Swedish surname to a Finnic one during this time.

Back when Finland was a part of Sweden, a lot of Finns decided to Swedify their names to climb the Social ladder at the time, because a lot of jobs would go to Swedish speaking people and those of Swedish sounding names.

On 12th of May 1906, a 100 years after the birth of the Finnish philosopher and statesman Johan Wilhelm Snellman, the poet Luther Johannes Linnonkoski encouraged Finns to give up their Swedish names. During 1906-07 an estimated 70,000 Finns decided to change their names to Finnic.

The history of the traditional Welsh naming system, the national movement in Finland, and current events have pushed my decision to pursue my name change.

My decision hasn’t been easy. I gave a lot of thought into the idea before venturing forward to change my name. But as I think about it now I’m glad that I’ve taken that step, and I feel closer to my roots, and it makes me feel like I’m fighting back against the flag waving British nationalistic politics of the Westminster government.

Anybody can change their name to a patronymic or matronymic version if they feel comfortable in taking that step, and anybody can change it if they want using this system, no matter what their background is.

All you need to do is do a deed poll if you want to make it official, or you can change your name unofficially by just asking people to use a different name.

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